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).

r bean sculpture and girls

“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.

r richard and rooster

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.

r traditional maize

“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.

r maize meal

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.

r richard lamb group

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.”

r meeting marigold

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.”

r icecream pecan crisp

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.

r turkey

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.

r pigs

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.”

r ntombenhle friend

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.

r collecting salad

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

r pam and inge

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.”

r richard broad beans

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!

r Sam and Carol

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.

r wheelbarrow

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.

r aloes and sorghum

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!

r seeds

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.”

r lunch

“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.”

r thembi george inge carol

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.

r listening

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.”

r bruce spha

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.

r nhlaka and inge

Advertisements

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

mnandi-cover-no-p

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

spring

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

r bunch carrots

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.”

r beetroot hand 073

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

Mpop sept 2015 259

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

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

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

Phone Ntombenhle to book: 063 410 4697

Vetkoek poster no date

 

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.

13255962_234109623632468_4292024864860174075_n

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

13241158_234109790299118_8869793821232480472_n

 

 

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.

IMG_0801[1].JPG

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.

 

mpop eco logic sunflower stop

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.

IMG_1115[1].JPG

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.

IMG_1072[1]

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.

IMG_0846.JPG

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.

IMG_0868[1].JPG

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.

IMG_1015[1].JPG

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.

mpop eco logic lavender hedge

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.

mpop eco logic P and N kirstenbosch

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.

image
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”.

image
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.

image

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.

image

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.

image

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.

image

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.

image

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.

r alice zuma and ntombenhle

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.”

lindz community gardens april 120

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.”

mpop gardening april 2015 163

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.” 

lindz community gardens april 026

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.”

mpop gardening april 2015 181

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/

France Mtshali Gets up and Does it

France Mtshali, whose surname loosely translates as ‘One who Plants’ admits to not always have been interested in food gardening. After his work of constructing roads and paving in Amberfield ended in 2004, he could not imagine sitting around doing nothing and he needed an income, as did many others. Together with nine other Mpophomeni residents he formed Vuka Wenze Garden Project. The aim of the project was to improve their capacity to alleviate social problems and improve the wellbeing of the general public.

r mpophomnei garden 117

They approached the iNgonyama Trust and the iNkosi Zuma gave them a piece of land adjacent to the uMthinzima stream. The Zulu Mpophomeni Tourism Experience (ZMTE) assisted them with workshops and training. They identified a market for paprika and other spices and became affiliated with the Spice Association and purchased 35000 paprika seedlings which ZMTE paid for. They tilled the land and planted the seedlings and even had an irrigation system put in place. Unfortunately, because of the strong winds and floods not many of the plants survived. After the failure of the first effort and the lack of promised profit, half the volunteers quit. Since then, other volunteers have passed away and now, ten years later, only France Mtshali and Bongani Madela remain at Vuka Wenze co-operative.

r Bongani Madela and France Mtshali

Their vegetable plot is well fenced and has a big compost heap, barrels of manure tea brewing and lots and lots of vegetables in various stages of growth. On the edge is a pretty little office, a turquoise painted corrugated iron structure, were they hold meetings and change into their gardening gear. Fortunately, free roaming goats and cows (the bane of township gardens) can’t get in, but crows are a bother and Mr Mtshali quips “Scarecrows just don’t work!” He reckons they have plenty of snakes around too and they love eating the strawberries!

r vuka wenza office

In summer they start at 5am, stop work in the fields to set up their stall on Mandela Drive at 11 and trade until six.  In winter, work in the garden only starts at 7 and they close the stall at 4.30.The corrugated iron Vuka Wenza Stall attracts lots of passing trade on the main road into Mpophomeni, every afternoon.

r vuka wenza veggie stand

“We could really use more young and vibrant volunteers. The perception that young people have that the elderly must work in the fields, is wrong” says Mr Mtshali, his friend Mr Makhathini adds, “The youth of today have become lazy and are allergic to hard work”.

They make most of their profit from leafy greens (imifino). Also popular are their pickled chillies, beans, and a variety of pumpkins, butternuts and squashes. They regularly donate some of their produce to the orphans. “All that is life comes from the soil. If you want to live long, live on greens and eat fresh, locally grown food.” he concludes.

Frans Ntshali and friends at Vuka Wenze Farmstall.res

The Socialist Gardener – Ben Tsuro

A friendly Zimbabwean man has turned on the ‘grow your own food’ vibe in my neighbourhood. Wherever you find Ben Tsuro he is working. Whether planting parsley at his neighbour’s garden, helping a Makoti mop the stoep or digging a hole, he loves to work. He calls himself a Socialist Farmer.

Ben Tsuro with Mazwi Ngubane and Vusi Danisa
Ben Tsuro with Mazwi Ngubane and Vusi Danisa

A painter by trade, he came to South Africa nine years ago to seek employment and has settled in most major South African cities. Back at home, he managed a farm that produces tobacco, maize, cotton, wheat and barley.
Ben loves growing food so much that he buys seeds and seedlings with money earned from his odd painting jobs and plants them, not only in his garden, but his neighbours’ gardens as well. This last year, he has assisted five families to have productive gardens. Coming from a country where farming is the staple of life it’s no wonder he has a fondness for agriculture. He is always friendly and generous, believing that people should not be short of greens. Ben says “Green equals Life, growing plants for food is a reflection of the life we lead.”

harrismith 124Ben has awakened people from their iCansi (sleeping mat). Mazwi Ngubane’s garden is now sprouting with cabbages, mealies, spinach and pumpkin, when not long ago it was just hard, bare ground shadowed by fruit trees. Ben’s landlord, Vusi Danisa, thinks he is a blessing as he would have liked long ago to have a vegetable garden but because of illness, associated with aging, never had the energy to get it started.

harrismith 127Ben has travelled around the globe, through Southern Africa all the way to Yugoslavia. He says “Every place you land, you must make a home and every person you meet, you must make a friend.” That helps him get through to people and motivate them into doing things for themselves. He hopes to help others establish household gardens and was delighted to hear of the iLima project of the Mpophomeni Conservation Group, where he will be able to volunteer his assistance.

Shine Ben!

harrismith 131