imbuya

Amaranth is abundant right now as Autumn sets in.

Across the globe, many communities seek out the new growth of wild greens in Spring and Summer – a delicacy long awaited through the colder months in Europe. There is a great revival of the popularity of ‘indigenous’ greens in East Africa. Now sold in large supermarkets, served in restaurants in Nairobi, and Kenyan farmers have increased the area planted with these greens by 25% since 2011.

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Around here we call them imifino. In other places around South Africa, marogo is the common word to describe all manner of leafy greens. Jam packed with nutrients, often far surpassing that of more commonly eaten leafy greens like Swiss Chard and Cabbage. In Mpophomeni imifino is most often eaten with mielie meal, as a relish, but young leaves are great in salads, perfect to add to soups and stews or blend into your favourite juice mix.

Amaranth Amaranthus hybridus is one of the most popular greens, it grows profusely in poor soils requiring little watering or attention. There are many varieties – green or red, tall or creeping.  It is versatile and can be used wherever greens are called for in a recipe. Young leaves can be chopped into salad.

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Amaranthus leaves have heaps more Vitamin C than cabbage or chard – just 50g contains 100% of our daily needs.  The leaves are rich in protein, beta-carotene, iron, calcium, carbohydrates and fibre. Leaves are frequently dried and stored for winter use.  Seeds contain more protein than most other grains.

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Isijabane 

This is a popular way of using imfino.  While people often substitute easy to find imbuya these days (or even spinach), the very best imifino to use for isijabane is msobo and intshungu. These add a bitter taste and are perfect.

  • 500g greens
  • 1 or 2 chopped shallots or spring onions
  • 500g maize meal
  • ½ tsp salt
  • Cook the greens, chopped shallots and salt in a little water
  • Once the greens are cooked (5-7 minutes) sprinkle dry maize meal into the pot and stir as it absorbs the water. Add a little more maize meal and keep stirring for ten minutes over a low heat.
  • The finished dish should be very green and a soft porridge consistency.

If you really don’t like the idea of all that stirring you can cheat by cooking a little soft maize meal separately and then adding it to the cooked imifino.

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Mary Kleinenberg’s  Crustless Quiche

  • 1 ½ cups of green Amaranthus leaves
  • 1 cup sliced mushrooms
  • 1 medium onion, sliced
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • Chopper fresh coriander
  • Salt and pepper
  • Cheese grated

Steam the leaves until tender, drain and chop. Lightly fry onion and garlic, add mushrooms for about 5 minutes (do not overcook) Then add cheese. Arrange spinach and mushroom mix alternatively in a buttered pie dish.  Beat eggs and milk, add chopped coriander, salt and pepper. Pour the mixture over vegetables in the pie dish. Bake at 200C for about 35 minutes, until set and brown. Serve hot or cold.

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Nikki Brighton’s Wild Green Soup

Make the most of all the greens that are abundant now in late summer. If you are lucky some of your dried beans will be ready to harvest and make this an absolute feast.

  • 500g fresh borlotti, cannellini or haricot beans – cooked. You can use dried, it is just more splendid with fresh, home grown beans!
  • 2-4 red or white onions – chopped
  • 1 head of celery – chopped – leaves reserved
  • 1 head garlic – sliced
  • 500g Swiss Chard – stalks and leaves chopped
  • 1 bunch each basil, mint, marjoram, flat leaf parsley
  • 2 kgs of tomatoes (use fresh if you can find those plum/jam tomatoes, or have masses of cherry tomatoes in your garden, otherwise use tins)
  • Olive oil, salt, pepper
  • Lots different sorts of leaves including borage, young black jack, amaranthus, lettuce, beetroot and whatever you have handy
  • 1 fresh red chilli

Heat oil, fry onion and celery stalks gently until softened and brown. Add garlic, chard stalks, chilli and continue to cook until garlic starts to brown, then add half the basil, mint, marjoram and parsley and celery leaves. Gently fry to combine herbs, then add chopped tomatoes. Season and simmer for 30 minutes so the tomatoes reduce with the vegetables. Then add the rest of the leaves and the beans. Cook to combine – not very long so as to retain some of the vibrant green colour. Consistency should be very thick. Add water to thin if you like. Drizzle with olive oil.

We should all be planting and eating this vegetable. 

Amaranthus and a selection of other edible weeds is included in the imifino section of Mnandi – A Taste of Mpophomeni. Order a copy from mnandisales@cowfriend.co.za

Join Sthembile and Ntombenhle for a taste of imbuya and other leafy greens at lunch in the garden – Handmade lasagne, ijece, imifino, salad, veggie stew and cordial.

  • Cost: R100
  • Date: Friday 10 March, Sunday 9 April or Friday 12 May
  • Time: 12h00
  • Venue: Mpophomeni Garden on Mhlongo Road
  • RSVP: Ntombenhle 063 410 4697 Sthembile 079 153 3748

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Lucia Buthelezi

Growing up in rural Impendle, Lucia remembers her grandparents growing all the food they needed – huge pumpkins, lots of imifino, sugar beans, mielies, chickens, goats, sheep and cows. “My job was to fetch the water from the river far away, carrying big buckets on my head. I was always so happy when the rain came because that meant less work.”

r Lucia Buthelezi

Living in Mpophomeni she misses the fresh food – there is absolutely nothing fresh to buy at Sandile’s Tuck Shop near her home. Believing that everyone needs good food and there is no point depending on the government for everything, Lucia started the Silungiseni Senior Citizen’s Club in 2010, to grow food on vacant land near their homes to eat and to sell. Her own garden is full of onions, potatoes, cabbages and carrots, with a handsome peach tree in the corner. “We are going back to the old ways, we know how to hoe and use our hands, using umquba (manure), not chemicals. This will save us money and the food will also be healthier.”

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Lucia’s receipe for Preserved Peaches is featured in our cook book Mnandi – A Taste of Mpophomeni, with other stone fruit recipes.

  • 15 peaches
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 cups water

Peel peaches and cut them in half

Remove the pips

Dissolve the sugar in the water

Boil peaches in the sugar water for 15 minutes

Test with a knife tip to check they are soft

Heat clean bottles

Pour the hot peach mixture into the bottles and seal

Serve with yoghurt, ice cream or fresh fruit 

plums, on tree. cropped

Gogo Zuma’s Plums

Do not cut the plums. Place them in a pot covered with plenty of sugar and stew until soft and melting. Ideal to do in the Sunstove, then you know they won’t burn.

Plum Jam

  • 4 cups of peeled plums
  • 4 cups of sugar

Mix fruit and sugar, stirring until sugar is dissolved

Cook for about 45 minutes until fruit is a pulp

Cool a little while you warm up clean bottles with boiling water

Dry the bottles and pour the hot mixture into the bottles

Seal the top with melted candle wax and screw the lid on tightly

Vote With Your Fork

When we emerged from the underground station into sunlit Piazza Duomo, Ntombenhle exclaimed “I feel like I am on TV!”  The spires of the magnificent cathedral, thronged by colourful crowds and the buskers playing in each corner of the square was our first taste of Italy. Milan is not a bad place to start.

duomo-square

Ntombenhle and Nikki were part of the South African delegation to the Slow Food Terra Madre Salone del Gusto event, organized across the city – the 11th such event to bring together food activists and producers from across the globe to learn and share.  For five days, Turin became the cultural capital of global food biodiversity.

We began with a couple of days in Milan to acclimatise.  Trundling bags to Ostello Bello Hostel along streets bustling with pedestrians, trams and scooters.

A friendly welcome awaited us – cold drinks, free wifi, delicious food and a lovely view from our window.  We hung out on the roof terrace planted with herbs and veggies and thought about cooking our own supper from the array of Italian ingredients provided in the adjacent kitchen. No, we would spend our time exploring and let them do the cooking!

ostello-bello-street

When Ntombenhle and Penz visited Cape Town earlier this year, they loved the Hop on Hop off Bus tours, so we hopped on and off in Milan too. What a beautiful city!   Our favourite things were the millions of chimneys on top of the buildings and the ornate balconies clinging to the sides.

We stopped off at a park for a picnic lunch and in the late afternoon, explored the canalside Navigli area. It was very hot, so ice cream (gelato in Italian) was welcome.

navigli-milan

Two days later, we caught the train from the impressive Milan Central Station – where a giant apple sculpture got us in the food mood. From the train window we noticed how every scrap of land was being cultivated – right up to the rivers, roads and houses. There were crops and fruit trees everywhere.

milan-station-apple-sculture

Bound for Turin to join the seven thousand delegates from 143 countries, 300 Slow Food Presidia and 1000 food communities of the Terra Madre network from five continents –  representing a humanity that is united to discuss the great challenges which we must confront, above all the safeguarding of agricultural biodiversity, raising awareness and creating positive energy towards the objective of Slow Food: good, clean and fair food for all.

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Photo by Alessandro Vargiu from the Slow Food archive

There were about 400 delegates from Africa and 40 South Africans.  We all took turns manning the popular SA stand where we showcased hand harvested Baleni Salt, Rooibos tea, Marula Jam, Aloe honey, Zulu Sheep and Raw Milk Cheese.

sa-stand

Slow Food organised our accommodation with local SF members. Ntombenhle and Nikki stayed with the Bottignol/Farinetti family in Monticello d’Alba a couple of hours outside of Turin. They had a small ‘farm’ with extensive veggie gardens, lots of fruit trees, one donkey, one goat and a couple of chickens. We had lots in common with them (besides language!). They were caring and considerate hosts and we will be friends forever.

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Trying to decide what event to attend or where to begin exploring the hundreds of stalls was a challenge. As we were in the Africa section, we started there – feeling right at home amongst our colourful neighbours. “I never thought I would see these things with my own eyes,” commented Ntombenhle, “the different foods, the national dress, listening to the foreign languages. It was amazing.”

africa-and-europe

Naturally, Ethiopia had Forest Wild Coffee, Guinea Bissau – Farim Salt, Cape Verde showcased Raw Milk Goat Cheeses, Egypt the Siwa Oasis Dates.   Kenya had a wide range of products, including Ogiek Honey and Dried Nettles from the Mau Forest, Nzoia River Reed Salt, Pokot Ash yogurt and Lare Pumpkin.  From Madagascar – Alaotra Lake Ancient Rice Varieties and the Mananara Vanilla.  Marocco’s exhibition area showcased Argan Oil, Alnif Cumin, Zerradoun Salt, and Taliouine Saffron. Mauritania was represented by the Imraguen Women’s Mullet Botargo. The Ibo Coffee Presidium from Mozambique wants to safeguard Ibo island’s unique ecosystem where the plant still grows wild. São Tomé and Príncipe brought Robusta Coffee. From Senegal, Fadiouth Island Salted Millet Couscous – which preserves an ancient, traditional and original production line that links the earth with the sea. Sierra Leone had the Kenema Kola Nut used in drinks, Uganda showcased Luwero Robusta Coffee, the indigenous Kayinja Banana, the Climbing Yam and the Ankole Long-Horned Cattle, Tanzania the Arusha Stingless Bee Honey which is collected by a small group of beekeepers from traditional hives made from hollow tree trunk sections and hung from the roofs of houses, fences or the highest branches of fruit trees like mango, avocado and papaya.

african-traditional-dress

One hot afternoon, we kicked off our shoes with new friends from Lesotho – Mirriam and Ma-Lord.  They had produced a book of traditional food, so we had plenty in common and proudly showed off Mnandi. One of the Russian delegates we had met earlier joined us and we shared the last of the cherry brandy that she was promoting!

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Without a doubt, connecting with like-minded people was the highlight.  We were even excited to meet the other South Africans as their stories and projects were intriguing too. Representatives from rural Limpopo, to hip-and-happening Khayelitsha, from the West Coast fisheries to the inspiring food events of Soweto, inner city gardening projects, markets, indigenous food processing, foraging and free range farming.  A vibrant and diverse bunch.

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We attended workshops on all sorts of topics hosted by the Indigenous Terra Madre network. Particularly memorable was How Indigenous Food Systems Can Inspire Solutions. When it comes to global challenges such as climate change and global hunger, indigenous food systems are seldom considered. “Indigenous people are breeders of biodiversity – keen observers of nature and good innovators” said someone on the inspiring panel (made up of representatives from India, Philippines, Japan, Nigeria, Equador). The agroecological approach is just starting to be known in the Western world, while indigenous peoples have been using sustainable methods for centuries. Conclusion: “Who should really adapt?  Local indigenous systems or the modern commercial ones?”

terra-madre-panel

In the European section, our tastebuds tingled as we tasted strange micro greens and unusual herbs and flowers – purple yka leaves, sechuan buttons, salty fingers, sea fennel and oyster leaves, – produced in Holland.

micro-greens

We smelled, tasted and learnt about raw milk cheeses from Ireland, Czech artisan beer, Spanish saffron, Macedonian peppers and Albania Olive oil. We were astonished at how much cheese there was.

ntombenhle-cheese

We made friends with Palestinians and Iranians on our daily bus trips from the conference back to the village of Monticello d’Alba where we stayed. One day, Ntombenhle struck up a conversation with the folk in the Lebanon stand and swopped a copy of Mnandi for their gorgeous book Mezze – a Labour of Love, featuring traditional Lebanese food, produced by TV presenter and food activist Barabara Abdeni Massaad. This interaction epitomised the generosity and sharing of the event.

mezzeThe local branch of Slow Food organised evening entertainment for us (although we would have happily gone straight to bed!). On Heritage Day they provided an all local supper, with traditional music and dancing in a village hall. We sang Nkosi sikelel’iAfrica and Shosholoza as a thank you.  On another occasion we enjoyed pizza in the Alba town square, entertained by the wonderful CoroMoro – a group made up of asylum seekers from across Africa who live in the valleys of Piedmont.

ntombenhle-and-naudeNikki was among the first to be seated at the Wild Edibles presentation and workshop.  It began with a short video entitled Forest to Fork which illustrated how common food creates social cohesion, how the act of going out in a group to gather food and prepare food are essential components of strong communities.

20160923_134111A representative of the Bibomen Tribe from South Western Australia talked about the six seasons in her culture, the 150 indigenous tubers she knows to eat, the tragedy of the pioneer practice of removing deep rooted trees which dropped the water table and allowed the salt to rise to the surface creating barren landscapes. She also warned of the issue of wild food becoming trendy and the decimation which can follow. A couple from Chile talked about their indigenous fruits and battles with multi-national land grabbing; a Japanese woman suggested the reason we were gathered here was because women carry the information in our bodies that is part of the earth; a Kenyan man spoke about the effect climate change was having in his country. An activist from a Central Canadian tribe began with a prayer honouring the ancestors whom she believed were with us in this group. She spoke sadly of the elimination of bison (80% of the prairies are now gone), and the degradation of her people and more positively, about the hope her workshops on creation stories and indigenous food gardening gives to young first nation people.

sage-hazelnuts-applesThe Asian section was very unusual and much of the packaging was outstanding.   Nikki tasted shiso rice with wild mushrooms at the Japanese stand and Omiki – a fermented rice and sweet potato drink made by Shamans from Yuku Island.  The Philippines had a wide variety of food, but the most exciting find was Adlai – Coix lacryma-jobi.  Turns out that this is what we call Job’s Tears in South Africa (the grey seeds used in Zulu tradition for teething rings or, now popular as beaded necklaces).  “It tasted pretty good,” commented Nikki, tucking into a bowl served with kernels of corn, adding “they were excited to hear that it grew in South Africa too – albeit invading our wetlands.”  Besides being a substitute for maize and rice, it was also fed to livestock.

img_1328The strong, successful women on the panel of the session on Women’s Roles in Farming was inspiring. Quietly, the woman from Bukina Faso told how in her culture a woman must work four days in her husband’s fields and only one day in her own garden. She told of the circles women have started, to sing their seed songs and grow strong and how they are starting to teach men about their role in supporting women.

An Indonesian woman spoke of her work to promote entrepreneurship to ensure that not only did farmers have enough to eat but extra from cash crops too. She was proud to have contributed to keeping Indonesian products alive by adding value and creating export markets. A Spanish woman related her struggles to overcome patriarchy, how she broke with tradition to become the first woman to run the family farm. “Female energy is good. I feel deep love when I wake up in the morning and see my land. We do not have to exploit; we can have respect and balance.  We can fight together for change, rather than compete.”

women-in-agricultureLate one afternoon thousands of people gathered at the corner of Corso Cairoli and Corso Vittorio Emanuele II to march along the River Po, through the centre of Turin. This was an exciting and energising experience to be among thousands of people, many dressed in traditional costumes, waving national flags and bearing banners with universal messages that we all believed in. Save Biodiversity.  Vote with Your Fork.  They are Giants but We are Millions (referring to the power of the agricultural and food multinationals). There were marching bands amongst the crowds – we were fortunate to be just behind a particularly cool one and thoroughly enjoyed the music!

south-african-group-terra-madre-marchAlong the way we met giant non-gmo corn cobs.  The groups from South America were exceptionally vibrant and showed off a wide range of products – including chocolate, chillies, corn and pumpkins at their stand – when they weren’t making music!

At the end of the march we swopped small gifts of food from home with strangers. Carlo Petrini, charismatic President of Slow Food, welcomed us a Protectors of Biodiversity.  His message “We are a brotherhood, learn instead of only teaching. Give back to others, particularly to refugees and those affected by colonisation, share what we have.”  It was incredible to hear how people across the planet face similar struggles and feel just as passionate about good food produced without harm.

carlo-petriniWe loved an inspiring workshop on Women as Seed Keepers – safeguarding food and culture.  We learnt of many cooperatives and associations made up entirely of women (farmers, fishermen, chefs) We heard experiences from Brazil, Angola and Mozambique, where governmental bodies, along with citizens and small-scale farmers, have chosen to promote policies and actions aimed at safeguarding biodiversity. Agro-ecological farming, small scale farming and Nature farming was talked about a lot, but much to Ntombenhle’s chagrin, Permaculture was seldom mentioned, even though that was what was often meant.  She pointed out to the facilitators that many of the audience understood permaculture principles, so it would be a good idea to use familiar terms rather than confusing ones.

20160923_134111The volunteers working in the delegates canteen served delicious, good, clean, fair food every day. The long tables were a gathering place for animated conversation as we met new people, shared the day’s highlights and tasted new things – barley and farro salad, couscous, carrot soup, pasta with pesto or tomatoes or chicken, cured meat and cheese, fruit, bread and so much more.

farro-saladYou never knew if you would sit beside Egyptians or Australians or make a new friend. Ntombenhle met an Indian woman who told her – ‘Don’t make excuses, know your value, it is your business, you can do it.’  Nikki recalls a conversation with an American woman who ran an event catering business which focussed on food that incorporated the various needs of religious customs, food allergies, lifestyle preferences and medical conditions without making anyone feel uncomfortable or odd.

canteenValentino Park is beautiful. A magnificent location for such an important event.  Squirrels scampered on the lawns amongst those taking a break from the frenzy of the stalls and conferences.  It provided a sociable space to escape to, but usually with meaningful conversation. Ntombenhle used the opportunity to spread her “mulch, mulch, mulch” message when chatting to others who thought mulching made the garden look untidy!

valentino-parkNikki met vegan activists from England, hearing how the movement is growing rapidly and learning how they get their message across creatively. There was an entire Slow Meat section, where farmers, butchers, chefs, consumers discussed the consequences of exploding meat consumption on the planet. “Eat less meat of better quality” was the message.

On the banks of the River Po, the Slow Fish Tent was fascinating as commercial and small scale fishers from across the globe discussed ways of making fishing sustainable. Ideas clashed occasionally. Here we met the delightful singer and activist Olga del Madagascar.

ntombenhle-and-olga-de-madagascar

Terra Madre was the most incredible experience, not least because we learnt that common language is not the most important thing in communication – hugs, nods, smiles and hand gestures go a long way!  Carlo Petrini suggested that the greatest gift we would take from Terra Madre was recognising the value of others and seeing the pride of the farmers.  That is absolutely true.

We were not able to see or experience everything – not even close. The event was enormous and apparently, almost a million people attended over the five days.  These photos and words capture just a tiny part. Visit the Slow Food Terra Madre site to view incredible photos which illustrate the event so much more effectively than this article.   You can also read Nikki’s personal account of her trip to Italy here.

Do join us in Ntombenhle’s garden on Saturday 10 December as we celebrate Terra Madre Day with our new friends from across the world.  11am. Bring home grown, homemade, local, organic food to share. Perhaps your favourite Mnandi recipe?

ntombenhle-snail

A Taste of Mpophomeni

Our cookbook, Mnandi

has just been printed and is available in the garden! Publication is sponsored by N3 Toll Concession. All money from sales is going to MCG projects – we are dreaming up some amazing things. It is very exciting.  Download a taste – Mnandi Teaser

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In Mpophomeni, joy is a fundamental part of living. Here food is grown from the heart, meals are meant to be shared and stories are told with pride.  In this book of fresh garden food, the people with their hands in the soil and their creative customers share their delight in seasonal produce.  Ardent supporter of MCG, writer Nikki Brighton, has captured the colours and flavours – celebrating community and the environment.

spring

Savour Sthembile’s handmade lasagne with just picked spinach, try Tutu’s sun-cooked rhubarb stew and make Ntombenhle’s famous vetkoek or her favourite crunchy fennel and orange salad.  Customer at the Mpophomeni Community Garden, Caroline Bruce, Oaklands County Manor, shares her recipe for Sauerkraut while Kate Chanthunya of Rondavel Soap shows us how to make a salad dressing using maas.  The imifino (wild greens) section will encourage you to take a whole new look at the abundant greenery in your veggie beds.  Need a recipe to deter pests or boost your immune system? Passionate gardener Tutu Zuma says “My food forest and medicinal plant garden keeps me strong and healthy. I have never been hungry – I eat green food throughout winter.”

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Anna Trapido, author of Hunger for Freedom – the story of food in the life of Nelson Mandela: ““We are what we grow, cook and eat. Mpophomeni’s gardeners and cooks are an example of what South Africa can and should be. Through the pages of this delightful book readers will come to love and admire a remarkable and resilient community. The recipes so generously offered are not only delicious but also inspiring and insightful – each one allows a reader to taste a piece of the story.”

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Ntombenhle Mtambo, garden inspiration, is adamant that eating more plants is good for you. “Food is your doctor – the vitamins and minerals found in plants help prevent illness and promote healing. These recipes are ideal for people who want to eliminate meat from their diet for health reasons or are trying to balance their budget.”

Ntombenhle Mtambo by Toby Murphy

“The gardeners of Mpophomeni are quite simply amazing. We are thrilled that this ‘foodie’ dream of a locally-inspired recipe book has become a reality. It has been a privilege to watch this community garden project grow thanks to these gardeners who epitomise true passion for, and commitment to, growing organic produce that tastes absolutely delicious.”  Thandiwe Rakale N3TC

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We hope that Mnandi (which translates as ‘tasty’) will inspire you to take part in the magical process of growing and preparing food that is good for you and good for the planet too.  Available at plenty of shops – ask about one near to you, or order here: mnandisales@cowfriend.co.za

Keen to visit us in the garden?  Join our Vetkoek Fridays – enjoy a garden tour and delicious lunch of fresh vetkoek filled with bom bom beans and rainbow salad for only R50 per person.

  • 1 Decmber 2017 11.30am
  • 15 December 2017 11.30am

Phone Ntombenhle to book: 063 410 4697

Vetkoek poster no date

 

SunStove

Who would have imagined that solar cooking could be addictive? This may be surprising, but is true. It’s great fun and astonishingly easy to do. Sunny Winter days are perfect to put out the SunStove and boil water for tea and washing, harnessing the inexhaustible and free power of the sun. While a solar cooker works best in clear weather, a few clouds will not affect the cooking.

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The SunStove cooks rice perfectly, manages a whole chicken, hard boiled eggs, baked potatoes, stews and bread too. Not much water needs to be added, and nothing evaporates, so all nutrients are retained. Cooking with a SunStove means you spend less time ‘standing over a hot stove’ as once you have put your food in the black, lidded pot and placed in the box, it looks after itself and can’t burn. For best results, preheat your oven and move so that it directly faces the sun a couple of times. Or if you are busy, simply prepare your food early before you go out, aim your SunStove in the direction of the midday sun and come home to a delicious, warm meal!

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“I made such a nice green soup the other day – using all the little bits in the garden and I added some leftover cooked white beans. It was delicious, everyone was amazed. The SunStove does not overcook the veggies – it will cook slowly and gently.” Ntombenhle Mtambo.

We share the following recipes that feature in our book: Mnandi – a Taste of Mpophomeni.  

r butternut stew in the sunstove

Sun Stewed Rhubarb

  • 8 stems, chopped
  • ½ cup sugar

Place in a pot in your Sunstove for the day while you potter about in the garden (or boil on the stove until tender). Lovely with ice cream and the syrup is delicious too.

Karen Zunckel’s Solar Bread

  • 1 1/2 tsp dried yeast
  • 1 tsp brown sugar
  • 350 ml warm water
  • 500 g Champagne Valley Stoneground Wholemeal Flour
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 75 g mixed seeds

Mix yeast & sugar with half the warm water. Leave it in a warm place for about 10 minutes until it starts to bubble.

Mix flour, seeds and salt in a mixing bowl and make a well in the centre. Pour in the yeast mixture, the oil, and the remaining water, and mix well.

Put a little flour in your hands and dust the work surface too, and kneed the dough for 10 minutes, until it’s smooth.

Place the dough in the large mixing bowl and cover it with a damp cloth. Put it in a warm place for an hour, or until it has doubled in size.

Preheat the SunStove by placing a black pot or brick in it and positioning it to face the 10am sun. (Plan to start cooking at 10am).

Push your fist into the dough to knock some of the air out of it. Then knead it for another 5 minutes.

Put the dough into a greased loaf tin. Leave it in a warm place for another 10 minutes to rise. Cut diagonally with a sharp knife so that the crust doesn’t separate from the loaf. Brush it with the egg and top with seeds.

Then bake, turning the SunStove every half hour to face the sun.

Cook until a toothpick comes out clean, about 2 hours in summer or 4 hours in winter.

bread in solar oven

You can order locally made SunStoves (and insulated box with a clear top and reflective sides which can be hung up when not in use) from the PlanetPellet hut in the Community Garden, or from sunstove@iafrica.com.  You can order Mnandi – a Taste of Mpophomeni  from mnandisales@cowfriend.co.za

Imbozisi – Fennel

In the community garden, children love to nibble on fennel flowers and seeds – so much better than the garishly coloured sweets available from the spaza shop nearby.

fennelFennel is at it’s best in winter.  Everything about fennel is beautiful – the delicate feathery fronds, the fat bulbs, the scent, the sweet aniseed flavour, the yellow flowerheads (so pretty in salads), the fragrant seeds with many uses.

We are harvesting in the garden now if you want to stop by and get some. Interestingly, according to many companion planting guides, other vegetables dislike growing near fennel – but they don’t seem to be bothered by fennel in Mpophomeni!

fennel mpop 121

Known as Imbozisi in isiZulu, it is used in traditional medicine to chase away bad spirits. The leaves are sprinkled throughout a house to cleanse it, or an infusion is drunk.

Fennel tea is used to aid digestion and relieve constipation and recent research indicates that fennel reduces the toxic effects of alcohol on the body.

fennel flower

It’s delicious on hot winter days as a crunchy salad – sliced thinly with segmented oranges (also in season now) and sprinkled with salt, pepper and olive oil.

fennel and orange salad

On cold winter days  it can be added to any vegetable stew, or cooked with sweet potatoes (also in season now) for a creamy soup.  Interesting how things which are growing in the same season are often perfect combinations.

FENNEL STEW

Cut fennel bulbs into quarters (or sixths if very fat). Cut potatoes into sixths lengthwise. Fry in quite a lot of olive oil for a while to get some brown edges and then add whole garlic cloves, strips of lemon peel and a handful of sundried tomatoes. Add a little water to soften, as this is absorbed, add a little more. Stir often. Be gentle. You are aiming at an unctuous sauce with bits of dissolving potato and browned, soft fennel. It takes a while. Add lots of chopped flat parsley, some fresh tomatoes if you have them and generous squeeze of lemon juice.

fennel stew 002

Our recipe book Mnandi – a Taste of Mpophomeni includes these fennel recipes and many other ways to use fresh vegetables in season.  Why not pre-order your copy now? It will be available in August 2016. R200 plus postage – contact mnandisales@cowfriend.co.za or Liz at 072 098 3985

fennel

Sharing Challenges and Successes with the Sweetwaters Community

Last month, teachers, care givers and community members from the Sweetwaters area of Pietermaritzburg visited Mpophomeni for a little gardening inspiration.    Lunga Dlungwane, iThemba Project Manager, has long been impressed with the efforts of Ntombenhle Mtambo and requested that she host a group.

“I like to practice ubuntu,” Ntombenhle told them, “sharing knowledge and ideas and helping others.  It is good to have visitors from other places, we can discuss the problems we all face and hear different solutions.”  Njabulo, from iThemba is also trained in permaculture, so was able to share her passion for sustainable food gardening.

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Their tour began at Qhamukile School garden – which was flourishing last year when MCG was employed full time to maintain the garden, but is not doing that well now.  The back bone of the garden is still strong – the well-designed beds with trees, shrubs and herbs – so with a little effort it can be revived.  Participants were intrigued by the paraffin bush, which could be set alight!  Challenges were discussed – Why are school gardens so often in a bad shape?  Many reasons, including lack of buy in from teachers and especially the principal, poor fencing, vandalism by learners, the impression that vegetable gardening is for old people.  Some solutions? A good plan and strong bond with the school principal, taking time to listen to the community and find out what their needs are and commitment from volunteers (ideally parents) to maintain the garden.  Ntombenhle:  “Knowledge and skills can be learnt in workshops, but you cannot teach the passion. If people are doing a project for the money, then you must know that it might fail when the money is finished. Best work with those who want to work, who have the passion to help their community.”

13239106_234109456965818_2590937610578163256_nAfter demonstrating efficient planting methods and explaining the basic principles of Permaculture, the group proceeded to Sifisesihle School – another garden that had been destroyed after the fences were cut and goats had access. Here Mr Jacob asked why there were so many flowers in the garden. “To attract insects that are beneficial to your veggies” explained Ntobenhle.  She used the opportunity to explain companion planting and the ethics of Permaculture which include Planet Care, and “why we do things for the sake of people and all living things”.  She encouraged everyone not to give up on school gardens as it was really important to teach the youth and to provide fresh, green food to keep them healthy. “The best thing is to have a group to discuss problems with. Share your ideas and ask for advice. Work with those who want to work.”  Hard work pays off!  This was illustrated by Nobanda School in Sweetwaters who shared that they had recently won tools, a nursery and cash to improve their garden.  Clearly, this garden was created with the passion mentioned earlier.

mpop july 2015 red cabbageNext stop was to Baba Ngobese’s beautiful home garden. He acknowledged the help that MCG had given him – knowledge, skills and inspiration – to start a garden. Now he had established his own organisation Obaba bendawo encouraging the men in the community to create their own gardens. Even in winter there was plenty to harvest in this small plot. Ntombenhle and Njabulo urged everyone to plant during all seasons, not just in summer.

13239951_234109646965799_5753300502577079999_nLast stop was the incredible community garden that Ntombenhle and a team of volunteers had created on an old dumping site just a few years ago.  “Don’t give up” pleaded Ntombenhle, “I am still standing, still working, still teaching, still following my dreams. I am proud of what I have achieved and want to help everyone I can to follow their dreams too. Pay attention to your needs and wants – there are many things we can live a good life without.  Love what you do and your garden will flourish.”

13244883_234109703632460_9057621864831019595_nLunga Dlungwana found the day both inspiring and informative. “Our volunteers had not seen a permaculture set up at the level in which Ntombenhle’s garden is, before. The stories we heard inspired everyone. The garden information gave some really good ideas as about five of them have started implementing the knowledge they got in Mpophomeni. Most participants said afterwards that permaculture made more sense to them now that they had seen in action. It confirmed most of the techniques we teach our volunteers.”

Mpophomeni Garden Tour costs R500 for a morning. Book with mcg@cowfriend.co.za or call 063 410 4697

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Rain Dances and Real Solutions

After weeks of preparation on sun drenched, dry days, the first thing we heard on the morning of the Mpophomeni Water Festival was the pitter pat of raindrops.  In the African tradition, this is an auspicious sign for important occasions. Although the rain didn’t last long, the cold wind chased everyone (including warmly wrapped up youngsters carrying banners with water messages) indoors at the Community Centre.

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We warmed up with a lovely rain activity – creating the sounds of a growing storm with swishing hands, clicking fingers, clapping and finally joyous stomping!

Ayanda Lipheyana welcomed the hundreds of children and community members, saying that the event was a collaboration between local groups concerned with the state of our water resources – WESSA Water Explorer, DUCT, Midlands Meander Education Project, Mpophomeni Conservation Group and, of course, the Enviro-Champs. “When I woke up and saw the cold rain, I thought no one would come.  It is good to notice that people are taking water related issues seriously.” he said. The Mpophomeni Enviro Champs, and many of the enviro clubs they facilitate, are registered in the Water Explorer programme.  Their good work had earned them the right to host the Water Festival.

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Manager of the project, Bridget Ringdahl explains “Top Water Explorer teams who have completed lots of the WE challenges and written up good newsreels as evidence (see http://www.waterexplorer.org, click on South Africa) can be awarded a Water Festival to share their successes and learnings with a wider community. They also get some prize money towards a project or excursion.”

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After a puppet show by Yo! Puppets that demonstrated through games and songs the value of clean water for people and animals, explaining the water cycle and how fixing dripping taps is very important, everyone dispersed to the colourful information and action stations set up around the hall.

puppet show

At the Building Blocks of Life, facilitators demonstrated noisily the effect that removing water from the base foundation of a pyramid that supported humans had on the rest of life on Earth – everything collapsed! Lindiwe Mkhize told the Tale of Two Rivers, illustrated by a beautiful poster depicting a healthy river (with DUCT teams clearing invasive vegetation, intact riparian zones and lots of wildlife) and an unhealthy one (with sand mining, pollution from factories, runoff from industrial farming and a taxi being washed on its banks).  “There are simple solutions to prevent polluting rivers”, Lindiwe told her audience, “Rather take water from the river to wash your clothes and then you can use the grey water for watering veggies. This is much better than washing directly in the stream.”

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Our food choices affect our water footprint considerably. Penz Malinga pointed out at her Perfect Pulses stand that eating protein packed pulses, rather than meat, was a water wise option. To grow 1kg of lentils, only 50 litres of water is required compared to 4325l for a kg of chicken and a massive 13000l for a kg of beef!

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The Thirsty Farming stand, run by learners Philani Ngcobo, Phelelani Siloya, Mzwandile Mokoena and Asanda Ngubane demonstrated ways of reducing water use in agriculture. Mulching (straw, leaves, cardboard or paper) to keep moisture in the soil, building the hummus content of the soil to retain moisture, using organic pest deterrents rather than chemical ones (fossil fuel industry uses massive amounts of water) and planting crops that don’t require a lot of water like pomegranates and amaranthus. The boys thoroughly enjoyed chopping up chillies and garlic and covering with boiling water to demonstrate how to make your own insect spray.  Philani commented “I believe we changed some people’s minds about using chemicals. They found our demonstration of homemade spray interesting and liked the way mulch saves water.”

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Next to them, Sihle Ngcobo talked about his school project that investigated “Is Water Pollution in Mpophomeni Contributing to the Eutrophication of Midmar?”  His conclusion was that because 80% of the rivers running into the dam were badly polluted, it was likely that our main source of water (Midmar) would become eutrophicated and unusable. “We need to do everything we can to stop this pollution,” he implored.

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As the Enviro Champs use many citizen science tools for their work, they were keen to share these devices with everyone. Londiwe Mazibuko and her team showed how to use a clarity tube and transparent velocity head rod.  Using a  mock ‘stream’ in the hall, showed participants how miniSASS works. This is such a simple tool for monitoring the health of a river – by collecting bugs (invertebrates) and working out their resilience to pollution.   Sanele Vilakazi of DUCT “It is my wish to have such initiatives emulated and conducted in all township communities of our province and the nation at large. The only way we can change perspective of the youth on water related issues is through interactive education such as this. With that being done, our future becomes a more sustainable one.”

mini sass

As non-degradable materials are one of the major causes of blockages that lead to sewage overflows in the area, Thandanani Luvuno displayed What, and What NOT to put in the toilet  “Only poo-poo, wee-wee and TP” he enthused! There was lots of laughter at the Toilet Game – sort of like musical chairs where hopping children had to put the right things into the right place – toilet bowl or rubbish bin.

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There is little doubt that the Enviro Champs have had a big impact in Mpophomeni. One simple solution is to teach everyone how to fix leaking traps.  Nhlonipho Zondo, who repairs taps in local schools, demonstrated this in such an amusing way that everyone wanted to rush out and find a tap to fix!

By stopping a dripping tap, you could save 259 000 litres a year!

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Thandeka Xaba taught everyone how to be an Enviro Champ, by filling out a reporting sheet when they came across an overflowing sewage manhole. Anyone can report to the Sewage Call Centre:  0800 864 911 or call the municipality to collect rubbish: 033 239 9245

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Moses Khiloza and Mbali Molefe reported proudly just how much water the Enviro Champs had saved. Recently, in just one month, they worked out it was 8 million litres!  To end proceedings, the very funny and entertaining play by the Mpophomeni Youth Productions – Sanitation Education entitled ‘The Toilet Play’ had the audience in stiches “It was my favourite part of the day,” said Nosipho Mtambo.

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Everyone donned plastic gloves and grabbed rubbish bags and headed into the cold.

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The intention was to collect rubbish all along the banks of the uMhangeni Stream. There was MASSES. We didn’t really make a dent, but certainly there was a clear swathe where we had walked.

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To everyone’s horror the Mhlongo Road culvert was almost completely blocked with plastic and nappies. Our bags were all full by now, so we stacked them neatly for the Municipality to collect on Monday.  Zamile Mtambo plans a recycling depot on this site. “I hope to educate people about how much they throw away is re-usable or recyclable and this will prevent them throwing in the river and destroying our water and environment.”

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The fun climaxed  in the MCG Garden where Ntombenhle Mtambo and her team had prepared delicious vetkoek filled with bom bom bean stew and garden salad for the anticipated 100 guests. Quickly, a plan was made to stretch the food to feed 200 hungry people, with vetkoek halved and lots more fresh salad picked!  Everyone proclaimed the little low carbon, water wise snack ‘mnandi’!  Julia Colvin of Water Explorer was  delighted to spend time in the garden. “I am staggered at how in the period of a few years, this communal space, previously degraded and litter strewn has become a place of health and abundance, the very heart of the community! Through the Water Explorer Program, we have seen how factory farmed meat and dairy takes an enormous chunk of embedded water to produce. Vegetables on the other hand are far more water savvy and sustainable. It was gratifying to see children with satisfied smiles on their faces lap up each morsel of Ntombenhle’s hearty vegetable stew and mouth-watering salad plucked straight from soil. With food this tasty, I don’t think anyone noticed there was no meat.” Julia took home an armful of fresh produce too.

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Enviro Champ, Moses Khiloza concludes “As community activists it was good to share our work with the wider world, we felt like environmental lawyers.  It was exciting to showcase the impact that the Enviro Champs have made in Mpophomeni, saving water, fixing leaks.  Only when the last tree is cut down, the last fish is eaten and the last stream is poisoned, we will realise that we can’t eat money.”

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There is no doubt that the Mpophomeni DUCT Enviro Champs, in collaboration with WESSA Water Explorer and other local groups, are demonstrating simple and effective solutions to our water crisis. Amanzi ngawethu!

Mary Mlambo

“I have such happy memories of living at Rietvlei where my garden was full of mielies, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, goats, chickens, dogs and a cow”. Mary now lives on a small property in kwaChief where free roaming livestock belonging to other people cause her a real headache. No doubt though that she will soon transform this plot into a tiny organic farm and inspire her neighbours to start their own gardens too.

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“It is important to have chickens in a garden – to scratch, leave manure, eat nunus and make the soil soft” she says. Chickens can cause havoc with newly planted seedlings, so, roosters, hens and chicks live in a straw filled enclosure and take turns to spend time in the mobile chicken tractor working the soil. “When their work is done, it is best to prepare the bed right away, but if you have no time, you must mulch – that is very important.”

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Mary is proud of her son, Lucas, who is as passionate about organic farming as she is, and her daughter, Mbali, who creates delicious, nutritious meals from simple ingredients. “Many young people don’t understand how important growing good food is. They want to be pilots and doctors, but you can’t get food from a plane or hospital” she says sadly. “Even if we don’t have much money, we have good food, we are healthy, we work hard and we tell each other don’t give up.”

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