Getting a conscience down on the old farm

2011-12-10 13:38

The Forbes’ Dutch-style farmhouse nestles in a pine forest in Amsterdam, 60km from Piet Retief. Zebra and springbok roam the 5 600-hectare property.

A casual observer might assume that this family is sensitive to environmental issues, living as close as they do to nature.

But no, says the owner, Dr Colin Forbes (51). Like many South African families, they haven’t given much thought to going green.

“Certainly I believe we should be using renewable energy – particularly solar and wind power – on the farm,” says Forbes, “but I must confess I never thought about having a solar panel in my house.”

Forbes, who lives with his mother Elaine (74), his fiancee, Nelene Botha (33) and their two children, Nick (10) and David (2), has two careers: his other “day job” is as a physician at the government hospital in Piet Retief.

The Forbes family has lived and farmed here since 1860. Their crops include mealies, soya beans and potatoes. In addition they run 2 500 head of cattle.

Colin Forbes is aware of the COP17 talks in Durban, and knows about green energy choices, but he frankly admits that he’s made no real effort to change anything.

“We have two windmills that have broken down.

“We use an electric emission pump for a borehole that supplies our water and it has never crossed my conscience to fix the windmills to use them to pump our water,” he says.

At home they have a swimming pool and every electric appliance one can think of – stoves, washing machines, heaters, microwave oven, computers.

“We don’t tumble dry,” says Forbes thoughtfully. “Perhaps, that’s where I can say we save energy.”

While the family may be candid carbon-chewers in their own home, Forbes has recently consulted experts about how to use renewable energies in his farming enterprise.

“We would certainly use bio-fuel for our fleet of 12 tractors if it was available,” he says.

“But you know that in this country it’s a balancing act between food security and energy, as soya beans and maize are used to produce bio-diesel and ethanol (petrol) respectively.”

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