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Karl Guenther Column: Tillers


Some time ago, my daughter presented me with one of those “message t-shirts”.  She’d picked it up at a garage sale, or at Goodwill.  Part of the message read something about “old guys rule”. The other part, though, relates to this Komment on Tillers, International. That other part read, “if you don’t know me, you’re not from around here.!”

I’ve had the Tillers newsletter for Fall, 2012 on my desk (buried) for some time now.  It just surfaced. I know a little about Tillers.  I suspect there’s very few of us who know a lot about Tillers.  That’s about to change, according to one of the articles in the aforementioned newsletter, wherein Robert Duke, a 5th year professor of History and Philosophy at Eastern Michigan University explains that he’s about to update us on an oral history project, about the far reaches (Africa) from the “World Heaquarters” of Tillers, in Kalamazoo County.

It’s the brainchild of its current Executive Director, Dick Roosenberg, raised on a dairy farm in Van Buren County.  He spent three years in the Peace Corps, in West Africa, came home to earn a law degree from Wayne State University.  Five years later, he withdrew from active law practice, and formed Tillers as an adjunct to the Kalamazoo Nature Center - -  the Delano Homestead, specifically.

In the ‘80s, Tillers began to expand, first to involve the George and Carroll Abbey farm, near the intersection of Sprinkle and Kilgore roads. Upon the passing of the Abbey brothers, Tillers, under the auspices of the Kalamazoo Foundation was awarded custody of the Abbey farm - - Most notably  Carroll Abbey’s world-famous farm implement collection.

Well, you know how it is, in farm country, and so it was here.  Development pressure from all sides. Tillers made the leap, purchasing the 460-acre Cook’s Mill property near Scotts, south and east ofKalamazoo, on East OP Avenue.

There are occasionally hosted demonstrations of 19th Century American Farming, wherein you might see Herschel and Walker - -  a team of oxen, named for the celebrated running back from the University of Georgia, and later with the Pros.  Might be an interesting story there.

There’s some stuff there with which I am not familiar - - like the Ugandan Pioneer plow, designed and developed  in 2007, for local manufacture in Northern Uganda, with a metal stock commonly available.

That is the Tiller mission - - to train young folks from those countries who know little or nothing of irrigation, or any mechanized equipment.  In many cases draft horses are unheard of and oxen make up the power pack.

International Trainees and Interns presently at Tillers include Faracai Zaruca, Mozambique, Marie Santa Auguste from Haiti, and Esmeralda Lopes Cassambai, also from Moqambique.

Dick Roosenberg himself writes in that Fall Newsletter, “ . . . .our Learning Center can support a quadrupling of its international trainees.”   He asks all of us, with connection to other Non-Government Operations (NGO) and/or church missions, to talk about Tillers’ training capacity.