The Socialist Gardener – Ben Tsuro

A friendly Zimbabwean man has turned on the ‘grow your own food’ vibe in my neighbourhood. Wherever you find Ben Tsuro he is working. Whether planting parsley at his neighbour’s garden, helping a Makoti mop the stoep or digging a hole, he loves to work. He calls himself a Socialist Farmer.

Ben Tsuro with Mazwi Ngubane and Vusi Danisa
Ben Tsuro with Mazwi Ngubane and Vusi Danisa

A painter by trade, he came to South Africa nine years ago to seek employment and has settled in most major South African cities. Back at home, he managed a farm that produces tobacco, maize, cotton, wheat and barley.
Ben loves growing food so much that he buys seeds and seedlings with money earned from his odd painting jobs and plants them, not only in his garden, but his neighbours’ gardens as well. This last year, he has assisted five families to have productive gardens. Coming from a country where farming is the staple of life it’s no wonder he has a fondness for agriculture. He is always friendly and generous, believing that people should not be short of greens. Ben says “Green equals Life, growing plants for food is a reflection of the life we lead.”

harrismith 124Ben has awakened people from their iCansi (sleeping mat). Mazwi Ngubane’s garden is now sprouting with cabbages, mealies, spinach and pumpkin, when not long ago it was just hard, bare ground shadowed by fruit trees. Ben’s landlord, Vusi Danisa, thinks he is a blessing as he would have liked long ago to have a vegetable garden but because of illness, associated with aging, never had the energy to get it started.

harrismith 127Ben has travelled around the globe, through Southern Africa all the way to Yugoslavia. He says “Every place you land, you must make a home and every person you meet, you must make a friend.” That helps him get through to people and motivate them into doing things for themselves. He hopes to help others establish household gardens and was delighted to hear of the iLima project of the Mpophomeni Conservation Group, where he will be able to volunteer his assistance.

Shine Ben!

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Cultivating Joy

Renee from The Expedition Project visited Mpophomeni recently. She brought along some friends too. Leon Coetzer took these wonderful photos.

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Renee says “On my way to visit the Mpophomeni Community Garden, my expectations were not unusual. I anticipated seeing a nice vegetable garden and hearing the story behind its creation. What I encountered instead was an organic work of art and its passionate creator.

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Ntombenhle Mtambo’s determination to make a meaningful difference in her community is beyond inspiring and her garden is hard evidence that will silence even the most jaded naysayers. But the most remarkable thing was that my companions and I left Mpophomeni feeling invigorated, as if being around Ntombenhle had fed our very souls. She’s not just growing vegetables, but cultivating joy and freedom.

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We’re very excited to watch the seeds of her vision grow into nourishing shoots that reach her whole community and beyond.”

IMG_4828Malusi was making Eco-Bricks

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Blue was being beautiful

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Neighbours were going about their daily business

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Goats were catching the early sun

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Kids were curious

IMG_4789The Tuck Shop was opening up for the day

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Someone was organising a celebration

IMG_5011Cows were eating whatever they could find

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Birds were singing

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Pumpkins were in flower and the bees were abuzz

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Someone got up early to do their washing

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Another lovely day in Mpop.  What does Ntombenhle have to add? “I am the happiest Permaculture Queen on the Planet!”

Siyadlala futhi Siyafunda

Everyone knows that you learn better when you are having fun. In Mpophomeni we also know that there are plenty of opportunities for learning and fun right on our doorstop.  Almost 100 Mpophomeni youngsters have lots of stories to share as they head back to school this week after participating in a variety of holiday activities organised by the Mpop Kidz Club facilitators Ayanda Lipheyana and Tutu Zuma.

Whenever they suggest a fieldtrip to explore the uMthinzima Stream to do some miniSASS and turbidity tests, a small crowd of enthusiastic youngsters interested in acquiring more knowledge about the environment, arrives.

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Early in December the younger members of the club learned about river health and the water creatures that indicate good quality water. They headed to the uMthinzima stream for a practical session. There was a manhole spilling into the river, so it was too dangerous to get in the water to do a miniSASS, but they did test the water clarity – it was only 3cm!

We talked about how a miniSASS test works and practiced pronouncing all the difficult words. Samke, in Grade 3 was curious “Why don’t we take frogs and fishes into consideration when doing miniSASS?” she asked. Noxolo, in Grade 7 explained that we only use aquatic invertebrates for the survey because they are easy to catch. “Sisebenza ngezilwanyana ezingenawo umgogodla.”

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A few days later, a group returned to do some proper mini SASS tests working their way up the stream from the very polluted area behind the Municipal Offices. It was lovely warm day and although it started to rain before we were finished, everyone enjoyed themselves.

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At the first site they found worms, crabs, bugs and damselflies- a dismal score of 4.25. Further upstream the score improved to 5.2.

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As we walked, we passed small forest patches and the children took the opportunity to discuss alien plants and indigenous forest.

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At the third site we found mayflies, damselflies, bugs or beetle and caddisflies. There were lot of stones and fast flowing bubbling water – the stream was largely natural – in a Good condition.

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At site four we found flatworm, crabs, other mayflies, damselflies, dragonflies, caddis flies and true flies, but the score dropped to 6.5.The water clarity test was 64.

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Exploring Nguga Stream

A small group of high school kids trekked across to the Nguga Stream on Goble’s Farm opposite Mpophomeni just before Christmas. During the morning, four children who live nearby were watching us and we called them to join in.mpop streams mini sass 104

The first spot we did a miniSASS test was just below Midmar Crushers. We found flatworms, Minnow mayflies, Damselflies and true flies – a score of only score of 3.5. The turbidity score was high – 50cm. There was a short discussion about what could be the reason for a low MinSASS average score when the water clarity was good? Ayanda explained “The MiniSASS average score shows that the site is in very poor condition and the water clarity score shows that the river condition is not that bad. Better water clarity does not mean water is in natural condition. If we can do MiniSASS in water that we drink from the tap. We will find no insect and the MiniSASS score will be zero while the water clarity is 100cm.” Asanda thought it was possible that at Midmar Crushers release some chemicals in the stream that kills insects but does not affect water clarity.

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Our next site was 100m downstream from the first. The MiniSASS average score improved to 4.25, but the water clarity test decreased from 50cm to 31cm. We noticed that between site1 and site 2 people were washing, children were swimming and cattle passing through the stream.mpop streams mini sass 147

Another 200m downstream we did another water clarity test and we got only 17cm! The site is spot where the surrounding community dump their rubbish. The manager of the area, Doug who joined us, said people are dumping rubbish in the stream because the Municipality does not collect rubbish for Nguga community. He suggested we start a petition and forward it to the counsellors or municipality authorities.

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As we walked we saw 2 dead goats in the stream and a leaking manhole. However, the sewage does not go straight into the stream, it spreads over the land and has formed a ‘sewage wetland’ near the stream. The MiniSASS test we conducted here was 3.8 and the water clarity has improved to 31cm We thought that the leaking manhole was not affecting the stream that much.mpop Nguga stream stream mini sass

Everyone enjoyed exploring a new stream and had fun making things from the clay on the banks.

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Exploring Nguga Forest

Early in January the MCG trailed across to the forested area near Nguga stream to learn about trees.

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In groups they identified 12 indigenous species and discussed the functions of each tree using the Sharenet Forest Community Handbook.

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They repeated the exercise in a plantation nearby and found only five species.

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They surprised a group of kids swimming in the stream! Eish, it was HOT!

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Kids were given the picture of a puzzle with environmental issues and the one that they had to fix and they did give the feedback of what is wrong in the puzzle and how they did fix it.

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Nomfundo Mlotshwa said “I enjoyed myself today, it was great. I learned a lot of new things about gum trees and that there are many different species in an indigenous forest. In the indigenous forest there is more shade and the plants that grow there help one another to survive.”

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From the forest to the grassland – our next outing was up the hills that surround Mpophomeni to conduct a grassland study. We wanted to compare the grasses at the top of the hill and at the bottom. We were hoping to find more species at the top.

As we walked, participants remembered other times they had been up the hills. Bulelani Ngobese remembered that way back in 2009 he left his red cap on top while having a picnic and wondered if he would find it again!

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On top each group collected different species of grasses within a 9 metre square area for 15 minutes, then spent time identifying the different species using the Grasses of SA guide.

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We found 15 species of grasses but couldn’t identify all the species. We did identify thatching grass, red grass, brown needle grass, bristle grass and spear grass and discusses the functions of grasses and whether or not each species was palatable to cattle.

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We had a picnic of apples, eggs and fresh, cold water before heading back down the hill. At the bottom in the disturbed area we only managed to find 7 species of grass.

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Everyone really enjoyed the excursion. Phelelani Sibiya said “Sihambile kakhulu safunda.Sahlukanisa izinhlobo zotshani esizitholile saphinde sadla sasutha saqeda sahamba.” Tharibo Zondi added “Osukwini lanamhlanje sifunde lukhulu bengingazi ukuthi utshani buhlekene,sengizokwazi ukufundisa abanye abantu uma sibambisane singenza okugcono.”

We were all happy to conclude that our assumption was correct – we did find more species at the top of the mountain than at the bottom of the mountain.

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Tutu commented “The views were amazing, most of the kids had never been up here before. they could not believe how beautiful Mpophomeni looks from so high up.”

Children from Ethembeni Family Centre are keen to adopt part of the uMthinzima stream that is only 50m away, to keep the banks free of litter and monitor the condition of the water. The purpose of this excursion was to introduce the 22 kids and 4 adults to mini SASS.

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We walked from Mpophomeni Library to uMthunzima stream behind the Municipality offices near the sewage pumping station to do the first test. We found flatworm, redworm, damselflies, bugs, beetles and snails, the river is in very poor condition. The water clarity was only 9.00cm.

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It took about an hour to walk to the second site. Along the way we saw some indigenous trees. 10 year old, Anele Mgadi said”Ngiyasikhumbula lesi sihlahla umama wethu uSofe usake waifundisa ngaso e-centre.”   Then she thought for a while and said “umlahlankosi usetshenziselwa amadlozi.” Ziziphus mucronata or Buffalo Thorn.

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At the second site young John observed that the river condition was improving. We found caddisflies, true flies, damselfies, other mayflies, damselfies, minor mayflies, crabs and flatworm and our score was 5.7. The water clarity was 35cm

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The kids made notes about all that the found –

We should make sure that we keep the manholes clean so that we can drink clean water. We found a leaking stamkoko 3 years siqalile so that means 3 years makaka engena emanzini! We do not to have throw rubbish in the river, we can make many things with rubbish by recycling. We found some stones, we found some small insect living under small stones. Sabona isitamukoko sokugcina esingena emanzini uma ufuna ubhukuda. Bhukuda ngenhla kwaso not ngenzansi.

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We walked along the banks for another two hours passing some children swimming. In the clean clear water Nhlaka found a stonefly! “Look what I found. I found a big one.” He shouted, with no idea how exciting his find was. Our miniSASS score here was 9.

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Ayanda concludes “This was the one of best young groups I have had so far. They were all active and participating. We all had fine time and experienced new things together.”

For the very last excursion of the holidays, the kids asked if they could walk along the uMthinzima again to the top where the water is clean. 38 youngsters aged 8 to 19 and four adults joined in the river walk! They will be monitoring the stream at once a month and conducting regular clean-ups along the banks of the stream.

mpop kidz jan 108As expected, the river behind Municipal offices near the sewage pumping station gave us a very low score of 3.8. The water clarity was 6cm.

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We walked for the next three hours, not dawdling too much as the kids were keen to swim in the clean water at the top. We passed some other kids swimming along the way.

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Near the source of the stream, where it is natural condition, we found crabs, flatworm, snail, dragonfly, other mayflies, damselfly, bugs and beetle and caddisflies – a super score of 8. The water clarity was an amazing 97cm – what a difference from 6cm further down! Everyone was happy to see the part of clean water Mthunzima stream and had fun exploring and splashing.mpop kidz jan 185

We explored the forested area on each side of the stream. It was lovely and cool.

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To conclude the day we used a picture building game. On one side the river is polluted while on the other side was in natural condition. All the kids were given different coloured crabs. Red crab (no life or poor condition), green crab (natural condition), purple crab (poor condition) and had to put the crabs into the poster where they think they belong.

Nosipho Mchunu, in Grade 6 loved the walk. “I have never been up here before, it was so beautiful, I loved it.”

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Tutu Zuma, MCG facilitator “We had a great day and hopefully the kids did learn new things.”

Now that’s a lot of lekker, local holiday activities!

Dogs and Kids love the Garden

Since the Community Garden first started, it has attracted children to join in the fun and learning. Some stop by on their way home from school to do a little work, others help out with watering or harvesting. Some spend time relaxing or exploring. Blue and Trevar enjoy time to play in the stream, chase the birds and hang out with the kids too!

This is a collection of Kids and Dogs pictures taken this summer.

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The Mpophomeni Conservation Group is building household and community self-reliance by transforming homes and landscapes into productive, resilient ecosystems. The backyard garden is potentially the most productive means of growing food on the planet. MCG support citizens to move from inspiration to implementation – you are never too young to start!

iNtaba Fihlekile

Inhlosane is visible from the hills surrounding Mpophomeni and it has long been a dream of some of the boys who enjoy hiking, to climb it. “Intaba ifihlekile” was the comment as we drove out through the Dargle valley – the hill was indeed hidden, shrouded in cloud.r inhlosane dec 2014 057

Undeterred, we set off up towards the peak anyway, with a chorus of Cidacas echoing through the plantation, hoping that the cloud would lift for a little while at least so we could see the views. The first indigenous plant we came across on emerging from the plantation was protea. Everyone reminisced about seeing them on the trip to Hlatikulu in 2013.

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The mist got thicker the higher we climbed. At least it wasn’t baking hot on the slopes as it could have been – even at 8 in the morning.

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Plenty of summer plants were in bloom, so opportunities to stop and discuss them, the animal tracks, and the insects allowed us to catch our breath.

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The last part of the 2,2km ascent to the ridge is very steep through large dolerite boulders. “My best moment was reaching the top and the gentle blow of the mist and cold wind. I needed that after the steep, sweaty hike.” said Asanda. The mist swirled, offering occasional glimpses of the valley below.

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On reaching the beacon, we sent photos and messages to those who were unable to join us due to family commitments “Sesisenhlosana, we are 1947m above sea level.”

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A discussion about the name Inhlosane followed. Hlosa means to ‘develop’ – the shape of the hill from a distance looks like a young girl’s developing breast.

Everyone took turns to take photographs and videos (thanks Sue Hopkins!), capturing the colours on the rocks, the tiny flowers, the skinks, the graffiti on the beacon and of course, one another.r inhlosane dec 2014 197

We explored a little and settled down for a picnic amongst the rocks.

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A group of hikers emerged through the mist to join us. Rose Dix, one of the group, was delighted to meet the boys saying “Oh I know all about you, I follow the blogs and Facebook and see pictures of all your adventures and everything that is happening in Mpophomeni!”

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While we finished off our brunch, the intrepid hikers set off down the other side of Inhlosane for a distant waterfall where they planned to stop for lunch and then walk about 6kms along the road, back to the carpark. I enjoyed meeting people who were old enough to be my grandparents on top of the mountain.”   commented Asanda.

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The cloud lifted and the views were wonderful. We could see the Drakensberg and had fun pointing out Howick, uMngeni Vlei, kwaHaza, Lion’s River, Midmar and Albert Falls dam. “Where is Zenzane in Balgowan?” Philani wanted to know, having made new friends who live there, on the MCF excursion to Shawswood recently.

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Taking the opportunity to sit quietly listening to the sounds that floated up from the valley,

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and imagining we could fly! r sihle inhlosane dec 2014 crop

When it was time to leave, the boys skipped like mountain goats down the slope. Philani and Sihle were intrigued by the cairn of rocks that marked the path. “Well done to the people who came up with that idea to show the way, it is great.”

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Not wanting the adventure to end, halfway down we sat a while in the grassland, enjoying the views and using the binoculars (thanks N3TC) as magnifying glasses to look at the details on the flowers surrounding us.

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On the way home we stopped at the Mandela Capture Site, to visit the sculpture that they had only seen on television before and wander through the displays. “Awesome, Perfect, Mnandi” were the comments in the visitors book from Mpophomeni. These words described an entire day of interesting revelations, actually.

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Midlands Conservancies Forum believes that giving young people opportunities to be in nature stimulates creativity, curiosity and imagination, interest in local flora and fauna and respect for, and connectedness to, nature. These experiences are essential to produce tomorrow’s creative thinkers and change agents.

Soil, Air, Water

Mpop Kidz Club headed across the road recently to a different world – Thurlow Reserve on the banks of Midmar Dam. Tutu Zuma, Kidz Club facilitator said “They were so excited to have a trip outside of Mpophomeni and especially to see zebras and different buck. It was not hard to organise, and transport was cheap. Everyone should learn about the wonderful local things instead of going to Durban and other places.”

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While fun was high on the agenda, facilitator Ayanda Lipheyana was not going to miss the chance for a few lessons. He divided the 38 youngsters into three groups – Soil, Air and Water. Each group had to do some research on each abiotic component that is the basis for all life. Why do they think that these things are important for humans and what affect do humans have on each component?

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Each group did a MiniSASS and water clarity test using the turbidity tube on the banks of the dam. There were not many invertebrates because water levels are low and there are no stones or vegetation on the edges of the dam.   The MiniSASS Average score was 5.5. The water clarity score ranged between 45-53.

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During the feedback, many different points were raised and it became clear that humans are completely dependent on Soil, Air and Water. Zama said water is the source of life because we cook using water and we drink water – “amanzi ayimpilo ngoba siyapheka ngawe futhi siyawaphuza”. Palesa said water is the habitat for the aquatic animals. Noxolo said we need air to breath and plants need air to grow. Samke said on behalf of the soil “People make bricks out of me and they build houses using me.” Zama added “Without soil there will be no food.” Ndalo, also talking about soil, said “Soil very important because people use it as sunscreen when it is hot.”

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Ayanda asked some interesting questions like: How long can a person live without breathing? Thando guessed four hours. Ayanda asked all the kids to close their mouths and noses for one minute – no one managed even 30 seconds!  Humans can survive a maximum of four minutes without breathing, live a maximum of four days without water and live for two months without having food.

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Ayanda built a pyramid to illustrate this. The bottom row has soil, air and water, with plants and animals balanced on top of them and then the top level for humans. The hierarchy shows that humans depend on everything in the bottom and middle tiers. Everyone understood the importance of conserving what we have because when one of the bottom tier was removed, humans fell down along with the animals and plants.

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Everyone enjoyed having lots of space to play soccer, throw balls and skip with the skipping rope they had made using discarded bread bags.

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Tutu showed everyone how to make Christmas cards using old magazines and everyone made one to take home for their family and friends.

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Sitting on the banks of the dam enjoying a picnic, the children were astonished to see that the dam had waves. “They felt as if they were at the sea!” laughed Tutu.   It was a long, productive and very happy day. Ayanda concluded “These kids were so energetic and amazing, they made my day. I love these kids.” 

Thank you N3TC for funding all the Mpop Kidz Club activities this year and Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife for waiving the entrance fee to Thurlow for this excursion.

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Mini SASS Surprise!

Last month, the Mpophomeni Conservation Group invited youngsters to learn about the indigenous forest patches in the area and compare them to man made plantations. Discussions amongst the students around the issues of Alien vs Indigenous were vigorous. Nomfundo Mlotshwa was curious to know why people still planted invasive species which use so much water.  “To make all the furniture – like our school desks.  iHlahla zesizulu zikhula zibe nestem esincane. Indigenous trees grow too slow.” Asanda Ngubane replied.

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They wandered up the valley along the stream in search of interesting trees, and to their horror, observed five overflowing manholes polluting the river and six dumping sites close to the bank. “I am worried that the rubbish will wash into the river when it rains” said Lineth Mbambo.

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Much of the river that they walked beside appeared to be in a very poor condition.

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Once they got beyond the mass of houses, they were pleased to discover the river in a much better state. They explored a little and determined right away to return and do miniSASS tests along the length of the uMthunzima which flows directly into Midmar.

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Then a couple of weeks ago, ten enthusiastic learners turned up on a cold and rainy day to explore more. Ayanda Lipheyana (MCG facilitator) helped them make raincoats out of refuse bags to ward of the worst of the wet. They did four miniSASS tests in four different sites. Ayanda reports:

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We named our sites 1, 2, 3 and 4. Before we started Sihle Ngcobo asked “What is miniSASS? I saw the word in your invitation SMS and went to the dictionary but unfortunately I didn’t get the definition.”  I explained  what it is and why it is important to monitor streams in order to understand changes to the stream.

At Sites 2 and 3 we did miniSASS together. Kids were separated into 2 groups to do miniSASS at site 1 and 4.  Site 1 is lower down the stream and site 4 is up the uMthunzima stream closest to the source. As we go up the stream kids noticed that the clarity of water improved and miniSASS score changed from bad to good.

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At site 1 the water clarity was good but the miniSASS score was 3.5 which is very bad. We thought it because there was not too much life. We only 4 invertebrates and there was no oxygen because water was moving slowly and there is raw sewage from the manhole entering the stream above.

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At site 2 the water clarity was good and the miniSASS score was better – 5.6. There was more life and no sewage coming into the stream but there was some human activities – like washing and an illegal dumping site.

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At site 3 the water clarity was very good. There was more life we found 5 invertebrates and score was 7.8 which means the river is in good condition.The water was bubbling over the stones, which meant there was oxygen in the water.  Here Asanda Ngubane found a stonefly!

Kids were so excited to see a stonefly for the first time. Philani Ngcobo said “I did not know about the stonefly.  I was so happy that I learnt something new, and that part of our river is clean and good for the animals that live there.”

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At site 4 the water clarity was the same as at the site 3 but the miniSASS score was only 5.6. We found 7 invertebrates. Water moving slowly, means low oxygen.  We are confused why we got so much difference between site 3 and site 4 because site 3 and 4 they are 15 meters away from each other and site 4 is further upstream than site 3.  We will return to these sites again.

We had fun and the kids plan to go back on a sunny day, do more test and compare results. Londeka said “It is a new information for us about aquatic invertebrates adaptations and it will help us in Life Science.”  I made it clear that we can only drink water from the stream where we found a stonefly and that if there are human activities upstream we can not drink that water.

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Earlier in October, MCG collected 46 bags of litter from the uMlanga Stream near where it flows under Mandela Drive. Ayanda phoned the Municipality to collect the rubbish and was pleased when they arrived a few hours later. Ayanda concludes: We chose this spot because it is visible. to encourage others who love their environment to volunteer to help.  People passing by appreciated the work we were doing.  One said “We must make you guys counsellors because it seems you love your area”.

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David Clulow comments: “If only this series of photos and comments could be seen by real Leaders of the World, by Parliaments everywhere, by World Forums – maybe, just maybe, someone would care who could do something positive for Mother Earth.”

Slow Food – sidla ngoludala

Terra Madre Day is an initiative of The Slow Food movement who promote good, clean fair food. All around the world, communities gather to celebrate eating local food – sustainable, diverse and delicious.
Terra Madre day - Lindiwe, Tutu, Ntombenhle and Penelope
For the whole week we will be eating only vegetables and drinking fresh water, nothing else. On Terra Madre Day we will prepare and share the food that is growing in our garden with our community. We want to inspire everyone to live a healthy life and grow good food.
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Imifino – wild greens – epitomises what Slow Food is all about. The KZN Slow Food Convivium, that the Mpoppies are members of, is also called ‘Imifino’.
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Everyone has a favourite imifino. Amanda Ntombela picked imbuya today in the community garden.
harrismith 223Nosipho Dladla helped, although she prefers spinach.
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One lady came past and asked if she could come and pick only uqadolo – that is her favourite kind.
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On 10 December we joined thousands of people all across the world to celebrate #TerraMadreDay , with a bring and share lunch in our community garden.

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Nelly brought potatoes, Zamile boiled butternut with imifino,

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Penz stir fried radish and carrots with olive oil and a little chilli,  Nqobile made a salad of tomatoes, avocado and ucadolo,

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There were radishes (of course!)

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Nikki contributed parley and pecan pesto, onion marmalade and mint cordial. It was a feast!

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These are the 10 essential ingredients for a Slow Food Garden.

  1. They are created by a community. The gardens bring together and value the capacities of all the community membersuniting different generations and social groups (village and school associations, local administrators or non profit organisations). They recover the wisdom of older generations, make the most of energy and creativity of younger people, and benefit from the skills of experts.
  2. They are based on observation. Before planting a garden, it is necessary to learn to observe and to get to know the terrain, local varieties and water sources. The garden must be adapted to its surroundings, and local materials should be used to make the fencing, compost bins and nurseries.
  3. They do not need a large amount of space. By looking creatively at the space available, it is possible to find somewhere to put a food garden in the most unlikely places: on a roof, by the side of a footpath and so on.
  4. They are gardens of biodiversity. Slow Food gardens are places for local biodiversity, which has adapted to the climate and terrain thanks to human selection. These nutritious and hardy varieties do not need chemical fertilizers and pesticides. The gardens are also planted with medicinal plants, culinary herbs, and fruits trees (bananas, mangos, citrus).r greens 1
  5. They produce their own seeds. Seeds are selected and reproduced by the communities. This means that every year the plants become stronger and better suited to the local area, and money does not need to be spent on buying packets of seeds.They are cultivated using sustainable methods. Natural remedies based on herbs, flowers or ash are used to combat harmful insects or diseases.
  6. They save water. Once again, an approach based on observation and creativity is fundamental. Sometimes it only takes a gutter, tank or cistern to collect rainwater to resolve seemingly insurmountable problems and avoid more expensive solutions.
  7. They are open-air classrooms. Food gardens offer an excellent opportunity for teaching adults and children alike about native plant varieties, promoting a healthy and varied diet, explaining how to avoid using chemicals and giving value to the craft of farmers.
  8. They are useful, but also fun. Food gardens are a simple and inexpensive way of providing healthy and nutritious food. But even in the most remote villages and the poorest schools, Slow Food gardens are also a place for games, celebrations and fun.
  9. They are networked together. Neighboring gardens exchange seeds, while those further away exchange ideas and information. The coordinators meet, write to each other and collaborate. School gardens in Western countries are raising funds for the African gardens.r greens 3

A food garden is a drop in the ocean compared to the problems Africa faces every day. But if the number of gardens grows from a hundred to a thousand to ten thousand, and they share and support each other, their impact grows. Together, they can transform into a single voice, speaking out against land grabbing, GMOs and intensive agriculture, and in favour of traditional knowledge, sustainability and food sovereignty. Learn more about Slow Food.

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See How Our Garden Grows

“Every home must have a garden” declares Ntombenhle Mtambo passionately. Not content with turning her tiny back yard into a food forest, Ntombenhle has been pestering the uMngeni Municipality for the past 8 years to allow her to use a vacant plot, which residents have been using as a dumping site, for a food garden.  This is a collection of photos taken between August and December 2014 of the progress made on the corner of Mhlongo and Stadium Roads in Mpophomeni.

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Volunteers began by clearing the rubbish from the site

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eish, so much buried plastic!

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Removing rocks

making progress

and levelling

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Once the fence was up, real gardening could start. Thanks Hilton and Howick Rotary for sponsoring the fence.

fence goes up

“This is so important,” Ntombenhle says, “Everyone should have the ability to afford a healthy lifestyle. In this garden we will share skills and teach people to recycle all the things they think are waste.”

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The first swales is marked and dug

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More beds and swales spread across the site

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Everyone is learning as they work.

r mpop garden october digging swale

Seedlings are gathered from gardens at home

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and planting the beds begins.

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How wonderful the gardens are already taking shape. Ntombenhle, your enthusiasm is contagious. I shall be sure to remember you next time we are harvesting seedlings from the Khula Shanti gardens. Also, remember to get some sunflowers in – they are such HAPPY plants and grow well alongside mielies. Very proud of you, well done.” Carol Segal Khula Shanti Food Gardens

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“Wonderful work, hope we can work with this remarkable group into 2015. African Conservation Trust will definitely be contacting them! Well done, now to spread the virus of gardening for food!” Francois du Toit African Conservation Trust

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Trees and shrubs for windbreaks and shelter are planted.

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It takes a lot of effort to get them all watered in.r watering trees

“This is fantastic Ntombenhle and team. Well done on your perseverance and hard work. I can’t wait to come and visit your garden and contribute my two cents worth of plants.” Karen Zunckel KZN Sustainability Forum

seeds

Compost and cardboard is collected from around the township and people are encouraged to donate grass clippings to use as mulch.

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Then work starts on the other side of the garden – more clearing, more swales, more beds…

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“Congratulations to everyone who is working so hard to grow food in Mpophomeni! You are all an inspiration. I hope to stop by and see for myself what you have done. A dream becoming reality.” Christeen Grant, Boston

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The herb spiral is marked out

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The nursery is started and before you know it, passers by are stopping to buy seedlings.

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Trees are labelled

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Pedestrians stop to read the signs.

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Everything starts to grow!

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The garden gets greener every week!

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Radishes are the first crop we can eat.

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We can already harvest and sell greens!

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Hope, Maxwell and Skhumbuzo are our garden champions – volunteering every day whatever the weather.

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We need to keep watering in the summer heat. Luckily, the small stream keeps flowing strongly.

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Mulch is essential to help keep the soil cool.

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The sunflowers are reaching for the sky!

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The green beans are climbing the old fence!

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The radishes are so big now, we don’t know what to do with them!

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Ntombenhle concludes “This piece of land is going to bring lots of fun, unity in the community, new skills and challenges. I can see a bright future if the community roll up their sleeves and learn to make money out of waste and gardening.”

r ntombenhle harvesting

Come and see for yourself what is happening on the corner of Mhlongo and Stadium Roads in Mpophomeni. Or like us on facebook.com/MpopConserve

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