here is nothing quite like the warm smell of cows, and of fresh milk, but there is also nothing quite like standing on a cowpat and the smell of cow dung. It’s my fault – I left the path at Irene Dairy Farm while exploring and now have to deal with the consequence.
As I wash my shoe in the bubbling furrow,
Holstein dairy cows happily munching and making milk. “Irene farm certainly is caught in the middle,” explains Henry van der Byl, one of the owners of the farm. “Caught between two fast-growing cities, Pretoria and Johannesburg, and we have had to adapt to the circumstances.”
Henry explains that they used to own
5 500 hectares of land stretching from the N1 highway to Rietvlei Dam. “But with the pressure of development we ended up with problems. We were being called out at night " ¿ : ! À of the farm.”
The Van der Byl family did some research and found a new way of dealing with the situation. “We decided on what is called a ‘city farm’, which means that farming is more intense but still within the urban area. It works two ways as we provide a service to the community and they support us by coming to shop here,” explains Henry. They sold off much of the land for developments such as Southdowns and Cornwall Hill, but kept the core of the farm.
There is no doubt that it’s working. I watch people arriving to buy fresh milk at the Irene Farm Shop. “You can bring your own container or you can buy a gallon bucket from us,” says Henry. One customer tells me, “This is the heart of Irene with something for everyone.” Benwell Phiri, who pours me my foaming gallon of milk, has lived in Irene all his life. “My grandmother worked on the farm,” he tells me, “and we will never buy milk anywhere else.”
Two businessmen wander past with their laptops to The Barn Restaurant, a converted barn. Moms try to control toddlers who can’t decide whether to pat the calves or climb on the old tractor, and some German tourists are snapping photos as if they’ve never seen cows before.
At The Barn we sit in the shade of old oaks and enjoy a cappuccino. “Do you want foam or cream?” asks the waitress, a question one usually gets asked in the platteland but it somehow seems appropriate on this city dairy farm.
This area has a long history, and artefacts older than a million years have been found in the bed of the Hennops River. The Bakwena people settled in this area in the 19th century before Mzilikazi swept through and annihilated them.
Captain Cornwallis Harris of the
Royal Engineers hunted here in the 1800s while on leave from India, and wrote enthusiastically of shooting elephants near Olifantsfontein and of a ‘black buck’ that turned out to be a sable.
ABOVE: Aside from fresh farm milk, you’ll find a great selection of home-made goodies and bakes at Irene Farm Shop. RIGHT: The Barn restaurant has a shady outside area and plenty to keep the children amused.