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South African Country Life - - Travel -

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.

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