Being an Owl Mother.

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I fell in love with birds of prey a few years ago while I was still a Game Ranging student. I don’t have a great eyesight so I was glad that I only had to familiarize myself with large-sh birds that would be easier to identify later. I soon found favorites in the Bateleur Eagle whose name means tight rope walker, the Gymnogene now called the African Harrier Hawk, the Lammergeyer also known as the bearded vulture and the common spotted eagle owl. I found that I did not want to persecute them for hunting my warm bodied cousins as I would persecute fellow human beings that do the same as the birds. In my modules I leaned of birds of the night, the Owl and the Night-jars and all the larger sized birds of prey of the day, from hawks to harriers, kestrels to falcon to kites, snake eagles to eagles to vultures and everything in between.

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Bateleur Eagles at Raptor Rescue

We fast forward to a month ago when I got the opportunity to look after a pair of barn owls, rescued after falling through a chimney at Midmar Dam. I was way more than excited, mind you I did not know of any stereotypes attached to witchcraft except for those in the Harry potter movies. I only knew of the owls full of wisdom from the movies that I watched during my childhood.

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Leftovers from owls.

It felt like I had opened a can of worms into the creepiest of worlds where witches hollow out the bodies of owls and give them an enema filled with Muthi to turn them into their own personal zombies and where diviners use the eyes of the murdered birds to grind into a mixture that leads them to seeing far into the future and through the darkness of human misery.

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But like all problems the owls are not the true culprits, we are the ones that dump rubbish illegally inviting the rats, where there are rats there are snakes and we hate the snakes as well even though the earth belongs to all those who live on it. Besides, we cannot except to inhabit the planet alone with the animals of our choice, that is against the true balance of nature and if we believe that witches commit such marvels, they should be able to commit them with whatever animal they wish.

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Pellets regurgitated by owls.

One of the strangest questions I received while spreading the, “owls are our friends” message was, “How will people tell the difference between the zombie owls and the project owls?”  This was tough to answer but I have never seen a zombie owl and neither had the person asking so it was safe to say let us speak only of the owls we have seen and know.

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Regular visitors.

The owls being of a predatory nature meant that I had to feed them a day old dead chicks. The first time I was confronted with the task, I found it quite daunting as they looked like they were still moving while I walked with them thawed in the plastic bowl.

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Day old chicks.

With more days passing and the same task repeated I grew immune. A while after their meal, each owl would regurgitate a pellet made of feathers and bones, sometimes the head of the chick would be in a pellets on its own still whole. My dogs Trevar and Sapphire tried to dig holes to gain access to the cage in the middle of the night to no avail though.

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Gugu at her favorite spot.

Now that the owls have been released, I have to admit that I do miss them. Even my mother who was septic at first warmed up to them, she was afraid of the screeching sound they make but Siphiwe and Gugu did not ever screech at night while they were in Captivity. The neighbors were delighted to have them around and kept checking on their well-being daily. Baba James Mlotshwa said he had so many rats in his yard that he wished they could circle over his house every night catching them.

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Kids at an owl talk at a Thembeni

We would like to extend gratitude to N3TC, Owl Box Project, Predatory Bird project and Raptor Rescue, this would not have been possible without them. We hope the pair breeds and more generations carry on the rodent eating legacy.

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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.

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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.”

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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!

Eco Logic fun in the Mother City.

Ntombenhle and Penz at the Eco Logic Awards

The long bus ride to the Cape was pleasant during the day, when evening struck, it became really chilly. “They should have warned us that there was no air conditioning and that we should have brought our own blankets because by midnight we were almost freezing it became hard to visit dreamland in the so called “Dreamliner”.

We arrived in the great City in the mid-morning and took a taxi cab to our place of accommodation where our room was not yet prepared, so we proceeded to go freshen up and change. We asked when would be a good day to go on the City sightseeing tour bus and they said we should go on immediately since there was cold front approaching and the few following days would be nippy and wet. We packed our day-packs and went off to the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront and went to the bus station next to the aquarium to board the red bus.

It takes you out of the Waterfront passing various attractions such as the Clock Tower which is a historic landmark, the colourful District Six and Bo Kaap, the Castle of Good Hope, City Hall, St Georges Cathedral – which is the oldest in the country, opened as early as 1821 and was built with the Sandstone from Table Mountain, of course. The majestic Table Mountain, which is one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature, was under a huge blanket of fog by the time we got to it.

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With the dark clouds approaching, we had our swim suits underneath our regular clothes hoping we could hit the beaches. Camps Bay is popular as one of the city’s most vibrant beach with huge boulders, rough seas and very cold water in the winter that even the locals did not feel eager to swim in, there were only a handful of brave surfers in the water. We soon discovered the unpredictability of the Western Cape weather as the strong winds and drizzle came as we were passing the luxury apartments of Clifton and Sea Point. We went back to explore the various souvenir stalls at the Waterfront then went back to the hostel to relax and take in our day.

 

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On the day of the Eco Logic Award ceremony, we arrived at the Waterfront and asked for directions to Table Bay Hotel, and went and scaled the place down. We limited our activities to strolling along Sunset beach. Unluckily, the rain came as we arrived at the swimming pools, we stood under a little shelter waiting for the rain to pass but then decided to abandon our beach plans and walk to the bus stop taking us back to Waterfront. Sadly just as we arrived back at the Waterfront, the skies cleared and it was all sunny again. We went back to the hostel after having lunch to get ready for the Ceremony.

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This year’s Eco Logic Awards tagline “Recognising and honoring environmental excellence was well suited as they had received a record number of entries from organisations that all embody what it is to be deemed Eco-Logical. There was a networking session where we got to meet some of the judges, the sponsors, many interesting, influential and inspirational people from environmental and sustainable sectors. We all had an opportunity to pose in our creative outfits as we were contenders for the best dressed title in our alter ego outfits keeping with the nights’ theme of ‘Glamorously Green’.  Ntombenhle was the Permaculture Princess in crown and tutu bedecked with veggies and a seed packet handbag, while Penz was a Bad Ass Bunny Hugger dressed in SPCA finds and jewelry created from discarded plastic.

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David Parry-Davies opened the ceremony, saying that it was clear that Eco-Logical thinking is going mainstream and that it would be responsible for solving our current environmental challenges.  The winners were chosen by a top-level panel of judges made up of celebrities, government officials and professionals from various sectors. They admitted that they had a tough time making the decisions because all the contenders were doing wonderful work in their sectors. Fourteen main awards were issued for the outstanding winners, and certificates for the silver, bronze and the rest of the finalists were issued after the ceremony. It was a lively ceremony with great networking opportunity and good food.

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The Eco–Community Catergory in which Mpophomeni Conservation Group was a finalist was won by Greyton Transition Town. They have created an integrated, sustainable society, they address food security, recycling and waste management and environmental degradation while encouraging renewable energy use, sustainable housing, environmental awareness and humane education – which is really what we do in Mpop and more.

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One of our most exciting times followed the next day which we we dedicated to visiting the Greenpoint Urban Park, next to the Greenpoint Stadium that was one of the establishments built for the 2010 soccer World Cup. The park showcases an inner city garden with over 300 plants indigenous to the region, the magical history of the Khoisan people, outdoor exercise spaces, beautiful water features, a labyrinth of paved walkways and a play area for kids and adults alike.

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While we thought the Urban Park was awesome, the best was yet to come. On the Weekend our good friend Brandon Powell (who had just moved to Cape Town from the Midlands) took us on an outing to Oranjezitch City Farm. Here local residents and volunteers have come together and created a co-op to bring awareness to locally grown food. Ntombenhle was very fond of their Compost boxes and would like to copy the idea in MCG gardens. “They have so much waste to use and the compost is like magic,” she said.

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After walking around the farm we headed to Kirstenborch Botanical Gardens, one of the first and greatest in the world dedicated to preserving the diversity of South African plants from all regions and ‘best’ is exactly what it felt like, set against the slopes of Table Mountain. All the plants you can imagine are found here including those that have been extinct for the past hundred years and some that are over a hundred years old. The most fascinating for me were the Cycads, you just feel like you are walking with the dinosaurs all over again and that is really out of this world. The Greenhouse that contains plants that cannot survive in the open but only in controlled conditions was beautiful. We literally wanted to spend days on end walking around and learning. Ntombenhle was happy to learn that she and late president Mandela share the same taste in their favourite flower Natal Banana – Strelitizia Nicolai.

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We had an overall wonderful time in the Mother City.  We enjoyed the laid back, friendly, relaxed attitude of the residents, you could just strike up a conversation with anyone you met, the feeling of ultimate safety, the streets are safe to walk in late at night, there was no litter anywhere we walked, something that they have done well and that we would one day like to mirror in our own community.

Thank you very much to N3TC for sponsoring our trip and to Enviropedia for having us at the Awards and Charlene Russell who initially nominated us. They say that it is better to aim for the moon because even if you miss you will at least land amongst the stars.  We didn’t win this time but we will keep aiming higher and we sure felt like stars.

 

Terra Madre Day

We love picnics.  We don’t need much excuse, but Terra Madre Day on 10 December is perfect to celebrate local food with communities around the globe.  We invited friends, customers, neighbours and family to a bring along some food grown and prepared with love to share.

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Terra Madre Day is Slow Food’s annual day to promote the diversity of food traditions and production, and show how on the Slow Food network is using its creativity and knowledge to build a better food future.

r terra madre mpop penzSince 2009, each year on December 10 – Slow Food’s anniversary – food communities and Slow Food convivia around the world celebrate eating locally and sustainable local food production in hundreds of events: collective meals, community festivals, protests, workshops for children, excursions to producers and much more are held to promote local food traditions and demonstrate the Slow Food philosophy of good, clean and fair food to communities, media and decision makers.  Organic Farmer, Rob Symons, joined us “It was a pleasure  to attend. I enjoyed myself. It is always uplifting to connect with people who are intimate with the soil and have a love for all life.”

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“Terra Madre Day has continued to play a key role in addressing challenges by sensitizing communities and reminding them of the importance of sustainable agriculture, traditional food and biodiversity conservation,” says John Kariuki, Slow Food Foundation Vice President and coordinator of Slow Food activities in Kenya. “The event has also acted as a platform for bringing communities together and strengthening their local economies as a united force.” Read about last year’s picnic when the Mpophomeni garden was really just beginning.

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The Community Garden has become a pivotal spot for urban farmers to gather.  Nhlakanipho Nzimande is in the process of helping a number of people set up home gardens. He enjoyed chatting to veteran Mpop gardener Tutu Zuma about her successes and challenges.  Everyone shared their knowledge along with their food.

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Rob suggested to Ntombenhle Mtambo that comfrey tea was a great way to get good root growth on seedlings.  Kate Chantunya brought along some Baobab juice and told of it’s many nutritional and healing properties – pity we can’t grow a tree in Mpop.  “A fun ‘Slow Lunch’ with friends – an array of delicious food, freshly plucked and dug from backyard vegetable gardens. So inspiring!  This garden illustrates shows what can happen in a suburban setting. Grow your own, no matter where you live!” said Kate.

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This celebration of local food does seem to be a truly important moment for local communities across the African continent. Edie Mukiibi, Slow Food International Vice President, tells us about one event in Uganda: “At the Nama Wellness Youth Centre in Mukono, the national SFYN network will organize an evening dedicated to local and traditional products. The Forgotten Vegetables Party will be a unique opportunity to get to know foods from regions and cultures around the country, with traditional recipes. We hope to get young people curious about these often-forgotten foods and bring back to the table products that can often play a fundamental role in food sovereignty.” Jesse Chantunya from Howick brought just dug potatoes from his grandmother’s garden and enjoyed the pumpkin leaves and amaranthus cooked with peanuts most of all.

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“Terra Madre Day is a the celebration of our traditional, indigenous and local foods. A day to showcase our food biodiversity with pride and gratitude to Mother Earth. The size of the event should not matter, but what matters is the willingness to come together and celebrate our food heritage and biodiversity”. Hleziphe Mbajwa enjoyed the beetroot and herb salad most of all, Nelly Makanya loved the free range eggs with homemade mayo and Thobekile Shezi tucked into the carrot, orange and fennel salad.  Between them they collected all sorts of fresh veggies and herbs from the garden to create a colourful chopped salad.

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Mbali Mlambo made everyone’s favourite – ijece – steamed bread.  Nathi Adam arrived a bit late because he was busy preparing scrumptious fresh spinach. Rutendo Zendah and Sam Govender arrived with masses of seasonal fruit – just perfect for the hot summer day. Three Gogos passing by, spotted the gazebo and joined in the celebration, sharing the phutu, cabbage and beans they had prepared for their own lunch.

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Yvonne Munk had a most  interesting and inspiring day.  “Wonderful to see what can be done with commitment and passion,” she said. Yvonne made the most of the opportunity to stock up on fresh veggies, a Wonderbag and Isistofu.

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Garden Goddess Ntombenhle was delighted with the event. “I love having so many people in the garden, everyone sharing and learning and trying new things. All the colourful foods make my heart sing. We must eat like this everyday.”  Pam Haynes brought gifts of organic dried bay leaves for everyone. “A most inspiring day – sharing food and meeting new people,” she said afterwards.

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Are you a member of Slow Food?  Membership is just over R100 per year if you live in Africa. Should you share the Slow Food vision of a world in which all people can access and enjoy food that is good for them, good for those who grow it and good for the planet, you really should join. email Renee Gordge:  slowfood.imifinokzn@gmail.com  for an application form. Learn more: http://www.slowfood.com/  r terra madre mpop 047

 

 

 

Wild Water Walk

The sun rose high and hot on the morning of the 3rd of October – a perfect day for a Water Festival!

As a part of the Mpophomeni Enviro Club’s work towards becoming Water Explorers, and for the WESSA EcoSchools water project supported by the Department of Water and Sanitation, the Enviro Club members hosted a Water Festival to share what they have learnt about water with their community.

Seven Water Stations were set up along a route which started at the Nokulunga Gumede Memorial Wall, went up Mandela Drive, past the taxi rank, and into Mhlongo Rd, ending  at the Mpophomeni Community Garden.

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Zamile Mtambo of Mpophomeni Conservation Group (MCG) had been collecting cardboard and with some children, painting bright banners to encourage everyone to stop polluting the streams of Mpophomeni.   Her dream is to create a park along the eMhlangeni stream, with a path from the Community Garden all the way to the Library, with clean flowing water, indigenous plants, eco-benches and trees to sit under.

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Each station along the Water Walk focused on a different topic. At the Library the public were enticed to participate and watch a very entertaining edu-active puppet show by Yo-Puppet Co.

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At the next stop, everyone learnt about ‘secret water’ – the water which goes into the production of everyday items (for example: did you know that it take 10 500L to make a pair of Jeans?)  Philani Ncgobo commented “This secret water was the fact that amazed people the most.”

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Youngsters got to experience how water makes music and how the water cycle works.

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Ayanda Lipheyana of MCG/DUCT was not able to conduct a miniSASS test in the stream as the water quality was simply too awful with an overflowing manhole nearby. Instead they did a mock miniSASS and discussed what to do about the dilemma of bursting manholes. We need to encourage residents to take responsibility for reporting overflowing sewers and monitoring the condition of the streams near their homes. Water leakages and sewage problems should be reported to:

  • uMngungundlovu District Municipality Call Centre 080 0864 911
  • Ayanda Lipheyana 076 434 6719

Passers-by learnt how to tell if water is polluted, how to purify it and were encouraged to write their own pledge to protect precious water.

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One station shared ideas on how to save water in your home and garden.

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The Enviro Club kids estimated that they had collectively spoken to 105 people during the course of the morning spreading the message that water is extremely precious.

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Ntombenhle Mtambo from MCG showed the visitors around her waterwise garden, emphasising the importance of swales to harvest and store water and mulch to prevent evaporation.

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” I was so impressed, theses kids know what they are talking about! I liked it that they used real experiences from their home and community to explain.  I thought I knew a lot about water, but they have even taught me somethings today.  I believe that these kids can make a big difference, changing things in our community.”

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Julia Colvin and Bridget Ringdahl from the Water Explorers programme, funded by GAP, attended the festival, and awarded the kids with book prizes for their efforts.

If you missed out on the fun, we hope to have another festival next year during National Water Week in March. Keep your eyes and ears open for news!

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Winter Veggies are Wonderful

Many people don’t realise that one can grow vegetables all year round. Beds often sit empty waiting for spring, which is a great pity. In an effort to inspire local gardeners, MCG organised a Winter’s Best Produce Competition, inviting gardeners to bring along their home grown, homemade produce and stand a chance of winning a prize.

r winter produce gatheringOver 40 people carrying carrots, cabbages and giant bunches of kale converged on the Community Garden on Sunday afternoon.

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Lucia Buthelezi, who had won a prize in the pumpkin competition in May brought along some sugar cane which she had grown. Lucia is involved in the Silungisele Project in Mpophomeni. She also knows a fair amount about environmental sustainability, conservation and gardening and was able to share her knowledge with the rest of the group.

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MCG volunteers were on hand to show everyone around the garden and explain the permaculture way of growing food. “Let’s roll up our sleeves, get our hands dirty and work. That will lead us to a joyful, healthy and better life for everyone under the sun.” said Ntombenhle Mtambo of MCG.

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Learners from Mpophomeni High and Nhlanhleni Primary harvested veggies from the gardens that the MCT/ACT teams have created at their schools and were very excited to win bags of organic fertilizer donated by TWK and open pollinated seeds from Rebel Seeds.  Nonhlanhla Dlamini, Principal of Nhlanhleni, was really grateful. Tutu Zuma of MCG, who manages seven school gardens, believes that this has inspired the teachers to get more involved in the gardens now.

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Mr Khoza, Mr Ngobese and Mr Mtambo were the first to taste the herb tea made in the sunstove. They were astonished at how hot it was!

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Volunteers had been cooking garden produce in the sunstove and on the isitofu for lunch.  Noxolo Dladla and MaMpinga cooked butternut stew.  Brightness Dlamini made a mnyankobe with fresh mielies and beans, Tholakele Zuma made ijece.

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MaNgobese’s delicious combination of carrots, spinach and peas, served with stiff pap was a favourite.  Zamile Mtambo picked lettuce and herbs.  Sam Rose helped chop red cabbage for a salad.

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Ntombenhle had baked her famous bread, which everyone loved – so much better than commercial loaves filled with preservatives and other additives.

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Ntombehle used the opportunity to encourage everyone to pay attention to what they eat. “This food is your doctor. Borage will make your stronger, nasturtiums are full of iron. Vegetables are good for everyone.”

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All the winners in the fresh produce and delicious food received lovely prizes donated by Hopewells Supplies, TWK, Rebel Seeds and Renen Energy Solutions. Bystanders were disappointed that they hadn’t entered. They won’t miss out next time!

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Tholakele explained to everyone how the Wonderbag and isitofu works and invited them to come and visit them in the garden to learn more next week. MCG is an agent for these energy saving cooking solutions.

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Afterwards, all the produce was donated to deserving organisations. Thandi Shelembe of Swelihle Creche said, “Now I can add fresh carrots, onions and spinach to the children’s mealiemeal. Thank you.”  Olga Maseko of Sizanani who cares for many orphans, was also pleased “Blessed is the hand that gives,” she said “God has seen what you have done for the children. They really enjoyed the veggies.”

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Sam Rose and her family came out from Howick for the celebration, it was her first vist to the garden and she was very impressed. “So much was growing in the garden in the middle of winter, I enjoyed the marigold flowers that brightened up the street corner. The garden is so big, well-functioning and with well laid out bed and swales.  I was surprised that so much was growing because it is such a mission to water the garden by hand, the team’s dedication to carrying heavy buckets of water from the little stream to water even the far reaches of the garden, is very impressive.

I was so happy, after not having a garden of my own for about 8 months, to be able to pick my own food again.  Since our visit we have been eating salads with our usual favourites – rocket, borage, and fennel – things I cannot find in any store in Howick but that were plentiful in my garden back home and which are plentiful in Mphophomeni.  I’ve put in a standing order of garden produce for whenever my partner, Shine, goes to Mpophomeni to work.”

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Nomfundo Myeni of MCG concludes “Members of the community members could not praise and thank MCG enough for the lovely work that they are doing in and around the community and for the innovations and knowledge that they share so happily with everyone they meet.  Everybody kept on saying how much fun they were having and how they wish there were events like these more often so as to be able to socialise while learning and sharing knowledge.”

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In November MCG plan a Garden Competition and in January a Summer Greens and Imifino Cooking competition.  Whatever the season, there is always a reason to celebrate good food in Mpophomeni.

Pumpkin Time in Pops!

Pumpkins and people of all shapes and sizes participated in the inaugural Pumpkin Competition hosted by the Mpophomeni Conservation Group in the Community Garden recently. Nkululeko Mdladla compiled this account of the day.

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The first ever pumpkin competition in Mpophomeni was held on a beautiful autumn afternoon. Ntombenhle Mtambo was so happy to see all the competitors coming with their pumpkins to enter the competition – she had this amazing smile on her face as she welcomed them.

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I have never heard of such a competition before.  Money is not always a prize – today the prizes were organic fertiliser, seeds, frost protection and flower pots to grow their seeds in, sponsored by Hopewells Supplies and TWK in Howick.

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Lucia Buthelezi, who not only grows vegetables in her garden, but is also part of Silungiseleni Senior Citizen Project, won the prize for the tastiest looking pumpkin. She commented “I just came from church, hungry and tired but I did not allow my hungriness to stop me from coming to this competition that I heard about. I went home picked up my pumpkin and came to see this lovely garden.”

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Ntombenhle gave everyone a tour of the garden, showing them the permaculture way of doing things. “I heard that the Mpophomeni Conservation Group go house to house doing gardens, please come to my house also,” pleaded Lucia, “what you are doing is amazing.”

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Sihle Ngcobo, who brought along his Gogo’s pumpkin, laughed “I am very happy that I have also won something.  When I saw other pumpkins they were very huge compared to mine, and I thought I do not stand a chance. I even thought of going back home with my little pumpkin. I am happy to win the prize of weirdest pumpkin, next year I am taking the largest pumpkin prize.”

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Jabulani Nene was one of the judges. “I thought Ester’s pumpkin was the most beautiful. It was round and orange.” he said, adding “This was a very good event for our community. I think this garden is amazing and now I am thinking of starting one at home.”

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Winners in the various categories were (from left): Nokuthula Mjwara for the biggest, Lucia Buthelezi for the tastiest looking, Ester Ntuli for the most beautiful,  Tutu Zuma for the funniest (held here by Sbonelo Zuma), Sihle Ngcobo for the weirdest (and least likely to be edible!), Khetelo Mtambo for the smallest.

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Hloni Sikhakane came out from Howick for the event and got stuck in helping to water plants and harvest veggies. “This is the first time I have been in a garden like this. It is wonderful, I am really enjoying it and would like to be part of MCG.” She took home an armful of fresh produce.

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Lucia Buthelezi was absolutely delighted with her prize “I have never had my own compost or pots, I should have brought my other pumpkins too!” Everyone went home with some garden produce too – spinach, cabbage and brinjals.

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“It was a fun filled day. I was very happy to see all the competitors excited about their prizes,” said Lindiwe Mkhize of MCG. Penz Malinga, who initiated and organised the event added “I was so pleased that the Gogo’s, teenagers and even a four year old entered the competition. Many passers-by were wishing they had not already feasted on the pumpkins they had grown.”

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I was very happy to spend my Sunday afternoon in the garden, at the competition. I hope there will another pumpkin harvest day next year, with even more people entering.

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MCG plan more events like this one to celebrate good home grown food. On August 14th Winter’s Best Produce, and on January 8th Summer Greens and an Imifino cooking contest.

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If you get your cabbages and beetroot planted soon they will definitely be ready for the Winter Celebration. Don’t delay, get out in the garden today!