BACK TO MY ROOTS
It’s been a mind-blowing year and a bit. What started off as an economic experiment to spend less on groceries by growing my own food, has now led me full circle to where my understanding of land, farming and abundance came from.
As a young girl, I used to climb the wall on the side of my parent’s house and sit perched on the highest point of the wall and where the roof began.
That spot would give me an incredible view of the sheep grazing in our ample yard and vast empty fields beyond our fence.
At the time, it was lonely — getting to our favourite neighbour’s gate was about a 1km walk — until we built a gate in between the entrances.
The yard was also labour-intensive between tending to the livestock and trying to ‘control’ the growth of the grass, especially in months where the cattle would have too much grass, as well as watching occasional crop coming up.
Over the years, I’ve watched as houses in Ebony Park started popping up across the road from us.
It’s now an entire village with a hive of local economic activity and a popular watering hole called Busy Corner.
As the population of houses grew, so too did my consciousness around the issue of land and how important it is.
From my spot below the roof, I watched as houses were built very close each other.
I also watched as the competition for the best pavement went viral – trees came down and it was no longer fashionable to have a garden. Remember the days when neighbours tried to outdo each other’s lawns?
And to the right, if it is Ivory Park where space for an outside toilet was still a privilege — a backyard is unheard of.
Even with this view back in 1997, my backyard seemed like a laborious and unnecessary amount of yard.
It took me 20 years to see this as a goldmine and indeed a mecca for agricultural activity.
And all within 5km of the Midrand CBD and another 20km to Jo’burg CBD.
THE BIGGEST LESSON OF MY LIFE
So in January, I got permission (from my parents) to start using a portion of our backyard, about half an acre, as a classroom where I learned how to grow food organically and in sustainable ways that worked in sync with the residential portion and the portion where the cattle graze.
My teacher and his fellow farmers took me through the paces of cultivating the soil, planting, maintaining the crop and harvesting produce.
I read books on growing green and did my practicals and homework in my own backyard in the leafy suburbs, where neighbours still compete on who has the best lawn and ‘landscape design’.
Where edible gardens are trending.
I planted spinach, beetroot and cabbage as we were getting into winter.
The seedlings in my two square metre garden patch, which were then transplanted to our organic farm in Midrand, produced enough spinach to go for an entire season with surplus we could sell.
The cabbage took a whole winter season to grow to maturity in spring.
Some of the cabbage which started off rich and ample started shrivelling away as the water we had harvested in the disused pool ran out.
We started using municipal water to try and save it but it was too late for some. Half of it didn’t make it. My mission to dig up groundwater intensified.
I saved, as much as I could while paying for the education from my teacher, the input resources and the hard labour from fellow farmers, and prayed, even contemplated getting a ‘blesser’ just for a borehole. (LOL. I kid.)
Eventually, my prayers were answered when I got access to some investment money and finally drilled a borehole four months back.
It’s been an incredible lesson of patience. When we started I thought we could finish cultivating the entire half an acre within three months.
Technically we can, however, a portion of my salary from my 9 to 5 can only afford me two days of labour a week from the three guys who worked the land.
I pay above minimum wage, give transport money and feed the labourers, as well as paying for input.
There are other ways to do it without digging so deep in your pockets though.
The government has programmes in place to support farmers with education and even start up inputs but that might have meant I’d still be dreaming about this project.
It might have even meant myself and my team might have been discouraged and quit.
With an investment of over R100 000 from my pocket, the ideal is still far from completion but plans are in place to create sustainability after the pilot project is done.
Water won’t be an obstacle as more ways of harvesting water are put in, above the access to groundwater and smarter or efficient irrigation means will be in place.
Labour costs won’t be an issue as the farmers who have been toiling on the land are now shareholders who have a share of the land to set up their entrepreneurial ventures.
Inputs won’t be an issue as the crop will make seeds that will be used again, kraal manure will be used more effectively to nourish the soil and poultry will be added to create fertiliser.
Intercropping has been included to add plants that help to keep away pests and reduce the need for organic pesticide.
Finally, with each harvest and increase in yield, I get better at building a market for the produce, mostly learning to reach out to my neighbours, the neighbourhood grocery shop, my social network, colleagues, work canteen etc.
Hopefully, that market becomes a network of networks and a stream of consciousness about eating better and more sustainably.
Follow Nonku’s journey on wildwomendo.blogspot.co.za
She now sells organic produce through social media and the classic word-of-mouth.
This article originally appeared on www.w24.co.za