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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Being an Owl Mother.

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

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Bateleur Eagles at Raptor Rescue

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

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Leftovers from owls.

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

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

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Pellets regurgitated by owls.

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

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Regular visitors.

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

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Day old chicks.

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

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Gugu at her favorite spot.

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

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Kids at an owl talk at a Thembeni

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

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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.”

Ntombenhle Mtambo by Toby Murphy

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

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

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

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

Phone Ntombenhle to book: 063 410 4697

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Birds of Prey in action.

We have been working closely with Mpop Kids Club and the Enviro Champs as part of the Owl Box Project. The DUCT Enviro Champs held an activity day where existing knowledge about owls was investigated. The children had to fill in worksheets with various questions relating to owl knowledge. Aphelele Mkhize wrote that she was afraid of owls and she would scream if she saw one, while Amahle swore he had seen one on a rocky outcrop in broad daylight one day. Later everyone enjoyed a presentation where they got to watch videos of owls catching rats and mice, learn fascinating facts about owls like how soft their feathers are and get to ask the itching questions they had in the end many fears faded.

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After hosting a fabulous, successful water festival in the past month, the DUCT Enviro Champs had some prize money which they were glad to spend on the Owl Box Project by having an inspiring trip to the African Bird of Prey Sanctuary. The sanctuary is home to many raptor species that are indigenous to Southern Africa, they try and give injured or sick birds from different historical circumstances all the help they need to get in a condition where they can be released back to the wild and all the birds that are homed in the centre are unable to survive on their own in the wild if released.

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A fish Eagle in Captivity

We had a self-guided walk around the many enclosures housing different species some big and some small. We all loved the residents of Hoot Hollow, where owls resided, the most. Mzwa Mokoena was fascinated by their silent flight, the way they can turn their heads 270˚, “They have more bones in their spines than humans and did you know that the male hoots twice and the female replies with three hoots?” he asked.

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A Grass Owl
We were treated to a flight display by Orion the long crested eagle, who has white distinctive windows on his wings that are seen during flight followed by YBK a Yellow Billed Kite that was not able to join the migration to Kenya, East-Central Africa. We closed our eyes to hear an owl fly and all we heard was a small swoosh before he landed on a perch, their silent flight and camouflage abilities make them to appear spirit like because they are not easily seen.

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Most of the raptors we saw caught food with their feet first, except for the little goshawk which has shorter wings and a longer tail and catches food with its beak. The cutest was the little wood owl, the female is called uMabhengwane and the male is called uNobathekeli in isiZulu.

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Belinda with the cute little Wood Owl

Vulture feeding was interesting, we learned that the Cape Vultures were not fighting over food but helping each other tear it apart. Next to the vulture enclosure was a pair of juvenile Beaded Eagles, they are Red Data species and there are only about 320 left in the country.

 

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A juvenile Bearded Vulture

After the excitement we went to the lower Mpushini River where Pandora Long told us the story of how she watched the river die slowly since she was a young woman until its fatality when a farmer dammed it upstream about a decade or so ago.

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We also took a walk along the dry river bed and had a picnic lunch around the fire. We finished off by going to Rick and Emma Hackland’s Aloe Farm in Bishopstowe.  It was originally a rose garden which they found requires a lot of water, they then tried a patch of aloes and found them quite suitable, numbers of different species of aloes have since taken over with very few fragrant roses remain.  Everyone had a great time posing for photographs amongst the aloe flowers. ”I wish I can have this rose in my bedroom, I have never smelled a rose as sweet”, said Amanda.

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Learning more about the owls has changed the perspective of many people, there is much enthusiasm for the Barn owls that will soon be residents in Mpophomeni.  People are asking the big question, “Ziza nini iziKhova safa amagundane?”

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!

r colourful mcg team

“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/