Picnic in the Sunshine

“This garden is full of love” commented Mam Ndlela as she settled down on the grass mat with her picnic lunch. It certainly was, as volunteers, councillors, teachers, funders, media and friends gathered last week to celebrate the Mpophomeni Conservation Group (MCG) Community Garden beneath the bright yellow sunflowers.

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“I am proud and happy that so many people support us.” said garden champion and permaculture queen Ntombenhle Mtambo, as she thanked everyone for their contribution to making the garden and the celebration a success. “Our community is very talented, they just need to be listened too, some education and a little support. Then we will be able to feed everybody.”

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On the corner of Mhlongo and Stadium Road in Mpophomeni, Ntombenhle and her team of volunteers have crafted an abundant garden based on permaculture principles.

guests in the garden

Swales harvest all the rain that falls, mulch ensures that roots stay cool, herbs and flowers flourish amongst the cabbages and kale, fruit trees and indigenous shrubs attract important pollinators and an enormous compost heap demonstrates energy recycling as all weeds and biodegradable waste decomposes into wonderful plant food.

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“I am blown away,” remarked Con Roux of N3Toll Concession who had visited the garden site last July. “It was just goats, plastic and broken glass, I am astonished. Actually, I am not really astonished knowing the enthusiasm, energy and commitment behind this. I should expect nothing but miracles from Ntombenhle.”

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N3TC fund numerous MCG activities including the very popular Mpop Kidz Club held on Saturday mornings. Facilitators, Ayanda Lipheyana and Tutu Zuma, encourage youngsters to explore their surroundings, walk in the hills, monitor the streams and learn about the importance of protecting the eco-systems on which we all rely. Ayanda said “It was a lovely, gorgeous garden celebration. I salute Ntombenhle and her team for the hard work they have done in the garden. This is one of the solutions to food security.”

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MCG is enthusiastic about using renewable energy, but many guests were surprised to see the handmade spinach lasagne cooking in the Sunstove,

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and even more amazed to taste the very hot herbal tea that Tutu Zuma served. “Amandla elanga!” she said, “this is free energy from the sun, we do not need Eskom.”

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Passionate about re-using all waste, Ntombenhle demonstrated how to make eco-bricks using discarded 2 litre plastic bottles, stuffing crisp packets and other non-recyclable items into them until they were heavy and could be used as blocks to build benches and walls. Helen Booysen was fascinated by the concept and spent contemplative moments amongst the noisy crowd creating a few of her own.

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There are many different varieties of imifino (greens) growing in the garden. Guests were regaled with recipes for intofeshe and imbuya, sharing their favourite ways of cooking kale and spinach in return. Some tasted nasturtiums flowers for the very first time and were pleasantly surprised!

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The ladies in blue from Hilton and Howick Rotary (who had paid for the fence around the garden last year) arrived with a pile of buckets and rakes. Yay!

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Then it was time for lunch. Many people had contributed. Sthembile Mbanjwa’s handmade lasagne featured spinach and butternut harvested from the garden and was polished off in no time. “I was pleased that people loved my food” she said, “I enjoyed the garden picnic very much.”

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Nqobile made a garden salad of cabbage, carrots, spinach and spring onions topped with calendular flowers

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Nathi Adam contributed delicious fried brinjals and just dug potatoes from his garden nearby that thrives on grey water. “People need to learn how to re-use water, or harvest rain water, for gardening and other uses. If we don’t start this awareness now, the planet is quite likely to run out of usable water by 2050.”

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Sthembile and Ntombenhle make loaves of bread using the slow fermented artisan method. “it’s so soft” commented Mlondi Mazeka.

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Other dishes featured in the colourful buffet were local tomatoes, salad and fresh peas, a crustless quiche of marrow, potato and free range egg, roasted sweet potatoes, butternut with thyme. A celebration of summer abundance.

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Ben Tsuro, a keen local gardener, was pleased to experience first hand how the neighbourhood can work together to become good examples for others.  He will volunteer with MCG in future and has plans to start growing medicinal herbs.

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Rory Clark of African Conservation Trust (ACT) was delighted to meet Penz Malinga (a fellow vegetarian and a founder member of MCG) and spend time chatting about food forests, which they are both crazy about. The ACT team will be working with Ntombenhle’s team to create gardens in Mpophomeni and kwaHaza schools this year.

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Members of the local media joined in the fun too – Mfundo Mkhize made plenty of notes for the stories he’ll be writing about the remarkable efforts of Ntombenhle and her team of volunteers. Peta Lee of the Village Talk and Mercury simply adored the sunflowers. Jessica Dreamtime, Coordinator of the MMAEP, has watched the progress of her friends in MCG with interest and was most impressed Thank you so much for a wonderful, welcoming feast and for all the inspiration you provide! Your garden is an amazing example of what can be done with a bit of effort, love and a vision. You guys are great, keep up the good work.”

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Janis Holmes a local Councillor said “I am so impressed with what Ntombenhle and her team have achieved in just one season. May you go from strength to strength.” She echoed the sentiments of many of the guests.

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Lindiwe Mkhize asked everyone to sign her register on arrival and said there were almost 100 people at the picnic. She thanked them all afterwards. Siyanbonga ngokuza nozohlanganyela nathi ekudleni ukudla nokubekezelela ukushiswa ilanga ecimbi wethu wayizolo. Siyabonga kakhulu siswele amazwi.

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Thank you everyone for celebrating good food, community and sunshine with us this week. We really appreciate your support.

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6 thoughts on “Picnic in the Sunshine

  1. Wonderful story and event! Wish I could have been there.. Well done to everyone; Ntombenhle, we are so proud to have such a mover, shaker and grower as you in our food book! Phambili! Best wishes Erica

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