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.

Real Cheese

After learning how to make real bread a couple of months ago (thank you Carol Addis, read about it here), the obvious next step in our Slow Food journey was cheese.

Gilly Robartes of Wana Farm in Dargle invited us to spend the morning with her.  First, we learnt how to separate the milk.  We tipped 6 litres of raw milk still warm from the morning’s milking into the top and kept the handle turning at a swift 14 cycles every 10 seconds!

It is important to use warm milk – the natural temperature is 38.5 degrees.  As the cream is heavier than milk, the centrifugal force separates it from the rest (now skim milk).  This is not essential, as one could simply use whole milk to make cheese and yoghurt, but Gilly’s customers prefer her method.  It goes without saying that the better the quality of the milk, the better the result.

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Milk is then pasteurised in a double boiler by heating it to 85C.  Then the heat is switched off and the pot left for 10 minutes.  After that, the milk must be cooled as fast as possible to 22C.  We put it into a basin of cold water and stirred continuously.

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Gilly’s instructions continue:  Stir the frozen culture (Gilly uses CHN22) into the milk. Dissolve 1/8th tsp rennet powder in about 1 dessert spoon of water and add that.  Put a lid on the pot and place it in a cooler bag, or Wonderbag, so it keeps its temperature, for at least 16 hours.

Sterilize a muslin bag, (like a pillow-case), by boiling it in water for about 6 minutes. Take the pot out of the Wonderbag and pour the cheese, which should have coagulated,  into the muslin bag.  Tie the top with a piece of string. Put this on a rack over a basin to drain off most of the whey (umlaza).  Leave to drain overnight, in a cool place, preferably a fridge.

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Pour the curds (izaqheqhe)  into a basin/bowl.  Add salt to taste – usually around 2 – 3 teaspoons.  Beat with a stick blender or a wooden spoon until smooth.

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If you want to add flavour, mix it in at this stage.  If adding fresh herbs, microwave them for a few seconds first to kill the enzymes that could cause the cheese to go off.  It takes 48 hours to make cottage cheese.

We were delighted to sample the fresh cheese with homemade bread at tea time.

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We chatted about the economics of cheese making. Gilly reminded us to take into consideration our time, electricity, rent and the transport to deliver the cheese, as well as the cost of ingredients and containers when we price our product.  To make maas, Gilly uses the same culture as for cottage cheese. Wana Farm maas is well known and much loved across the Midlands.

Then we turned out hands to making yoghurt – a similar process to cottage cheese.

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Next, we all went out into the farmyard to thank the cows who had provided the delicious milk.  We met Tessa and Tsitwe, May-Star, Tsitsa and Naledi.

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We were all dreaming about warm milk straight from the udder – or served with soft pap – igxaka.   We shared stories of traditional methods like using a calabash to curdle milk into maas and fond memories of grandmother’s homemade ice cream…

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We met the new babies as well – who share the milk with us humans.  They were all so cute and friendly.  Gilly told us that because Jersey milk is so rich, the calves often get upset tummies from drinking it. “They are so greedy!  Sometimes I have to dilute the full cream milk with water if they get the squits.”

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We explored the veggie garden and Nhlaka Nzimande got some tips on growing organic garlic. Gilly has a problem with moles sharing her veggies, Spha Mabaso shared a solution “plant Tulbaghia (iswele lezinyoka) all around the edge of your garden and they will keep away.”

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Gilly gave us all some fresh cheese and yoghurt to take home.  Lihle Mavuso was very excited to try her hand at cheese making. “I liked that the process is simple and I can get better by practising and just using what I have.  I imagined a big factory only to find that Gilly works in the small part of the kitchen.  I can make money and save money from not buying at the supermarket.”

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Spha was thinking of enjoying his gift of yoghurt with homegrown guavas.  “It was eye-opening and surprisingly therapeutic,” said Ntobeh Mkhize.

“What a happy day of learning,” commented Londi Makhaye afterwards, “My son made fresh roti for supper which we ate with the cheese.”

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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, 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 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.

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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 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.”

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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.  Starting with the development of Spha Mabaso’s indigenous tea. 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 organic 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?  email Spha Mabaso: slowfoodmpophomeni@cowfriend.co.za  or call 071 454 0323.   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.

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.

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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.”

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.

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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.”

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.

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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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Sibuyisela Ulwazi

Mnandi was honoured to be invited to participate in the Biowatch SA Siybuyisela ulwazi Food and Seed Festival last week.   We sold many recipe books, made great connections, shared stories and seeds, and learnt a lot.  Biowatch SA organised the festival to celebrate the diversity of our indigenous and traditional seed and food cultures, exchange knowledge and ideas and explore innovations in support of food sovereignity, social and environmental justice.

stalls

Presentations about all the things we are passionate about were by inspiring and knowledgeable people. There were talks of seed and African spirituality, the Food Price barometer, GMOs, Climate Smart Agriculture (not so smart), the benefits of fermentation, Slow Food’s Ark of Taste, beautiful music made from the humble calabash and a myriad of food activists to connect with.   Legendary Permaculturalist John Nzira asked “What is the difference between seeds and money?”  Amongst all these seed savers and defenders of our food diversity the answer was unanimous – seeds hold our future. The diversity of seeds is the key to life. Phansi GMOs Phansi!

The climate-friendly vegetarian lunches were superb and we also got to taste traditional umqombothi and umqusho, peanut soup, sorghum, celery and apple salad and too many other things to mention.  Ntombenhle Mntambo shared her fantastic Rainbow Salad (all ingredients grown in her Mpophomeni garden) and talked about healthy eating.

Ntombenhle salad

We were proud to share the kitchen with author and dietician, Mpho Tshukudu. She inspired us with her talk African Food is Healthy, Beautiful and Delicious, singing the praises of our heritage foods (naturally low GI) and sharing new ways of preparing them.  Her book with Anna Trapido – Eat Ting is very interesting.

Mpho chopping

Agro-Ecological Farmer and activist Richard Haigh talked about the way Big Food has hooked us with their laboratory engineered ‘bliss point’ flavours, our addiction to sugar, salt and fat and urged us to de-colonise our palates.  Forager and Wild Food Champion Loubie Rusch shared her knowledge of Cape wild food and encouraged us to look around, to eat and the plant indigenous edibles in our gardens.  Gogo Qho followed with a passionate presentation about wild plants that are her food and medicine, the importance of traditional and indigenous food culture and the value of leafy greens for good health.

The festival truly celebrated the diversity of our indigenous and traditional seed and food cultures and advocated for a just and healthy food system. 

Pacsa seeds delwyn pillay

Comments from our group:

Nathi Adam – It was a fruitful day. The pure seeds and food displays, prepared by passionate people were amazing and all the talks were inspiring. I learned and saw the Earth differently after the talks. The food tastings were wow!

Traditional music goes well with traditional food prepared by people who care about what they eat. I was taken aback to see people enjoying themselves in this way. I loved talking to Sazi Dlamini and networking with many others.

It was saddening to realise that industrial agriculture is killing our earth. I learned that we need to put more effort into educating and assisting one another to take serious care of ourselves and our mother Earth, in order to realise better health and wealth in the Permaculutre way.  We have plenty of natural resources in Africa, but we should not misuse and abuse them. People Care plus Earth Care equals plenty for us and our children and their children.

Zandile Sikhakane – I learned a lot about seed and food that keeps us healthy. I took note of the importance of preserving our seeds, so we do not have to buy more.  Everyone who presented explained very well and answered the questions well. My favourite guest was John Nzira. He inspired me a lot about our food culture and urban farming. I was so happy to see Sazi Dlamini playing music out of the food we eat. I learnt how to plant sweet potatoes.

Ntombenhle, sanele, mary

Njabulo Mokoena – I enjoyed talking to different kinds of people in different languages. I learnt a lot from farmers like John Nzira and that if you respect nature, it will respect you back. I tasted food that was very delicious. There was African traditional food that I have never eaten before – like amabele.  I was so inspired by the farmers, that the day afterwards, I started a small garden at home. It was a beautiful event.

Mary Mlambo – I met many wonderful people, especially John Nzira. He spoke about how the love of money overpowers our love for seeds and nature that actually gives us life. “We can throw money on the ground and it won’t grow, but throw seeds on the ground and watch them grow into food.” That gave me a lot of motivation. I was thrilled to taste delicious indigenous foods that were prepared with so much love. I even got iHali, a very rare fruit I have not seen since I was a young girl. I had fun.

Mary Mlambo food is medicine

Eidin Griffin – I felt deeply honoured to be amongst such incredible earth workers and ethical food producers. Meeting the farmers from Pongola, Matubatuba and Lesotho was a profound privilege and I was able to trade seeds, shake hands and we could communicate in our special language of seeds rather than a common tongue. Grand gesticulation and a great amount of laughter helped too! Tasting foods created with love and looking at ways to nourish ourselves and our food supply really got my brain and heart excited. I truly hope that this is the start of an incredible annual event and I will share the new information that I gleaned (yes, good word indeed) and plant my new-found seed friends in the soil and nurture them as best I can and hope to return, wiser and stronger with more abundance to share next year.

Nhlakanipho Nzimande – My experience was good, I made many connections with conscious farmers. I learnt about healing herbs and plants and I invited a Khoisan man Q, to visit and perhaps we can work together. I learnt how to build and use musical instruments from Sazi Dlamini. I got cuttings of different plants and different types of seeds. I may go into strawberry production with the lady who sells homemade jams.

Mnandi Heroes Nhlakanipho and Eidin

Ntombenhle Mntambo – Sibuyisela ulwazi was great – food, talks, tastings and meeting people closely. My wish is that we all meet each other as one.  Languge issue is always a problem. I wish Richard, Mpho, John, Loubie could speak isiZulu because the translating of their talks was not that good, it only gave half the information and some people when they get home will say there was not enough information because they did not understand English. I wish the translator had finished everything that was said. The questions are important because it helps those that did not hear correctly to understand better. It was too fast, we need more days – how about 5? It was a very good event.

Xola Keswa – It was a festival which I feel should have happened a long time ago, but I am glad it has happened at last. It included people from all walks of life – from Zululand to the green forested South Coast. Food activists to environmental activists and many gardeners and farmers – a mixture of aware people, with everyone knowing something about what was spoken about from traditional food to traditional music, food tasting and activist talks. Richard Haigh from Enaleni shared his extensive knowledge and food. John Nzira, permaculture guru, was one of the main speakers. He has an incredible record for experience with transforming land into fully productive agroforestry. Environmental activist Method Gundidiza represented Sheila Berry’s Earthlore organisation – the man from Swaziland had a lot of strong words to say. Words that I think that have stained themselves on the minds of many who were there.

xola maya

Pinky Dlamini – I had an amazing day. The surprise of my life was the love, caring and communication. I learn about food that I had never heard of. Like one big nation we all eat together. I find friends from different areas- Venda, Cape Town – all these people talking about different things that can shape our lives and our cultures. I think it is up to us to tell people in Mpophomeni what we are doing and how to improve their lives.

Thabani Mnikathi – I enjoyed being around such loving people and seeing people from different parts of the country coming together to share information and life experiences.  I learnt a lot about different cultures, music, food, how to grow food, keep yourself healthy.  The food was delicious – colourful and exciting – a whole new experience.  What is best is that you never knew what to expect. Sibuyisela ulwazi has inspired me to try to make my own personal garden and try some home grown food for a change.

Nikki Brighton – It was marvellous to meet new people as passionate about food as we are and reconnect with fellow food activists. The variety of presentations was exceptional – something for everyone and all contributing towards the goal of food sovereignty.  In particular, I enjoyed the presentation by Richard Haigh who talked about how Big Food has hooked us with their laboratory engineered ‘bliss point’ flavours, our addiction to sugar, salt and fat and urged us to de-colonise our palates.  Also enjoyed Loubie Rusch, who shared her knowledge of Cape wild food and encouraged us to look around, to eat and the plant indigenous edibles in our gardens. Gogo Qho’s passionate presentation about the plants that are her food and medicine was enchanting and very informative. I found it interesting to learn that Climate Smart Agriculture is not so smart. Meeting the small rural farmers who had brought seeds to share and sell added a real depth to the festival.  I stocked up on all sorts of interesting ideas and ingredients – millet, sorghum, pulses to eat and plant.

local seed

Ntombenhle and Nikki agreed that this was more fun than the Slow Food Terra del Madre event they attended in Italy last year! We could make real connections, learn things that were appropriate to our world and contribute in a more meaningful way. Well done Biowatch SA.

Ntombenhle dancing

 

Vote With Your Fork

When we emerged from the underground station into sunlit Piazza Duomo, Ntombenhle exclaimed “I feel like I am on TV!”  The spires of the magnificent cathedral, thronged by colourful crowds and the buskers playing in each corner of the square was our first taste of Italy. Milan is not a bad place to start.

duomo-square

Ntombenhle and Nikki were part of the South African delegation to the Slow Food Terra Madre Salone del Gusto event, organized across the city – the 11th such event to bring together food activists and producers from across the globe to learn and share.  For five days, Turin became the cultural capital of global food biodiversity.

We began with a couple of days in Milan to acclimatise.  Trundling bags to Ostello Bello Hostel along streets bustling with pedestrians, trams and scooters.

A friendly welcome awaited us – cold drinks, free wifi, delicious food and a lovely view from our window.  We hung out on the roof terrace planted with herbs and veggies and thought about cooking our own supper from the array of Italian ingredients provided in the adjacent kitchen. No, we would spend our time exploring and let them do the cooking!

ostello-bello-street

When Ntombenhle and Penz visited Cape Town earlier this year, they loved the Hop on Hop off Bus tours, so we hopped on and off in Milan too. What a beautiful city!   Our favourite things were the millions of chimneys on top of the buildings and the ornate balconies clinging to the sides.

We stopped off at a park for a picnic lunch and in the late afternoon, explored the canalside Navigli area. It was very hot, so ice cream (gelato in Italian) was welcome.

navigli-milan

Two days later, we caught the train from the impressive Milan Central Station – where a giant apple sculpture got us in the food mood. From the train window we noticed how every scrap of land was being cultivated – right up to the rivers, roads and houses. There were crops and fruit trees everywhere.

milan-station-apple-sculture

Bound for Turin to join the seven thousand delegates from 143 countries, 300 Slow Food Presidia and 1000 food communities of the Terra Madre network from five continents –  representing a humanity that is united to discuss the great challenges which we must confront, above all the safeguarding of agricultural biodiversity, raising awareness and creating positive energy towards the objective of Slow Food: good, clean and fair food for all.

terra-madre-by-alessandro-vargiu-archivio-slowfood

Photo by Alessandro Vargiu from the Slow Food archive

There were about 400 delegates from Africa and 40 South Africans.  We all took turns manning the popular SA stand where we showcased hand harvested Baleni Salt, Rooibos tea, Marula Jam, Aloe honey, Zulu Sheep and Raw Milk Cheese.

sa-stand

Slow Food organised our accommodation with local SF members. Ntombenhle and Nikki stayed with the Bottignol/Farinetti family in Monticello d’Alba a couple of hours outside of Turin. They had a small ‘farm’ with extensive veggie gardens, lots of fruit trees, one donkey, one goat and a couple of chickens. We had lots in common with them (besides language!). They were caring and considerate hosts and we will be friends forever.

francas-table

Trying to decide what event to attend or where to begin exploring the hundreds of stalls was a challenge. As we were in the Africa section, we started there – feeling right at home amongst our colourful neighbours. “I never thought I would see these things with my own eyes,” commented Ntombenhle, “the different foods, the national dress, listening to the foreign languages. It was amazing.”

africa-and-europe

Naturally, Ethiopia had Forest Wild Coffee, Guinea Bissau – Farim Salt, Cape Verde showcased Raw Milk Goat Cheeses, Egypt the Siwa Oasis Dates.   Kenya had a wide range of products, including Ogiek Honey and Dried Nettles from the Mau Forest, Nzoia River Reed Salt, Pokot Ash yogurt and Lare Pumpkin.  From Madagascar – Alaotra Lake Ancient Rice Varieties and the Mananara Vanilla.  Marocco’s exhibition area showcased Argan Oil, Alnif Cumin, Zerradoun Salt, and Taliouine Saffron. Mauritania was represented by the Imraguen Women’s Mullet Botargo. The Ibo Coffee Presidium from Mozambique wants to safeguard Ibo island’s unique ecosystem where the plant still grows wild. São Tomé and Príncipe brought Robusta Coffee. From Senegal, Fadiouth Island Salted Millet Couscous – which preserves an ancient, traditional and original production line that links the earth with the sea. Sierra Leone had the Kenema Kola Nut used in drinks, Uganda showcased Luwero Robusta Coffee, the indigenous Kayinja Banana, the Climbing Yam and the Ankole Long-Horned Cattle, Tanzania the Arusha Stingless Bee Honey which is collected by a small group of beekeepers from traditional hives made from hollow tree trunk sections and hung from the roofs of houses, fences or the highest branches of fruit trees like mango, avocado and papaya.

african-traditional-dress

One hot afternoon, we kicked off our shoes with new friends from Lesotho – Mirriam and Ma-Lord.  They had produced a book of traditional food, so we had plenty in common and proudly showed off Mnandi. One of the Russian delegates we had met earlier joined us and we shared the last of the cherry brandy that she was promoting!

nikki-ma-lord-ntombenhle-mirriam

Without a doubt, connecting with like-minded people was the highlight.  We were even excited to meet the other South Africans as their stories and projects were intriguing too. Representatives from rural Limpopo, to hip-and-happening Khayelitsha, from the West Coast fisheries to the inspiring food events of Soweto, inner city gardening projects, markets, indigenous food processing, foraging and free range farming.  A vibrant and diverse bunch.

john-themba-lindelani

We attended workshops on all sorts of topics hosted by the Indigenous Terra Madre network. Particularly memorable was How Indigenous Food Systems Can Inspire Solutions. When it comes to global challenges such as climate change and global hunger, indigenous food systems are seldom considered. “Indigenous people are breeders of biodiversity – keen observers of nature and good innovators” said someone on the inspiring panel (made up of representatives from India, Philippines, Japan, Nigeria, Equador). The agroecological approach is just starting to be known in the Western world, while indigenous peoples have been using sustainable methods for centuries. Conclusion: “Who should really adapt?  Local indigenous systems or the modern commercial ones?”

terra-madre-panel

In the European section, our tastebuds tingled as we tasted strange micro greens and unusual herbs and flowers – purple yka leaves, sechuan buttons, salty fingers, sea fennel and oyster leaves, – produced in Holland.

micro-greens

We smelled, tasted and learnt about raw milk cheeses from Ireland, Czech artisan beer, Spanish saffron, Macedonian peppers and Albania Olive oil. We were astonished at how much cheese there was.

ntombenhle-cheese

We made friends with Palestinians and Iranians on our daily bus trips from the conference back to the village of Monticello d’Alba where we stayed. One day, Ntombenhle struck up a conversation with the folk in the Lebanon stand and swopped a copy of Mnandi for their gorgeous book Mezze – a Labour of Love, featuring traditional Lebanese food, produced by TV presenter and food activist Barabara Abdeni Massaad. This interaction epitomised the generosity and sharing of the event.

mezzeThe local branch of Slow Food organised evening entertainment for us (although we would have happily gone straight to bed!). On Heritage Day they provided an all local supper, with traditional music and dancing in a village hall. We sang Nkosi sikelel’iAfrica and Shosholoza as a thank you.  On another occasion we enjoyed pizza in the Alba town square, entertained by the wonderful CoroMoro – a group made up of asylum seekers from across Africa who live in the valleys of Piedmont.

ntombenhle-and-naudeNikki was among the first to be seated at the Wild Edibles presentation and workshop.  It began with a short video entitled Forest to Fork which illustrated how common food creates social cohesion, how the act of going out in a group to gather food and prepare food are essential components of strong communities.

20160923_134111A representative of the Bibomen Tribe from South Western Australia talked about the six seasons in her culture, the 150 indigenous tubers she knows to eat, the tragedy of the pioneer practice of removing deep rooted trees which dropped the water table and allowed the salt to rise to the surface creating barren landscapes. She also warned of the issue of wild food becoming trendy and the decimation which can follow. A couple from Chile talked about their indigenous fruits and battles with multi-national land grabbing; a Japanese woman suggested the reason we were gathered here was because women carry the information in our bodies that is part of the earth; a Kenyan man spoke about the effect climate change was having in his country. An activist from a Central Canadian tribe began with a prayer honouring the ancestors whom she believed were with us in this group. She spoke sadly of the elimination of bison (80% of the prairies are now gone), and the degradation of her people and more positively, about the hope her workshops on creation stories and indigenous food gardening gives to young first nation people.

sage-hazelnuts-applesThe Asian section was very unusual and much of the packaging was outstanding.   Nikki tasted shiso rice with wild mushrooms at the Japanese stand and Omiki – a fermented rice and sweet potato drink made by Shamans from Yuku Island.  The Philippines had a wide variety of food, but the most exciting find was Adlai – Coix lacryma-jobi.  Turns out that this is what we call Job’s Tears in South Africa (the grey seeds used in Zulu tradition for teething rings or, now popular as beaded necklaces).  “It tasted pretty good,” commented Nikki, tucking into a bowl served with kernels of corn, adding “they were excited to hear that it grew in South Africa too – albeit invading our wetlands.”  Besides being a substitute for maize and rice, it was also fed to livestock.

img_1328The strong, successful women on the panel of the session on Women’s Roles in Farming was inspiring. Quietly, the woman from Bukina Faso told how in her culture a woman must work four days in her husband’s fields and only one day in her own garden. She told of the circles women have started, to sing their seed songs and grow strong and how they are starting to teach men about their role in supporting women.

An Indonesian woman spoke of her work to promote entrepreneurship to ensure that not only did farmers have enough to eat but extra from cash crops too. She was proud to have contributed to keeping Indonesian products alive by adding value and creating export markets. A Spanish woman related her struggles to overcome patriarchy, how she broke with tradition to become the first woman to run the family farm. “Female energy is good. I feel deep love when I wake up in the morning and see my land. We do not have to exploit; we can have respect and balance.  We can fight together for change, rather than compete.”

women-in-agricultureLate one afternoon thousands of people gathered at the corner of Corso Cairoli and Corso Vittorio Emanuele II to march along the River Po, through the centre of Turin. This was an exciting and energising experience to be among thousands of people, many dressed in traditional costumes, waving national flags and bearing banners with universal messages that we all believed in. Save Biodiversity.  Vote with Your Fork.  They are Giants but We are Millions (referring to the power of the agricultural and food multinationals). There were marching bands amongst the crowds – we were fortunate to be just behind a particularly cool one and thoroughly enjoyed the music!

south-african-group-terra-madre-marchAlong the way we met giant non-gmo corn cobs.  The groups from South America were exceptionally vibrant and showed off a wide range of products – including chocolate, chillies, corn and pumpkins at their stand – when they weren’t making music!

At the end of the march we swopped small gifts of food from home with strangers. Carlo Petrini, charismatic President of Slow Food, welcomed us a Protectors of Biodiversity.  His message “We are a brotherhood, learn instead of only teaching. Give back to others, particularly to refugees and those affected by colonisation, share what we have.”  It was incredible to hear how people across the planet face similar struggles and feel just as passionate about good food produced without harm.

carlo-petriniWe loved an inspiring workshop on Women as Seed Keepers – safeguarding food and culture.  We learnt of many cooperatives and associations made up entirely of women (farmers, fishermen, chefs) We heard experiences from Brazil, Angola and Mozambique, where governmental bodies, along with citizens and small-scale farmers, have chosen to promote policies and actions aimed at safeguarding biodiversity. Agro-ecological farming, small scale farming and Nature farming was talked about a lot, but much to Ntombenhle’s chagrin, Permaculture was seldom mentioned, even though that was what was often meant.  She pointed out to the facilitators that many of the audience understood permaculture principles, so it would be a good idea to use familiar terms rather than confusing ones.

20160923_134111The volunteers working in the delegates canteen served delicious, good, clean, fair food every day. The long tables were a gathering place for animated conversation as we met new people, shared the day’s highlights and tasted new things – barley and farro salad, couscous, carrot soup, pasta with pesto or tomatoes or chicken, cured meat and cheese, fruit, bread and so much more.

farro-saladYou never knew if you would sit beside Egyptians or Australians or make a new friend. Ntombenhle met an Indian woman who told her – ‘Don’t make excuses, know your value, it is your business, you can do it.’  Nikki recalls a conversation with an American woman who ran an event catering business which focussed on food that incorporated the various needs of religious customs, food allergies, lifestyle preferences and medical conditions without making anyone feel uncomfortable or odd.

canteenValentino Park is beautiful. A magnificent location for such an important event.  Squirrels scampered on the lawns amongst those taking a break from the frenzy of the stalls and conferences.  It provided a sociable space to escape to, but usually with meaningful conversation. Ntombenhle used the opportunity to spread her “mulch, mulch, mulch” message when chatting to others who thought mulching made the garden look untidy!

valentino-parkNikki met vegan activists from England, hearing how the movement is growing rapidly and learning how they get their message across creatively. There was an entire Slow Meat section, where farmers, butchers, chefs, consumers discussed the consequences of exploding meat consumption on the planet. “Eat less meat of better quality” was the message.

On the banks of the River Po, the Slow Fish Tent was fascinating as commercial and small scale fishers from across the globe discussed ways of making fishing sustainable. Ideas clashed occasionally. Here we met the delightful singer and activist Olga del Madagascar.

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Terra Madre was the most incredible experience, not least because we learnt that common language is not the most important thing in communication – hugs, nods, smiles and hand gestures go a long way!  Carlo Petrini suggested that the greatest gift we would take from Terra Madre was recognising the value of others and seeing the pride of the farmers.  That is absolutely true.

We were not able to see or experience everything – not even close. The event was enormous and apparently, almost a million people attended over the five days.  These photos and words capture just a tiny part. Visit the Slow Food Terra Madre site to view incredible photos which illustrate the event so much more effectively than this article.   You can also read Nikki’s personal account of her trip to Italy here.

Do join us in Ntombenhle’s garden on Saturday 10 December as we celebrate Terra Madre Day with our new friends from across the world.  11am. Bring home grown, homemade, local, organic food to share. Perhaps your favourite Mnandi recipe?

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