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.


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 or call 063 410 4697




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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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:  for an application form. Learn more:  r terra madre mpop 047




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!

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.

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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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Cultivating Joy

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


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


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


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

IMG_4828Malusi was making Eco-Bricks


Blue was being beautiful


Neighbours were going about their daily business


Goats were catching the early sun


Kids were curious

IMG_4789The Tuck Shop was opening up for the day


Someone was organising a celebration

IMG_5011Cows were eating whatever they could find


Birds were singing


Pumpkins were in flower and the bees were abuzz


Someone got up early to do their washing


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

Dogs and Kids love the Garden

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

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

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penz and trevar

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

See How Our Garden Grows

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

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Volunteers began by clearing the rubbish from the site

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eish, so much buried plastic!

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Removing rocks

making progress

and levelling

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

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

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The first swales is marked and dug

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More beds and swales spread across the site

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Everyone is learning as they work.

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Seedlings are gathered from gardens at home

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and planting the beds begins.

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

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

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Trees and shrubs for windbreaks and shelter are planted.

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

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


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

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

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

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The herb spiral is marked out

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

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Trees are labelled

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Pedestrians stop to read the signs.

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Everything starts to grow!

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The garden gets greener every week!

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Radishes are the first crop we can eat.

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We can already harvest and sell greens!

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

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


Mulch is essential to help keep the soil cool.

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The sunflowers are reaching for the sky!

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The green beans are climbing the old fence!

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

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

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

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