Because of the big focus on youth and World Youth Day early in August Pope Francis chose as the theme for the World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly, celebrated on 23rd July, the relationship between old and young. This is obviously something close to his heart and he mentions it often. MARFAM commemorates the whole month of July with the theme “Grandparents are Family’s roots.” In our society we do tend to separate the generations. A focus on Youth in June and the extremely high rate of youth unemployment is a major concern. At the other extreme there are also many references to how poorly the elderly are cared for, often even in their own families due to a shortage of funds and lack of resources. This separation is a sad reality in so many cases, in the light of the fact that so many grandparents played a major role in bringing up and caring for grandchildren, even to using their own pensions for the greater family. But how is the relationship and how has been the transmission of skills from one generation to another?
I found it really heartwarming to read an article in Daily Maverick headed “Meet the young new faces of agriculture who are putting food on SA’s tables.” While I was obviously impressed by the energy of those young faces what really excited me in these stories was that it had been grandparents who had inspired them. Possibly the older generation were the innovators in their day, but these young farmers are bringing their own new ideas into this age-old occupation.
Many youth see farming as “uncool,” hard or dirty work. But there are young people choosing to enter the agricultural sector as an employment opportunity, a sector where there is some growth and the potential for more. In a much smaller way my own grandson and I do share our progress, or lack thereof at times, in managing our own backyard vegetable patches. But are producing healthy home-grown produce and contributing to in a very small way to food security sufficient motivation I wonder. The financial returns need to be worthwhile too.
The Daily Maverick article told of Ronica, one young woman who has been a poultry farmer for a number of years. She started by using indigenous knowledge, the internet and books, and uses an innovative online approach to market her poultry and fresh produce. She explained that she takes after her grandparents who were farmers and she was also mentored by her mother. Her interest was aroused when as young children visiting their grandparents they never had to go to bed hungry, but could always have the benefit of homegrown food. Farming is her business, feeding the nation and building food security, but chickens are also her love. She shared, “When you look at chickens it’s like having a lot of small babies in the house. Chickens have feelings and are very fragile and emotional, which is why when you enter a chicken house or make a noise they jump around. That warms my heart. It’s not just about using them for meat; they make me happy.” But Is there not an element of eating your pet there?
Another young woman, Chantelle, also inspired by her grandfather and responding to his need to cut down on the vast quantities of coffee that farmers are noted for drinking, chose to become a butternut specialist farmer. The “Butternut company” she founded uses them to make caffeine-free coffee. She also encourages many other young women farmers to provide her with the quantity of butternuts she needs, while she is providing not just jobs but empowerment and entrepreneurship skills, overcoming some of the prejudices against young women farmers.
Young cousins from Katlehong shared how farming is in their blood, being 4th generation farmers in their family. With the example of a commercial farmer and a tobacco farmer the young men have chosen to farm with cash-crop vegetables such as spinach, cabbage, lettuce and kale which are always in demand. They saw how the market is dominated by older people and with some of their educational advantages and innovative ideas they are finding farming a rewarding business and way of life.
Apart from farming there must be many occupations where the elderly can share their knowledge and skills and work together with their young offspring for their mutual benefit, enjoyment and the special value of togetherness across the generations that so seriously needs to be nurtured.
Pope Francis writes in his message: The World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly is meant to be a small but precious sign of hope. I renew my invitation to everyone – dioceses, parishes, associations and communities – to celebrate this Day and to make it the occasion of a joyful and renewed encounter between young and old. To you, the young who are preparing to meet in Lisbon or to celebrate World Youth Day in your own countries, I ask: before you set out on your journey, visit your grandparents or an elderly person who lives alone! Their prayers will protect you and you will carry in your heart the blessing of that encounter. I ask you, the elderly among us, to accompany by your prayers the young people about to celebrate World Youth Day. Those young people are God’s answer to your prayers, the fruits of all that you have sown, the sign that God does not abandon his people, but always rejuvenates them with the creativity of the Holy Spirit.”