Tag Archives: Kenya

The Gift of Food…

There are days when I worry about making my payroll and keeping my farming business financially sustainable.  There are days when I worry about how Matt and I will pay for all three of our daughters to go to the college of their choice, loan free (which both Matt and I were blessed to be able to do).

There have never been days (in all of my almost 37 years) where I have worried about how I would get food to feed myself and my family.

She is blessed to have never known what it is like to be without food...

Matt’s and my farm is a modern farm, and like many farmers in the United States, the fruits of our labor will feed not only our family but also thousands of other people all around the world.  In a normal twelve month cycle, I ship between 5000 and 5500 animals to harvest.  It takes only one of those animals to feed my family for a year.  The other 4999 animals feed people who spend their lives doing something other than farming and growing food.  Without me, you do not eat.  Without you, I am not blessed with many of the other perks and necessities that fill my life.

He will feed my family for a full year...

It is a system of teamwork; one that enables each American to use their individual talents to bring to fruition the American Dream.

I had never seen subsistence farming until I traveled to Kenya.  Webster defines subsistence as the minimum (as of food and shelter) necessary to support life.  While not all farming in Kenya is subsistence farming, this is the way of life for many Kenyans.

Small plot of farmed land...

Small plots of land tilled, planted, weeded, and harvested by hand marked the countryside.

A woman harvesting by hand...

Small groups of livestock, either herded by a family member or tethered by a rope on the side of the road to graze, were common.

A cow, tethered (on a rope leash) along the side of the road, to graze for the day...

A group of livestock, out to graze for the day, herded by a couple of young men...

Any additional bounty was hauled (predominantly by hand) to local markets to be sold.

Produce, bagged and waiting on the side of the road, to be transported manually to the market...

Some is transported by walking, some by bike, and some by livestock cart...

A roadside market...

The unemployment rate in Kenya is higher than 40% and there is not government assistance to those who do not have a job.  Consequently, large family groups work as a team to create the necessary resources for subsistence.  There are many that, unlike me, worry about what they will eat for the next meal.

Any of you who have a vegetable garden know how much work goes into growing food.  The last couple of years, I have been on a mission to teach my children how to grow their own garden.  My single largest challenge has been motivating them to do the “grunt” work of weeding.  They just plain do not want to work that hard because they know that they can always go inside to the refrigerator and effortlessly find food to eat.  My children have never been hungry.

Imagine growing all of your food by hand (no tiller, no planter, no mechanized way to weed, no sprinklers to water with, no mechanized way to harvest, no car to use to transport the excess to market or to a friend or family member that you share with).  Imagine spending your morning milking a cow or goat, then walking a mile to the stream to gather water, then spending your afternoon planting/weeding/harvesting your garden.  Hunger is a powerful motivator.

A fence made out of thorny bushes which encloses a Samburu village. Livestock are brought inside of the fence at night to protect them from predators. At night, the cattle are free roaming around the village, the goats are placed in small pens within the village perimeter...In the morning, the men take the livestock out to graze after the women have milked them. The women then walk to gather water for the day...This group of semi-nomadic people eat only meat, milk, and chocolate milk (milk mixed with cow blood). They do not raise crops.

Kenya (like the United States) is seeing a large influx of population shift from the rural areas to the city.  Young people are looking for a different life than the one described above.  The challenge then becomes creating a farming system to feed 40 million people when much of the farming is still done by hand.  As we drove across the central part of the country, I saw some large “European style” crop farms that looked quite a bit like my husband’s farm.

Acres tilled, planted, maintained, and harvested by machinery (like we do on our farm)...

I also saw some huge greenhouses dotted along the countryside (cut flowers exported to Europe is one of the largest industries in the country).

Tucked behind the trees, these modern greenhouses are used to grow flowers for export...

But, intermixed between these, were many more subsistence farms.

These goats provide both meat and milk to a family...

There is a big debate going on in our country right now about what type of farming is best.  Is it modern farming?  Is it local farms and markets?  Is it organic farming?  Is it some combination? While this issue is very complex, my trip to Kenya reinforced in my mind that hunger is still an issue.  With a growing world population and a limited number of natural resources, as a farmer, I must continue to strive to do a better job just plain feeding people.

Instead of getting caught up in philosophical issues about what type of food is best, I need to be eternally thankful that I have never wondered what I would feed my children for dinner. 

There are many people both in this country and around the world who do not have that luxury.  As a farmer, I can work to make that better…

It will be very interesting to watch my girls this summer with our vegetable garden to see if the trip to Kenya taught them anything about appreciating and growing food…

 

 

 

 

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A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words…

Kenya Memories…

Our welcoming committee: wart hogs, white rhinos, zebras, impallas, and gazelles...

The King...

The next generation of "Kings"...

The "Kings" and their kill (a Cape Buffalo)...The males eat first, then the females, and lastly the young...

A female leopard...Pure natural beauty...

Her son: going up the tree to eat his "kill" (a Thompson Gazelle)...

The Infamous Cheetah: Lording over our jeep...

A Masai Giraffe...The great ambler!

A Besa Oryx...A type of antelope.

A Gerenuk: The "Giraffe Gazelle"...

Hyenas...

Common Zebras...The stripes are all unique and help for safety from predators and temperature control.

Elephant ears are like fingerprints: Each one is unique...

A Black Rhino: he runs about 42 miles per hour and can make sharp 180 degree turns...

Cape Buffalo...He reminds me of a Brahma bull!

Sunset on the Mara...

A Young Samburu Warrior...

A pair of sad eyes and a pair of "shell shocked" ones...

A Samburu Elder with his child...

Our Maasai guide and guard when we went on a "Nature Walk"...

The Matriarch, The Patriarch, and their grandchildren...

A proud lion shakes the Savanna

with a roar;

A beautiful leopard is about to

score;

A tasty, young, male gazelle;

As beyond the trees the sunlight

fell.

Ashley Grace Burkholder

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The Complexities of Nature…

I have fond memories of riding on the top of my Dad’s hunting rig keeping a watch out for his bird dogs as they looked for quail.  I was always content to just be outside looking for animals and enjoying the landscape.  It was peaceful, quiet, and soothing to my soul—a sharp contrast to the city where we spent most of our time.

My brother and I next to the hunting rig with one of my dad's dogs and the quail she found...

It has been decades since I did that with any frequency… By the time that I was in Junior High School, swimming workouts and competitions dominated my life and kept me from weekends out at the hunting camp; but those early years with my family hunting on cattle ranches in South Florida gave me a glimpse of what I wanted my life to be like.  The quiet solitude that I found in the rural Lake Okeechobee area opened my eyes to the complexities of nature and gently steered me to the life that I live today.

My children take for granted the quiet solitude of rural life, and have learned early to respect the awesomeness of nature.  They watch the challenges that their daddy and I face everyday farming and caring for livestock amidst the irreconcilable force of Mother Nature.  Our life revolves around animals which both fascinates and frustrates them (depending on the day!).

The landscape of "The Mara" in Kenya---really not that different than the grasslands in Nebraska...

When Matt’s parents suggested a family trip abroad, the idea of a safari appealed to us because of our fascination with animals. However, it was not until I stood up for the first time in the safari jeep that I felt the sense of déjà vu taking me back to my childhood memories of riding on the top of the hunting rig.  I remembered trying so hard to spot animals and keep track of the dogs…I remembered the rush of pleasure when my dad would tell me what a great “look out” I was…I remembered the quiet beauty of the grass lands and the marshy swamps…

Megan, on the "look out" for animals...

As we spent our days riding around in the jeeps on safari, I smiled watching my middle daughter, Megan, look for animals with the same tenacity and fascination that I had as a child.  Her expression of awe and pleasure as she took in both the animals and the landscape warmed my heart and reminded me so much of both myself and my dad.  As the saying goes, the apple does not fall very far from the tree.

They come from different worlds...

My oldest daughter, Ashley Grace, brought home memories full of facts on the animals and the culture of Kenya.  She is a twelve year old walking encyclopedia with a keen ability to remember facts and details, and soaked it all up like a sponge.  I am fully expecting for her to periodically surprise us with random facts from Kenya for many years to come!  I am also trying to get her to write some poetry about the trip, and hope that she will accommodate us and put some up on Ashley Grace’s Corner soon.

It looks quite a bit different than our house...No electricity, no running water, a dirt floor, and it houses eight people in a room smaller than my kitchen...

My youngest daughter, Karyn (age 7), had perhaps the biggest epiphanies on the trip.  The afternoon after we visited a tribal “homestead”, she looked at me and said: “Mama, I learned something today.  Not everyone here has everything that they need.”  As a parent, I cannot think of a better lesson.

She got a little bit braver after the initial shock wore off and she was no longer sitting in the seat directly below the cheetah...

About two days after this, a cheetah jumped up on the roll bar on the jeep that she and Megan were riding in.  Karyn and Megan were riding in the back seat (right below where the cheetah jumped up), and Karyn amazed everyone with her ability to move with ROCKET SPEED to the front of the jeep!  Megan had just remarked early that morning that she really wanted to see a cheetah—After the cheetah jumped on their jeep, Karyn told Megan that getting THAT close to a cheetah “really was not necessary”.

Up close and personal...

Although Karyn remembered with clarity, sometimes it was challenging for the rest of us to recollect that the animals were wild and untamed.  The guide told us that the first thing that the animals learn when they are young is who their mom is.  The second thing is what a jeep looks like.  They view the jeep as a “cage”, and as long as we stayed inside the jeep it was just a natural part of their environment.

Am I going to make it?

The same cheetah that jumped up on Karyn and Megan’s jeep also jumped up onto the jeep that Matt and Ashley Grace and I were riding in.  As awesome as it was to see it that close up, it was incredibly disconcerting every time that the big cat looked down into the jeep at us.  I have to admit that it even made me a little bit nervous.  Interestingly, as you can see from this picture, Ashley Grace (my cat lover) was without fear and completely enamored by it.

Aglow with wonder...with an unrestrained wild cheetah close enough to reach out and touch...

Although all three of my daughters created their own independent experiences and memories in Kenya, they all brought home a new perspective.  They gained a new appreciation for both nature and for the blessings of living in a country where food, opportunity, and modern technology are aplenty.

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The Gift That Keeps On Giving…

The Christmas tree that was once laden with ornaments no longer adorns the living room.  The carefully wrapped gifts are opened.  The thank you notes are written (hopefully!).  Christmas Day 2011 and the gifts traditionally given are now memories.

Many years at Christmas-time I worry that my girls will not remember all of the gifts that they receive because the day becomes a mass of activity and a resulting blur…This year was different.  This year, Matt’s parents gave all of us a gift that keeps on giving.

One of the rural airports that we flew out of...No air traffic control, no security, and a dirt runway.

Our family traveled to Kenya on a safari for Christmas.  This trip marked the first major family vacation in the almost 16 years that Matt and I have been married.  Worry about leaving my animals and my business for a significant period of time, worry about taking my children half way across the world, and worry about the safety and logistics of the trip all plagued me in the days prior to our departure.  I remember having a phone conversation with my mom a couple of days before we left where my stress-laden voice cried, “Is it worth all of this work just to go on vacation? It would be easier to just stay home!”.

This is my comfort zone...

I am a home-body.  I am comfortable in my world that consists of my family, my farm, and my town.  I am a creature of habit and normal routines are important to me.  While this trait is very helpful when managing a cattle feed yard where the animals need constant and consistent daily care; the down side is that I tend to develop a tendency toward tunnel vision.

When I think back on all of the gifts that I have been given over the years, it is the gifts that bring me additional knowledge and perspective that I cherish the most.  My life is a series of experiences, and each one has played a huge role in making me the person that I am.  From my background in competitive athletes, to my education at Dartmouth College, to my years of learning to care for animals and run a business-I am certainly a different person today than I was twenty years ago.  While I am very proud of the person that I have become, I also recognize that in order to benefit from continual growth that sometimes I need to go outside of my comfort zone.

In order to think outside of the box, I have to go outside of the box…

Straddling the equator--half on the Northern Hemisphere and half on the Southern Hemisphere...

The trip was absolutely amazing.  The culture and the animals both fascinated and captivated the psychologist and animal lover in me.  I filled half of a journal with notes and asked thousands of questions.  I am planning to write a series of posts to share my experiences and insights: agriculture, food and culture, and the beautiful and wild animals that call Kenya home…Perhaps by reading my posts your knowledge and perspective will be broadened just as mine was.  After all, it is not every day that a Feed Yard Foodie goes to Africa!

Perhaps my perspective is skewed, but there appears to be a cheetah on the top of the jeep that my two younger girls are traveling in... That can not be possible, can it?

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