Tim Abaa on Agroecology

Tim’s tiny township garden in Orange Farm south of Johannesburg is absolutely crammed with food and diversity.

Amongst the 52 fruit trees (including apples, pomegranates, pears, plums and avocados) wander hundreds of chickens, ducks, geese, turkeys and guinea fowl. Somehow, he also fits in pigs, pigeons, rabbits, beehives, a nursery of potted shrubs, trees and herbs and a gardening library filled with interesting books for his community to borrow.  Clearly, Tim is the right man to inspire small farmers, so we invited him to Mpophomeni to run a course on Agroecology in the Emphare Organics garden in Mtholampilo Street.

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“In 2012, I was thinking at night – I am poor, but I want to be rich. Poverty does not sleep.” Tim tells us, “I knew how to grow trees, but had no money to buy potting bags, so I started collecting empty plastic bottles – I paid the kids to collect them for me. I grew thousands of trees. The problem was that commercial nurseries did not want to buy trees in plastic bottles, so I couldn’t sell them.”  Undaunted, Tim decided he would offer the trees to his community for free and invited everyone to come and help themselves to the tree of their choice. Pawpaws, apricots, guavas, peaches and grapevines all found new homes in his neighbours’ gardens and Tim did the rounds checking up on how they were doing. Now 90% of the households in Orange Farm south of Johannesburg have a fruit tree.  That is an astonishing achievement.

Then, he got an order for 600 trees and made some money. “My investment was nil,” he grins, “just time, seeds from the trees growing everywhere, manure and plastic bottles.”

By now Tim certainly has everyone in the group’s attention!  “There is only one 17 December 2019. Today. It will never come again, so don’t waste it! Are you with me?”  We were riveted.

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Tim’s pet hate is junk food, he believes firmly that food is medicine.  He brought along a packet of a popular brand of snack food to demonstrate – called Go Slo.  “You want to go slow?” he asked, “you wonder why children cannot concentrate at school? It is because they eat this rubbish. It is a slow killer.  Organic food is our insurance – if you eat well you won’t need doctors and hospitals.” Apparently, 6.5 million people in South Africa suffer from high blood pressure and over 6 million with diabetes.  Both these diseases are directly related to the food we eat. “In the old days, poor people ate organic food, now it is the rich who eat this way.”

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Tim tells us that there are six types of farming and explains each one:

Traditional

That’s what our grandfathers did, back in the day.  It is ok, but with the increased population and lack of space, it doesn’t work so well anymore.

Sustainable

This is permaculture – based on the principles of Land Care, People Care and Profit Share.  This method sees a tree as a source of food, firewood, shelter, fencing and habitat for other creatures. This method works with Nature to design systems that work for humans.

Biodynamic

Rudolph Steiner’s method includes the spiritual world and the sun, moon and stars. For example, the movement of certain butterflies would signal the time to plant.  Nettles are an ingredient used often in Biodynamic preparations – they bring vitality and add a lot of iron to compost.  A mixture of cow dung and nettles is commonly used to boost growth.

IP Agriculture

Integrated Production uses practices from many types of agriculture – sometimes organic, sometimes using chemicals to deal with infestations of ‘pests’. Tim refers to those who follow this method as “fence-sitters”.

Conventional, Industrial Farming

This method is big on monoculture and is highly mechanised.    “These farmers would have just one wife, called Beans”, laughed Tim.  This type of agriculture began in the 1960’s when manufacturers found themselves with excess stock of nitrogen (previously used to manufacture bombs in the World Wars).  Nowadays, chemical giants Bayer and Monsanto control our food system through their sales of herbicide, pesticide and seeds.

Agroecology

This is organic farming, and according to Tim, the Mother of all Farming.  Here we look at the bigger picture, we create an entire ecosystem from which to harvest food, including other species as part of this system, in a fair and equal distribution of resources.  Lindiwe Phikwane, who dug up the useless lawn in her garden to plant food, adds “Farmers must not be greedy and invade the natural environment.  Make sure there is enough for everyone to share, plant some potatoes outside of the fence for the bush pigs. What can they do if you have taken their space?”

Tim convinces us that the best way to produce food is to work with Nature, to increase biodiversity and adapt to local conditions. Man’s influence must be positive as our health is a direct reflection of our environment. For example, a forest looks after itself, without any interference from man – so look at creating a micro-climate, with everything working in harmony to create balance.

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We have all made a new friend at the workshop, which pleases Tim no end. “Always sit next to strangers to learn something new, share ideas and imagination,” he advises.

In the middle of this information-packed day, we stopped for an all-local lunch under the peach trees. Today’s meal included ujece made by Lindiwe from Champagne Valley stone-ground flour, with a colourful coleslaw with pecan nuts, lettuce, new season potatoes and green beans topped with popped amaranth, nettle pesto, pickles and chutneys, a maas dressing, washed down with elderflower cordial. All ingredients were produced within 20kms of the garden.

Mzwandile Mokoena commented “Today was an amazing day, to be honest. I never looked at slow food that way, there are so many ways to end poverty and farming is the most underrated way (by some people). Today I learnt so much about farming I think the best way is to start small. Do not expect to have a big business in a short period of time. Starting small and local. The slow food process is slow but worth the time. Tim is such an inspiring person with good knowledge.”

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On Day Two of the workshop, Tim spoke about farming as a business, imploring everyone to think of themselves as business people, no matter how small their plot.  “It is great to be sharing the fruit of your labours with the less fortunate, but how long can you do this?  You are a shareholder in the food chain. You also need to make money to educate your kids.” Do not underestimate your value.

Tim believes that Co-Ops are the most terrible idea to befall our people. “Funding is a swear word!” he exclaims.  Only 10% of Co-Ops survive and function fully.  People are seldom trained on how to run a Co-Op successfully, which leads to a high failure rate. Often people choose their friends to be part of it (regardless of their skills), copy and paste a constitution, rush to open a bank account and then think that their official Co-Op Certificate it is a ticket to funding. A far better way to set up a venture would be to select people who have a similar vision, who each bring something different to the table. One with land, another contributes a tractor, one has recently acquired knowledge and skills to offer, the next plenty of seeds and finally someone who has some money to contribute. This group creates a very specific proposal and naturally, they will get the funding they require.

It is extremely important to have a written plan for your aims and goals. Record what is planted where on what date and how much you harvest in a simple notebook.  “Time is money, money is honey, honey is sweet.” he quips.

“Be unique, find unusual things to plant – everyone grows chard and cabbage – grow something different.”  While making sure you don’t give everything away, Tim advises that you take into consideration the ability of one’s community to buy your crops and sell at a reasonable price. “Don’t price your cabbages at R15 just because the big shops sell for that.  Even if you sell for R8, you will make a profit – but remember your records!”

These are the things to take into consideration when deciding to grow food for sale:

  • Measure your land (eg 10m x 10m) and decide what you will grow (eg beetroot).
  • Prepare the land and make a note of the date that you do this.
  • Buy seeds and seedlings – note the price.
  • When you transplant them into the soil – note the date.
  • Monitor daily. Regular attention will help eliminate pests, which take advantage of plants when they are stressed.
  • Water often. We don’t drink water only once a week, so why should your plant suffer? They are like humans, have a schedule and be consistent.
  • Note when you harvest.
  • In determining the price, consider all the costs including seeds, water, your labour, organic sprays, packaging, transport.
  • Organic crops should fetch a premium – “have you priced cancer lately?” – but be fair.
  • Reinvest your profit – save some and use some to get going on your next crop.
  • Your dividend is probably only about 10% – so be cautious when giving crops away, or you will quickly have made no profit at all.

Tim shared a very vivid example:  On one hectare you can plant 45 000 head of cabbage, which takes 90 days to grow.  Even if 5000 die, you will have 40 000 left.  If you sell them at R5 each, that is R200 000.00.  Your production costs are probably not more than R50 000, so there is a profit of R150 000.00. “This is good profit, so there is no need to charge a higher price.  Mabadle abantu – let people eat – is my philosophy.”

Tim recommends planting high-value crops like cucumbers, peppers, chillies, tomatoes and brinjal rather than endless spinach.   Do some market research.  If there is a glut of one type of vegetable when you send to the market – you will get absolutely nothing for it and your efforts will be wasted. Being able to sell directly in your community and neighbourhood is a great idea.

You are the brand.   If you sell to the shops, make sure that not only the shop label is displayed – your name should be there too.

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Tim believes we should aim for food sovereignty, not just food security.  Not only do we have the right to good food, we need the freedom to choose the food we want and decide how it is produced.  In this way, we create diversity and build resilience.

Passionate about creating young farmers, Tim works with ECD centres at schools to teach little children how to grow food and herbs organically. “If they understand the food system and value good quality food, this sharpens their appetite for choosing agriculture as a career.” To make sure that his programme is successful, Tim also trains the teacher and parents and keeps in close contact with the children. Watch Tim in action. 

Our all-local lunch today included Ntombenhle’s famous vetkoek, filled with a stew of sugar beans (grown in Impendle) and sweet potatoes (grown in Camperdown), lettuce from Mlu Khanyile’s garden up the road, beetroot salad, sou sou chutney and mint cordial.

Lunga Dlungwana commented “Tim’s story is very inspiring – from what led him to start doing what he does, to how he’s engaged with the community. His passion and love for the people and his belief that everyone must be taken care of, including the wild animals, is one that resonated with me the most. I could easily sit and listen to him talk for many hours. Such a great communicator.”

On day three, we listened intently and made notes as Tim shared his Top Tips to get the best out of our crops.

“What happens when you don’t charge your phone?” he asked, “the same goes for soil – it needs recharging.” He reminds us that we are eating nutrients, that plants suck the nutrients from the soil, so it is vital to keep building soil.  Manure is great to do this and there certainly was plenty available around us in Mpophomeni.  Do not leave manure uncovered as it loses nutrients (particularly nitrogen) fast in sunlight. Tim recommended we add manure to our beds at sunset to avoid this happening.

Make your beds 1m wide, so that you can reach to the middle from each side. Do not ever walk on your beds as this compresses the soil.

Do not plant seeds too deeply. Many seeds, like spinach and beetroot, do well when first soaked overnight in water.

Don’t sow plants the same family next to one another (eg tomatoes, brinjals) as they attract the same pests. Rather plant basil with tomatoes – they are great companions.

Some plants can be sown directly into beds – beans, squash, mealies, carrots and potatoes. Tomatoes, chillies and cabbage should be grown in nursery beds before being transplanted.

Transplanting is best done in the evening.  Wet the area you will be working in. Keep seedlings in a bucket of water to prevent the roots from drying out.  Ensure the hole for the seedling is as long as the root – do not bend the roots. Press down and water well.

Crop rotation is important – plant high feeders (leaf crops), then legumes (nitrogen fixers) then low feeders (rood crops). This helps ensure healthy plants and reduces pest-attracting stress.

Do not plant crops in tyres.  The heavy metals and chemicals leach into the soil and are absorbed by roots, poisoning your food.

Mulch: a very important element in your garden that suppresses weeds, controls evaporation, decomposes to include more organic material in your soil, add nutrients, improves fertility and soil texture and prevents fruits like tomatoes or strawberries from touching the soil and rotting.

Irrigate:  a 2l plastic bottle, with a hole in it, filled with water and placed next to your plant, will drip-feed water directly to the roots.

Potatoes:  lay khakibos branches in the trenches.  Ferment khakibos in water to make a nutrient-rich plant food to spray on crops.

Cucumbers: trim the tendrils when they have grown longer than 1m from the plant roots. This encourages the plant to produce more shoots. Prune the leaves to encourage better quality fruit.

Pumpkins: If you want to win the local Pumpkin Competition with an ENORMOUS pumpkin, this is the secret: Dig 1m x 1m x 1m deep pits and fill with all your organic waste – cuttings, kitchen waste, grass clippings, manure.  Plant one seed. Trim the vines when they reach 1m from the root to encourage more energy to go into your prize-winning pumpkin!

Tomatoes:  remove the first flowers to allow the plant to develop stronger stems before fruiting. Same goes for brinjals and peppers.

Fruit Trees: plant herbs under them like marjoram or comfrey. Remember to water them – at least 20l weekly, mixed with wood ash.  Add manure around the base of the tree every 3 months.

Weed tea: ferment pioneer weeds (especially khakibos and nettles) for two weeks – add chilli, garlic and some grape vinegar make it a pest deterrent too – dilute and spray on your crops and fruit trees.

Rabbit and goat manure is an excellent food for vegetable crops.

Moles: deter them by planting tulbaghia and lemongrass around your veggies. Make a simple tool from a plastic bottle with flaps cut into it, stuck on top of a stick and inserted into the mole hole. As the wind blows, spinning the bottle, the vibrations deter the moles.

Cutworms: add Epsom salts to your beds as cutworms indicate a lack of magnesium in the soil.

Aphids: spray with a weak mixture of sunlight soap. Plant nasturtiums to attract them away from your crops.

Lizards and skinks are important for keeping pests under control.

Guinea fowl and geese are great at keeping rats at bay and provide great security – no need to high fences and alarms.

Red wrigglers: earthworms turn waste into the soil from free.  They can be a ‘cash crop’ too – 1kg of worms sells for R1000.

Bees:  include hives in your garden to pollinate the plants and harvest real honey.  Bee stings are the best medicine for arthritis.

Save seeds:  use wood ash and eucalyptus leaves to prevent insects destroying your precious seeds. Store in glass in a cool dark place.

A few years ago, Tim met a woman from Soweto who had been saving her own seeds for 48 years. “These are diamonds!” he told her and after trading seeds with her, set up a Seed Bank.  “We gave away 300 packets of seeds to get people started, asking that they return double the amount of seed to the bank when they harvested. The system is built on trust.” Seed saving is the key to building food sovereignty.

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Tim sells fresh veggies directly from his garden and encourages his customers to come and pick their own fruit and veg.  “This is the moment when their relationship with food improves. Now they know who grew it, how it was produced and where it came from.  This is so important as mostly we are disconnected from our food.”

Tim reminds us that we are role models in our communities. “Encourage youngsters to spend time in the garden with you – feeding the chickens, adding potato peels to the worm bin, watering the seedlings and picking peaches.  They will learn patience, fall in love with this way of life and strengthen our communities and food systems.”

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Over lunch, Luke Foster asked Tim what his most useful tool is – after his hands. “My head,” he replied, “you can achieve anything with your head and your hands.”

Today we feasted on sorghum salad with apple and celery, summer slice made with Mlu’s potatoes, courgette and spring onions, just pulled carrots (also grown by Mlu), pickled spekboom, pumpkin stem salad, Lindiwe’s artisan bread and nettle cordial.

At the end of the day, we shared seeds to grow and resolved to continue to build our communities through good, clean food.

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Lihle Mavuso felt inspired and motivated by the course. “This is such good information, especially because I am just starting my farming journey.”

Bongiwe Mpolo from Mafakathini was so pleased she made the decision to come to this workshop. “It was a good opportunity. I love gardening, it helps me relax and takes my stress away. Now I have more knowledge.”

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Tim thoroughly enjoyed meeting enthusiastic gardeners from Mpophomeni and Mafakathini.  He also visited the mushroom growing project and food garden at the IBM church and Ntombenhle Mtambo’s Permaculture garden, spent time with our local Seed Man, Deon Bean, attended the Reko Howick market where he connected joyfully with other farmers and finally, inspired the Midlanders who had gathered to establish a new Slow Food Community.  What a week!

“I am falling in love with KZN” he declared before heading home to Orange Farm, “there is such good energy here – and amazing food.”

This workshop was sponsored by sales of Mnandi – a taste of Mpophomeni. See all the photos here.

Need some agroecology inspiration or farming advice in your community? Tim Abaa comes highly recommended.  Contact him on 082 639 6621 or timnectarbees@gmail.com.

Our Slow Food Community

Since it’s inception in 2012,  Mpophomeni Conservation Group has supported the ideals of the international Slow Food movement.

We have celebrated Terra Madre Days, swopped seeds, hosted gardening workshops, visited permaculture gardens, held harvest produce competitions, participated in Siyabuyisela ulwazi hosted by Biowatch and helped people in the community to start gardens of their own. Many of these events are recorded in our blog.  You may particularly enjoy reading Terra Madre Day 2013Terra Madre Day 2015 ,  Pickle Pot Pea Pyramids  Pumpkin Time in Pops, Enaleni Open Day

In 2016, long time Slow Food member Ntombenhle Mtambo attended the Slow Food Terra Madre Salone del Gusto in Turin, Italy.  A foodie adventure!

In November of 2018, we hosted a Seed Sharing Day

We were delighted to have Delwyn Pillay and friends of Slow Food Durban and Thokozani Kubeka all the way from Van Reenen, join our community.

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It was a great morning of sharing seeds, meeting fellow gardeners and farmers, swapping food knowledge and general merriment. Passionate people all keen to support food security, seed resilience and climate-friendly agricultural practices gathered in Ntombenhle’s Permaculture Garden.crowd

There were dozens of types of bean seeds, plenty of pumpkins, lots of heritage maize, sorghum, millet, cucumbers, zinnias, nasturtium, marigold, African daisy, chillies, fennel, sunflower, carrots, parsnips and more. Thousands of seeds spreading across the province to grow delicious resilience.

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Everyone got to taste Pha Mabaso’s delicious iced tea made with Athrixia phylicoides and Ntombenhle Mtambo’s famous vetkoek with fresh garden salad while they explored the garden and made new friends.  Bridget Rindgdahl commented, “Splendid day with splendid peeps, sharing and saving seeds in splendid Mpophomeni!”  Veteran seed saver Eidin Griffin added “What a marvellous morning meeting of Seed Warriors! Thank you to everyone who came, brought seed, shared information, cooked and turned up from as far afield as Durban and Van Reenen’s Pass. You are all lovely.  Happy growing to the hundreds if not thousands of heirloom and open-pollinated seeds shared today. Viva Seed Freedom Viva!”

This year, in May, Ntombenhle Mtambo, Spa Mabaso, Penz Malinga, Lindiwe Phikwane, Nhlaka Nzimande gathered in Ntombenhle’s garden to officially create Mpophomeni Slow Food.

slow food picnic

Over a picnic of local food, we discussed what Slow Food meant. Ntombenhle “it is about community, love and sharing, seeing the value in other people’s food cultures and sharing stories about food and culture. Food is the source of everything.”

Spha Mabaso agreed, adding  “Conversations about food and community can create a healthy social structure through nutrition. The one thing people are willing to do together – that is to eat, drink and laugh.”

Passionate farmer Nhlakanipho Nzimande expressed his disappointment that those with more money think it is better to shop at the supermarket than support local food “They want to be seen pushing the trolley. These people may be rich, but they are not wealthy. Wealth comes from land, food security and community.  We can learn a lot from elders who are growing. What we call butternut, they have many different names for – they don’t even know ‘butternut’.”

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Lindiwe Phikwane related her own experience of suddenly finding herself unemployed, starting a garden in her small yard. “Eating well does not have to be expensive. With a garden you can be healthy and rich. There is much unemployment –  we will not be getting jobs, we need to look after ourselves.”

Local activist Penz Malinga, who has been a member of Slow Food for many years,  was adamant “Freely available, flavourful food should be for everyone without causing harm to birds, bees or trees.  SF allows us to participate in ensuring that food diversity and all cultures and regions are sustained for generations to come.”

slow food picnic jars

Together, we decided on our objective:

To support small scale organic farming in the greater Mpophomeni area, to improve food security, to prevent the loss of traditional food culture and to inspire residents to live healthier lives.

Committing to:

  • Promote organic, regenerative cultivation
  • Work together in the African tradition of ilima
  • Organise one seed sharing event each year
  • Celebrate Terra Madre Day in our community
  • Develop unique products using indigenous or invasive plants
  • Support small producers to access local markets

We also decided to work towards having one or more products in the Ark of Taste.  We will promote traditional foods, by teaching others how to prepare these foods and promote the use of wild greens as a nutrient-dense, free food source and assist others to identify these plants.

Ive got the power SLow Food

The local Reko Ring in Howick was a good place to start selling the produce of small scale farmers in the Mpophomeni and Mashingeni area.  Reko is a Finnish term meaning fair consumption – which fits perfectly with Mpophomeni SF objectives.  The main aims of REKO are:

  • Local, ethical and organic production
  • Direct relationship between producer and consumer
  • Transparent prices, orders and comments
  • You may ONLY sell what you yourself have produced or direct by-products of your raw materials – no reselling.
  • The producer must make production methods transparent and ingredients clear to the customer.
  • Collection is at a set time and place, for a set duration.
  • Reduced packaging, and as far as possible no plastic.

Spha sold out of his new-season sugar beans on his first visit.  Lindiwe Phikwane has become a regular trader selling the oyster mushrooms and cabbages produced by her church and spring onions and lettuce from her own garden.  “Reko is great. It helps us, small producers, to earn some money. The best part is we only harvest what has been ordered, so there is no wastage.”

Lindiwe with lettuce at REKO

As bread is such a staple of most township diets, we decided to learn how to make our own healthier version.

We spent a day with Carol Addis in Lion’s River learning all about artisan bread.  Carol was a patient teacher, who explained everything carefully. More than anything, learning how to feel the dough to ensure the correct level of moisture was emphasised. Everyone loved getting their hands into the soft mixture – stretching and folding gently – definitely, no strenuous kneading required. Spha particularly enjoyed the technical aspects, learning practically hands-on rather than from a recipe. Sphindile had never done anything like this before. “This was so interesting, I will definitely be baking my own bread now,” she said.

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Carol talked about why commercial bread is bad for us and shared her passion for healthy, local, seasonal food. For lunch, we enjoyed a veggie curry with some of our freshly baked loaves. Penz said she was always a bit afraid of bread before, but after learning about the processes that make bread digestible and nutritious she would be enjoying real bread more often. Lindiwe was delighted with all the info she received today and was already making plans to get her hands on some good local flour and start baking. She was surprised to work out that this good bread doesn’t even cost more to than cheap bread is to buy. Ntombenhle agreed with Carol that food made with love tasted the best.

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In July, Mpophomeni Slow Food spokesperson, Spha Mabaso headed to Johannesburg to connect with Slow Foodies there and learn more about the movement.  This is his account of the adventure.

With Caroline McCann (the Slow Food International Councillor for South Africa) and Dr Naude Malan of iZindaba Zigudla, I visited Cheese Gourmet in Linden run by Brian Dick. Brian Dick has for many years been the leader of Slow Food in Gauteng. I was amazed by the great variety of cheese produced in South Africa.

Next, we went to Orange Farm to meet Slow Food member Tim Abaa who is running a great organic farming community project.  We explored his place and I learnt a lot about making the best use of small township spaces.

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For lunch we headed to Eziko Resturant in Mid-Rand. Eziko means ‘hearth’ or ‘fireplace where one cooks’. Here we ate sheep’s head with vegetables and steamed bread. I learnt that traditional food can be served to tourists if it is well presented.  As I am keen to open a restaurant in Mpophomeni I was pleased to chat with chef Andile Somdaka – he invited me to visit again for some training.

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On Sunday morning we visited Victoria Yards – a complex of small art, food and design businesses created in a reclaimed industrial space. It was a great place to visit. At the regular Inner City Farmers Market,  I met a lady that was processing her vegetables and fruits to make smoothies to sell. This was great to see because I have a similar idea for Mpophomeni.

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What a wonderful trip – I got to meet a lot of people who believe in Slow Food and expanded my network within the food and gardening sector.  Caroline McCann was thrilled to meet Spha. “It was wonderful to have spent time with you. I am incredibly moved by your passion and knowledge. Thank you for sharing with us and know we are your ‘home away from home’ fans.  I reiterate that not only because I am the International Councillor but because I believe in you, I want to hear about the stuff you do.”

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Brian Dick, and his wife Jo, were down in KZN this past week so popped in to visit the Mpophomeni Slow Food Community on Sunday 20 July and share some of his knowledge on the organisation.

We began by showing our guests around Emphare Organics small scale farm in the heart of the township on Mtholampilo Street.  Spha introduced his cows who provide the manure to make the garden flourish.  Jo was very interested to taste mustard greens for the first time.

mustard spinach

After the tour we shared lunch prepared by the Slow Food community of Mpophomeni – rainbow salad, ijece, artisan bread, pumpkin soup. A few local artists and community members joined us for lunch and we had a great discussion about what slow food is and what it is trying to archive for communities.

After lunch we visited Ntombenhle’s garden as Brian and Jo had heard so much about it.  “What a lovely day,” said Brianafterwards, “I was so impressed by the energy and enthusiasm.  I am certain that Slow Food will grow in the area.”

ntombenhle's garden

What’s next?   During August, we will be attending the Biowatch Agro-Ecology course in Durban.  In early September we will be learning to make cheese on Wana Farm.   Watch the Slow Foodies of Mpophomeni be the change they want to see in the world!

Are you interested in joining our Slow Food Community?  Contact any of the founding members, or email Spha Mabaso: sphamabaso@gmail.com

Slow Food activities are funded by sales of Mnandi – a taste of Mpophomeni. 

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Enaleni Open Day

Exploring Enaleni Farm, small farmer Thembi Ngobese realised that she now knew what heaven would be like. This was it!

Richard Haigh has transformed a wattle infested 10ha near Camperdown into a Place of Agricultural Abundance – as the name Enaleni states in isiZulu. The farm celebrates the diversity of heritage breeds (many are indigenous) of domesticated animals with interesting histories and stories in South Africa. The mixed farming system of plants and animals present visitors with an opportunity to ponder the relationship between animals, plants and a non-industrialised approach to landuse and food production. Here you will find no herbicides, pesticides or anti-biotics and the animals are most definitely not mutilated (castrated or dehorned).

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“Few people know where or how the animals and vegetables they eat are farmed,” Richard told the enthusiastic group of small farmers and gardeners from the Midlands and greater Durban who attended the open day, “ours are raised with care, killed with respect and cooked with love.”  Apparently two species of domestic animal go extinct every week, which makes Richard’s work to preserve diversity particularly important.

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The traditional multi-coloured Zulu maize ugatigati captured everyone’s imagination. While not originally from Africa, this maize has adapted to the soil and climate, and for the past 25 years, seed has been diligently saved to ensure that it has not been contaminated by commonly grown GMO maize.

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“If we grow some,” asked Inge Sciba, “how do we make sure that it does not cross pollinate with our neighbours’crop?” Richard suggested staggering planting times – if planted a month after the neighbour, there would be little chance of crossing.  At Enaleni, the maize is ground in a big old hand-grinder to produce delicious speckled polenta.

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Enaleni is home to South Africa’s biggest herd of multi-coloured izimvu sheep, with their rasta hairstyles, tiny mouse-like ears and fat tails.  Over many centuries they have co-evolved with local conditions to have strong back legs that help them forage in small trees and have a high tolerance to tick-borne diseases and parasites. They have a unique flavour, much leaner than Karoo lamb.  Richard does not castrate the sheep, or dock their tails as is common practice amongst farmers.

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Having read about Enaleni before visiting, Nhlakanipho Nzimande was keen to meet Marigold and Delilah who provide the farm with milk (shared, of course, with their calves).  He left inspired to add a few cows to his farming enterprise and learn how to make his own cheese. “It was a real eye-opener for me.” he said.

Spha Mabaso was so pleased that Richard’s cows were also Nguni /Jersey crosses and his method of hand milking and sharing was the same as his family practiced in Mpophomeni. “I’d love to bring my grandfather here.”

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Richard turns this milk into delectable halloumi, ricotta, feta, maas and butter.  We were treated to the most delicious handmade ice-cream at lunch.  Neliswa Ntombela raved “I can’t wait to eat that fresh ice-cream again. It was the best I have ever tasted. I loved the guava wine and will be making some for myself. Richard was so friendly when we asked him questions and shared the ways of making all the food with us. He even knows all the names of the animals and vegetables in my language, isiZulu.”

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Among all the interesting varieties of fowl, Nhlakanipo and Neliswa were really taken with the “gigantic yellow” Buff Orpingtons.   At lunch, one of the dishes on offer was chicken pie – made from the Venda chickens.  Two breeds of turkeys live happily at Enaleni – American Mammoth Bronze and the Beltsville White.

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The spotted landrace Kolbroek pigs are believed to be descended from animals that swam ashore after a ship wreck in 1778.  At Enaleni they are farmed in a way that enables them to free range and free-farrow and express their natural behaviour. Their diet includes grasses, macadamia nuts, fruit, insects, maas /whey from the dairy cows and gmo-free grains grown right there. They thrive as a result.

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Enaleni reminded Christeen Grant of mountain villages in Lesotho – where everything has a reason to exist – the animals are all part of daily life, they and the crops are harvested in a sustainable way to ensure survival of the richest kind, uncontaminated by chemicals and organically produced. “Richard introduced us to his farm with justifiable pride. The pigs, sheep, cows, hens, turkeys and ducks were all happily going about their lives, the veggie garden flourishing even in winter. All were interconnected, mulch from the animals enriches the soil in the garden, and all are part of an ethically sustainable produce, which we sampled at lunch, scrumptious! Whilst showing us round the farm Richard explained that he could look us in the eye when he said he would be eating the livestock and their produce, that he used to be vegetarian. He can, because he farms with ethic, not greed. He is also generously happy to share seeds and information with others. Bathed in cool sunshine the aloes, veggie garden and animals glowed with vitality. A stunning example of how to live sustainably.”

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Before lunch, Richard invited everyone into the ever-evolving vegetable garden to gather salad for lunch. Amongst the recognisable greens, some unusual varieties flourished and plenty of ‘weeds’ – nutritious wild greens known as imifino i isiZulu.

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The beautiful tunnel planted with Double Beans had many of us paying extra attention to create one of our own at home.

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The abundant broad beans looked healthy in the winter sun, but how on earth would Enaleni make use of all the beans they looked set to produce? “Why, falafel of course,” Richard told us, “fava beans are traditionally used for falafel.”

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Clearly Richard is fascinated by relationships between plants – the tamarillo, cape gooseberry and pineapple sage growing beside one another all have the same region of origin, so naturally grow well together and taste fabulous when combined in dishes. Many tried a tree tomato for the first time and took some fruit home for seed to grow their own. The Enaleni orchard has avocado, macadamia, guava and olive trees too. Spha Mabaso loved all the new ideas to add value to the guavas he produces – dried strips and bottled in syrup. “The best part about Enaleni is that the crops that they produce are organic just like mine. I love the way he lets nature take its course and not to follow the standardized methods by commercial farmers.  I believe I still got a long way to go in terms of learning all the processing methods. The is so much I can learn from if I keep attending events like this – growing in terms of business and skills of production.”said Spha.

Oh, we just kept on learning and sharing all day!

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Enaleni is in a rain shadow belt – the transition zone between coastal and hinterland. Richard reminded us that edges, or transition zones, between two biomes are usually where the greatest diversity occurs.  They never have enough rainfall at Enaleni, but a slow and steady borehole and extensive use of grey water ensure that livestock and plant flourish.

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Enaleni grows soya and traditional grains (sorghum, millet, maize) that are certified GMO-free and save their own seed.  “Seeds are the backbone of agriculture, our investment in the future. There is no food sovereignty without seed security. Seed sovereignty is vital to Enaleni’s agroecological approach to food production.”  We all agreed.

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Members of the Midlands Barter Markets and Mpophomeni gardeners shared seeds with new friends (as they regularly do). Those unused to trade without money, were a bit unsure when we accepted hugs in exchange for seeds, but soon got the hang of it!  Spha Mabaso brought fresh Speckled Beans, Thembi Ngobese a range of pretty beans she grows on her two hectares in Swayimani. Rose Kunhardt shared fascinating African Horned Cucumbers she had grown in Dargle.  Ntombenhle Mtambo shared fennel, chard and carrot seed from her township garden.

Christeen Grant shared seed originally from Lesotho and Nikki Brighton interesting varieties originally grown by rural farmers in Zululand – including Canavalia ensiformis, or jack bean. Known in isiZulu as the bean that causes flatulence – umadumanqeni!

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Over lunch on the veranda, plans were made to visit each other’s gardens, recipes and gardening stories were shared.  We feasted on pies of chicken or butternut and Jerusalem artichoke (using herbs and spices grown within sight) and a flower decked salad.  A visitor from Holland, Rosa Deen was delighted to have been invited.  “I love seeing how the sense of community grows at these kinds of events. Knowledge thrives when it is shared, not sold.”

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“Richard has worked tirelessly for 14 years to make the place a living dream for farmers and visitors. He is not a lazy person and will not fail. He works hard and reaps the fruit. The food and drinks were excellent – all made from fruits, vegetables, herbs grown on the farm. My body feels younger. Ngiyabonga kakhulu.” Thembi Ngobese enthused.

Carol Addis was entranced. “No warm winter day could have been spent in a more delightful and enlightening place than Enaleni Farm. Richard is passionate about eco agriculture, enhancing his property with natural aloes and beautiful vegetable gardens for animals, birds and swarms of insects to mix freely. He regrets the odd bit of bird netting to protect green crops from mouse birds and monkeys – this attitude to other beings is so refreshing. Richard is an inspiration – an absolute treat of slow food in a fast food world.”

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Tutu Zuma loved the networking and meeting new people. Ntombenhle Mtambo was thrilled to find all three cook books that she is featured in on Richard’s coffee table!  “Richard is an example to us all – he respects, collects, saves, re-uses, protects, cares, nurtures and his animals walk freely. We saw evidence of what we need in our daily lives. I feel proud to be part of the Slow Food Mpophomeni team and show my colleagues this special place of plenty.” said Ntombenhle.

It was a truly splendid day of savouring new tastes, making new friends, sharing seeds and soaking up Richard’s wealth of knowledge.

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Bruce Haynes concludes “As a young person growing up in the 21st century, experiencing a farm that can cook up three-course meals using only ingredients from with a 350m radium of the kitchen was nothing short of magical. Richard’s relationship with the organic farm-system he has created, and his pragmatic compassion for his animals, models a way forward for all of us seeking to live more wisely and fully on this planet.”

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Richard Haigh hosts lunches using only ingredients grown at Enaleni on the first Sunday of each month – Eataleni – which are delicious and inspiring.   See Enaleni Farm on Facebook for details or call: 0828722049. You are very likely to make a new friend too.

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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.

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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.”

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“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

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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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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.

 

A Gardener with Hip Hop Italian Swag

It is unusual to find young people in our community who appreciate soil and the benefits of gardening, but there are some unique individuals. Meet Thembelani Teeza Jili – a well-known, multi-talented young man who has been working for African Conservation Trust in partnership with Mpophomeni Conservation Group in their mission to make school gardens awesome, and to establish gardens in hundreds of homesteads in Mpophomeni.

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Teeza with his dog Teena

Thembelani’s love for gardening has been lifelong and is motivated by his love for beautiful and colourful flowers.  He realised sadly that he could not make money selling flowers in our community because people don’t eat flowers.  “I love food gardening because there is wealth in the soil, and nourishment in whatever comes from that soil and I love good food,” he says, adding “with veggie gardening you can make that little bit of money for airtime and other food because you cannot eat all the food you produce.  I sell some to whoever is willing to buy”.

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Teeza with red nose pitbull Alia

Thembelani is a member of the Hip Hop dance group called Guns and Roses which he started with his lifelong friend Philani Ngubane. He is also a fashion designer of a unique style that he calls Hip Hop Italian Swag and an actor who has performed in many stages in KwaZulu Natal. Thembelani is one of the founders of the weekly poetry sessions, where Mpophomeni artists meet, are given a platform to share their craft and are inspired to grow their talents.

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He has just been handed a piece of land below the Bethel Ministries tent. His vision is to work with the youth and plant seasonal vegetables to sell to big supermarkets. He will not be doing this only for himself, he just wants to make sure everyone has food.

Love your environment.

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Mr Mlondi Cele lives in close proximity to an illegal communal rubbish dump that exists and has flourished because for years the rubbish truck did not drive on his street on collection day, the street had been previously inaccessible because one of the RDP houses was built smack bang in the middle of the street blocking access also the road was too narrow and overgrown. He also lives in close proximity of a manhole that is constantly surcharging with sewerage right on the uMthinzima stream, which has become a great contributor of raised E-coli levels in Midmar Dam.

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Baba Cele is one of the Mpophomeni Sanitation Education Project (MSEP) environment champions employed by the Duzi Umngeni Conservation Trust (DUCT) to monitor the spilling manholes, illegal dumping and to educate people regarding why these problems occur and to find out what can be done to reduce or stop these problems.

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Baba Celes’ interest in these issues started long before the inception of the MSEP project in 2011. He likes to live in a clean healthy environment free from rubbish and the stench of sewerage, so he was very active in engaging with the municipal councillors and bringing up the issues during community meetings which he still attends religiously.

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In his spare time he doubles as a handyman, tilling people’s homes and spends much of his time doing his garden next to the stream, where he is making good use of the floodplain opposite his house. “ I grew up in this area when it was still beautiful, the rivers were intact, the view of the hills were marvellous, it would be nice to see Mpophomeni return to its former glory and be clean and beautiful again” said Mr Cele. He also added that if you love yourself, your environment should reflect the love you have for it. He has much pride and joy in his Kids Club “The Cheetahs’ led by one of his daughters Nomcebo joined by other children from the neighbourhood. He hopes to inspire the neighbours and their children to leave in a beautiful environment.

One Home, One Garden

r ntombenhle sitting in garden“The Government had a plan like this, but it failed,”  Ntombenhle tells me. “One Home, One Garden won’t fail in Mpophomeni,” she adds determinedly.  It certainly won’t if Ntombenhle has anything to do with it!

It has long been her dream to turn Mpophomeni into a flourishing food forest.  She started in her own back yard, leading by example, then turned a dumping site into an astonishingly productive garden and now, in partnership with the African Conservation Trust is creating hundreds of new gardens every month.   “The reason it didn’t work before was that the Government didn’t listen to the people, talk to them about what they needed. They just handed out tools and seeds and didn’t offer real advice and assistance.”  

In August 2014, Ntombenhle and a band of volunteers began work on clearing the piles of plastic, glass and builders rubble on the corner of Mhlongo and Stadium Roads in Mpophomeni.  She believed that if she could turn this bit of unloved ground into a very visible flourishing food garden, she would be able to inspire others to do the same in their backyards.  “At first people wondered what was going on, but many already knew me and my small productive garden at home, so they were not really surprised.”  Within a couple of months the garden was producing food and attracting a lot of attention.  https://mpophomeniconservationgroup.wordpress.com/2015/01/19/see-how-our-garden-grows/

 

Mpophomeni Conservation Group was invited to participate in an African Conservation Trust (ACT) workshop to discuss their Gigabyte Guardians Project and plans to create thousands of gardens across the Midlands. Ntombenhle’s enthusiasm and determination shone and within a couple of days a team of enthusiastic young people trained in permaculture principles had settled in Mpophomeni.  To make things even better, ACT employed 19 local people who had previously been volunteering in the Community Garden.  What a team this was turning out to be!

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“Permaculture gardens can do many things to uplift the community. I would like to address the issues they face in a practical and sustainable way. This is also our chance to show them how to recycle, save water, eat healthily, make money, improve the environment and to teach young people about Values. This is an ongoing development programme where skills learnt will be passed to others to uplift everyone in the long term.”

It has not been all smooth sailing to spread their message.  Sometimes people have locked their gates and said no, but after observing the work happening in their neighbours gardens realised that the team knows what they are doing and works neatly, and invite them to come back.

Many of the concepts are completely new in Mpophomeni. The idea of keeping the ground mulched has met some resistance, but now that the dry period is here, gardeners are observing how it helps keep the soil moist.  Plenty of people think you can only grow crops in Summer, but the abundant green gardens on every corner are setting a great example of year round production, as are the veggies flourishing amongst other plants in traditional flower beds.

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Everyone’s hearts sing when they see that they are making a real difference in someone’s life. Mpumelelo Kheswa “Thanks, I can’t believe these guys helping me for free. I always had a problem with the slope and erosion, these swales are a new thing for me. I will plant spinach and cabbage soon.”  Nomsa Vilakasi was also astonished that they didn’t need to pay for the service. “I am so happy that you are here and you don’t want money because I don’t have money to pay you.”

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76 year old Mr Moses Mthembu can hardly walk, but still loves gardening, even on his hands and knees. When the ACT/MCG Garden team offered to give his veggie patch a makeover he was thrilled. “I am not well, but growing plants is one thing I like. I am one of the oldest citizens of Mpophomeni but never before have I seen such things as all the young people working so hard helping the community. I give you my blessings.”

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Often people simply want to be listened to, to share their stories. “I am 66 years old and have been taking care of this garden since 1976.”  remembers Meggi Makhanye, “My parents laughed at me when I planted, but I like the fresh veggies I get. I don’t sell, but can help those who are unable to plant and grow for themselves.”   Brightness Chagwe is determined she won’t be buying vegetables from town anymore and Gloria Gwala is going to start selling some of her produce to make extra cash, after feeding her family.

Not everyone understands the Permaculture way.  A small group of volunteers have been following up on the gardens created by the ACT/MCG teams, visiting elderly people to see what help they need, give them gifts of seedlings and help them mulch and companion plant.  “This is making a big difference,” says Ntombenhle, “the gardens are looking lovely and the old people are so pleased to talk to us about their gardens and ask for advice.  Just digging the beds is not enough, we have to follow up – visit, encourage and help – especially the elderly. We go with a small gift of seedlings and talk to them about how they are doing. We explain the principles of Permaculture, the value of eating fresh food and how to save energy, water and money.  If they build the soil and don’t keep turning it over, these gardens will last a long time.” 

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Ntombenhle is really delighted that her community is benefitting from this opportunity.  “It is exciting to do these things in our community and see people experiencing new ideas. It feels good to listen to their views and needs and to give advice.  I can see that now people are wearing new glasses and they can see everything that we have promised. We are here to do magic. Our team is hard workers and this project will benefit everyone.”

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African Conservation Trust intends creating 4000 gardens and planting 4000 plum trees this year!  “I am happy to be part of this great team. The effort everyone puts in is amazing. I am humbled and very excited. My dream is coming true.” concludes Ntombenhle.  Thanks go to the Global Greengrants fund, N3Toll Concession, Rotary and many generous friends who have contributed along the way – every bit helps.

See more pictures of Mpop gardens at:

https://mpophomeniconservationgroup.wordpress.com/2015/01/14/gardens-of-mpop/