Exploring Enaleni Farm, small farmer Thembi Ngobese realised that she now knew what heaven would be like. This was it!
Richard Haigh has transformed a wattle infested 10ha near Camperdown into a Place of Agricultural Abundance – as the name Enaleni states in isiZulu. The farm celebrates the diversity of heritage breeds (many are indigenous) of domesticated animals with interesting histories and stories in South Africa. The mixed farming system of plants and animals present visitors with an opportunity to ponder the relationship between animals, plants and a non-industrialised approach to landuse and food production. Here you will find no herbicides, pesticides or anti-biotics and the animals are most definitely not mutilated (castrated or dehorned).
“Few people know where or how the animals and vegetables they eat are farmed,” Richard told the enthusiastic group of small farmers and gardeners from the Midlands and greater Durban who attended the open day, “ours are raised with care, killed with respect and cooked with love.” Apparently two species of domestic animal go extinct every week, which makes Richard’s work to preserve diversity particularly important.
The traditional multi-coloured Zulu maize ugatigati captured everyone’s imagination. While not originally from Africa, this maize has adapted to the soil and climate, and for the past 25 years, seed has been diligently saved to ensure that it has not been contaminated by commonly grown GMO maize.
“If we grow some,” asked Inge Sciba, “how do we make sure that it does not cross pollinate with our neighbours’crop?” Richard suggested staggering planting times – if planted a month after the neighbour, there would be little chance of crossing. At Enaleni, the maize is ground in a big old hand-grinder to produce delicious speckled polenta.
Enaleni is home to South Africa’s biggest herd of multi-coloured izimvu sheep, with their rasta hairstyles, tiny mouse-like ears and fat tails. Over many centuries they have co-evolved with local conditions to have strong back legs that help them forage in small trees and have a high tolerance to tick-borne diseases and parasites. They have a unique flavour, much leaner than Karoo lamb. Richard does not castrate the sheep, or dock their tails as is common practice amongst farmers.
Having read about Enaleni before visiting, Nhlakanipho Nzimande was keen to meet Marigold and Delilah who provide the farm with milk (shared, of course, with their calves). He left inspired to add a few cows to his farming enterprise and learn how to make his own cheese. “It was a real eye-opener for me.” he said.
Spha Mabaso was so pleased that Richard’s cows were also Nguni /Jersey crosses and his method of hand milking and sharing was the same as his family practiced in Mpophomeni. “I’d love to bring my grandfather here.”
Richard turns this milk into delectable halloumi, ricotta, feta, maas and butter. We were treated to the most delicious handmade ice-cream at lunch. Neliswa Ntombela raved “I can’t wait to eat that fresh ice-cream again. It was the best I have ever tasted. I loved the guava wine and will be making some for myself. Richard was so friendly when we asked him questions and shared the ways of making all the food with us. He even knows all the names of the animals and vegetables in my language, isiZulu.”
Among all the interesting varieties of fowl, Nhlakanipo and Neliswa were really taken with the “gigantic yellow” Buff Orpingtons. At lunch, one of the dishes on offer was chicken pie – made from the Venda chickens. Two breeds of turkeys live happily at Enaleni – American Mammoth Bronze and the Beltsville White.
The spotted landrace Kolbroek pigs are believed to be descended from animals that swam ashore after a ship wreck in 1778. At Enaleni they are farmed in a way that enables them to free range and free-farrow and express their natural behaviour. Their diet includes grasses, macadamia nuts, fruit, insects, maas /whey from the dairy cows and gmo-free grains grown right there. They thrive as a result.
Enaleni reminded Christeen Grant of mountain villages in Lesotho – where everything has a reason to exist – the animals are all part of daily life, they and the crops are harvested in a sustainable way to ensure survival of the richest kind, uncontaminated by chemicals and organically produced. “Richard introduced us to his farm with justifiable pride. The pigs, sheep, cows, hens, turkeys and ducks were all happily going about their lives, the veggie garden flourishing even in winter. All were interconnected, mulch from the animals enriches the soil in the garden, and all are part of an ethically sustainable produce, which we sampled at lunch, scrumptious! Whilst showing us round the farm Richard explained that he could look us in the eye when he said he would be eating the livestock and their produce, that he used to be vegetarian. He can, because he farms with ethic, not greed. He is also generously happy to share seeds and information with others. Bathed in cool sunshine the aloes, veggie garden and animals glowed with vitality. A stunning example of how to live sustainably.”
Before lunch, Richard invited everyone into the ever-evolving vegetable garden to gather salad for lunch. Amongst the recognisable greens, some unusual varieties flourished and plenty of ‘weeds’ – nutritious wild greens known as imifino i isiZulu.
The beautiful tunnel planted with Double Beans had many of us paying extra attention to create one of our own at home.
The abundant broad beans looked healthy in the winter sun, but how on earth would Enaleni make use of all the beans they looked set to produce? “Why, falafel of course,” Richard told us, “fava beans are traditionally used for falafel.”
Clearly Richard is fascinated by relationships between plants – the tamarillo, cape gooseberry and pineapple sage growing beside one another all have the same region of origin, so naturally grow well together and taste fabulous when combined in dishes. Many tried a tree tomato for the first time and took some fruit home for seed to grow their own. The Enaleni orchard has avocado, macadamia, guava and olive trees too. Spha Mabaso loved all the new ideas to add value to the guavas he produces – dried strips and bottled in syrup. “The best part about Enaleni is that the crops that they produce are organic just like mine. I love the way he lets nature take its course and not to follow the standardized methods by commercial farmers. I believe I still got a long way to go in terms of learning all the processing methods. The is so much I can learn from if I keep attending events like this – growing in terms of business and skills of production.”said Spha.
Oh, we just kept on learning and sharing all day!
Enaleni is in a rain shadow belt – the transition zone between coastal and hinterland. Richard reminded us that edges, or transition zones, between two biomes are usually where the greatest diversity occurs. They never have enough rainfall at Enaleni, but a slow and steady borehole and extensive use of grey water ensure that livestock and plant flourish.
Enaleni grows soya and traditional grains (sorghum, millet, maize) that are certified GMO-free and save their own seed. “Seeds are the backbone of agriculture, our investment in the future. There is no food sovereignty without seed security. Seed sovereignty is vital to Enaleni’s agroecological approach to food production.” We all agreed.
Members of the Midlands Barter Markets and Mpophomeni gardeners shared seeds with new friends (as they regularly do). Those unused to trade without money, were a bit unsure when we accepted hugs in exchange for seeds, but soon got the hang of it! Spha Mabaso brought fresh Speckled Beans, Thembi Ngobese a range of pretty beans she grows on her two hectares in Swayimani. Rose Kunhardt shared fascinating African Horned Cucumbers she had grown in Dargle. Ntombenhle Mtambo shared fennel, chard and carrot seed from her township garden.
Christeen Grant shared seed originally from Lesotho and Nikki Brighton interesting varieties originally grown by rural farmers in Zululand – including Canavalia ensiformis, or jack bean. Known in isiZulu as the bean that causes flatulence – umadumanqeni!
Over lunch on the veranda, plans were made to visit each other’s gardens, recipes and gardening stories were shared. We feasted on pies of chicken or butternut and Jerusalem artichoke (using herbs and spices grown within sight) and a flower decked salad. A visitor from Holland, Rosa Deen was delighted to have been invited. “I love seeing how the sense of community grows at these kinds of events. Knowledge thrives when it is shared, not sold.”
“Richard has worked tirelessly for 14 years to make the place a living dream for farmers and visitors. He is not a lazy person and will not fail. He works hard and reaps the fruit. The food and drinks were excellent – all made from fruits, vegetables, herbs grown on the farm. My body feels younger. Ngiyabonga kakhulu.” Thembi Ngobese enthused.
Carol Addis was entranced. “No warm winter day could have been spent in a more delightful and enlightening place than Enaleni Farm. Richard is passionate about eco agriculture, enhancing his property with natural aloes and beautiful vegetable gardens for animals, birds and swarms of insects to mix freely. He regrets the odd bit of bird netting to protect green crops from mouse birds and monkeys – this attitude to other beings is so refreshing. Richard is an inspiration – an absolute treat of slow food in a fast food world.”
Tutu Zuma loved the networking and meeting new people. Ntombenhle Mtambo was thrilled to find all three cook books that she is featured in on Richard’s coffee table! “Richard is an example to us all – he respects, collects, saves, re-uses, protects, cares, nurtures and his animals walk freely. We saw evidence of what we need in our daily lives. I feel proud to be part of the Slow Food Mpophomeni team and show my colleagues this special place of plenty.” said Ntombenhle.
It was a truly splendid day of savouring new tastes, making new friends, sharing seeds and soaking up Richard’s wealth of knowledge.
Bruce Haynes concludes “As a young person growing up in the 21st century, experiencing a farm that can cook up three-course meals using only ingredients from with a 350m radium of the kitchen was nothing short of magical. Richard’s relationship with the organic farm-system he has created, and his pragmatic compassion for his animals, models a way forward for all of us seeking to live more wisely and fully on this planet.”
Richard Haigh hosts lunches using only ingredients grown at Enaleni on the first Sunday of each month – Eataleni – which are delicious and inspiring. See Enaleni Farm on Facebook for details or call: 0828722049. You are very likely to make a new friend too.