The Mpophomeni Conservation Group arranged a visit for supporters to the Khula Shanti Sanctuary and Food Garden in Boston recently. Thanks to the Global Green Grants Fund and N3TC for sponsoring the inspiring day.
Carol Segal reports: We were given the most glorious sunshine day to enjoy the splendour of Khula Shanti Sanctuary. A group of 15 beautiful beings arrived at the Pickle Pot Café. We introduced our staff and our dogs.
We refreshed ourselves with fresh spring water, infused with lavender flowers, mint and orange slices and munched on just baked carrot and banana bread.
All systems charged, walking shoes on and time to explore the forest. The forest walk was an enlightening success, the feedback at the end of the day revealed that this was a first time experience for many of our visitors.
We had the opportunity to observe and talk about biodiversity, planting in guilds, forest mulch, eco-systems, habitats and conservation. The abundance of Podacarpus trees in the Khula Shanti Forest sparked discussions on national trees, animals and flowers. The idea of a national tree was new knowledge for some visitors, and many took to spotting all the Podacarpus along the walk.
Deep in the heart of the forest is a solid, cool rock face – time to touch energy as well as observe example of the use of rocks in nature and how we can integrate them into food garden design. The moss and lichen growing on these rocks provided classic photographic material and also more discussions around habitat and biodiversity. As well as the unanswerable question. “how do trees grow out of rocks?”
Our precious finds for the day were some fresh samples of duiker droppings, porcupine droppings, as well as a magnificent feather which we are almost certain belonged to an owl.
Ntombenhle shared some valuable insights on bugweed removal and the problems of alien invaders in our natural forests. Carol comments “she bubbles energy and optimism which was contagious for the group.” Tutu loved learning about the importance of rocks in the garden and left inspired to rehabilitate the eMashingeni forest at the top of the Mpophomeni valley.
We took the walk slowly and allowed individuals to absorb and receive what was required from nature as it was apparent that for many the experience was fresh and new. Moses said “I grew up in Jozi, so today, walking in a forest was a whole new experience for me. I have never done that before. Walk and listen and look at the forest. It was good. This is a new era for me, I am blessed to have met MCG.”
The forest walk is a fairly steep incline for some, so many were pleased to see the cheerful welcome of the bright and happy floral food forest garden. We spent the first 10 minutes of our time in the garden, walking around silently, observing feeling the Khula Shanti Food Gardens.
We then opened discussions around what new knowledge could be taken from the food gardens. The cucumber and pea pyramid, the chicken tractor, rock pathways, circular beds, companion planting, Vermiculture, compost making, comfrey tinctures, mulch and tea trees are only a few of the discussions we shared.
“It is important to have a place to sit in your garden. To enjoy the work you do, and to watch the work of little things.“ said Ntombenhle
Skhumbuso dug his hands into the compost heap and filled them with rich moist compost teaming with red wriggler worms. Everyone was pleased to hear that goat and horse manure is fantastic for the compost heap.
Nqobile was most impressed by the idea of worm wee. “I still don’t believe what I saw. The chicken tractor, the indigenous forest. This is the first time I have seen these things and it is wonderful.” The Khula Shanti Chicken tractors were the source of much curiosity and questioning. “I’m going to try this at home” she said.
It was encouraging to observe the contagious enthusiasm and tangible inspiration while people were browsing, grazing, sniffing and tasting the sensory explosion of the food garden. Questions around seed saving, seed-plug propagation, succession planting were answered. Gertrude liked the idea of using old cans to grow plants in “Tomorrow I am going to collect all the scrap around my place to use.” she said.
The day still in full bloom, we sat down and chatted about marketing strategies for food gardens, how and where to sell organic veg. Carol demonstrated her food box scheme and shared ideas, obstacles and visions her experience. Ntombenhle made some notes about Marketing their produce:
- Tell people what you have to sell
- They will order what they need
- Wash the veg and pack nicely in a box
- Pack different things together
- Make a name tag for that person, make it pretty
- Make sure you add R20 so you can make some money
- Start small
- Sell to weddings, tuck shops, neighbours, schools
We divided ourselves into two groups to pack 2 food box orders – went back up to the garden to select, pick, wash and prepare the orders. This was a fun and hands on activity which could be further expanded in the future. For many visitors new learnings were – variety of vegetables and herbs, presentation of vegetables before selling them, pricing and packing, where to sell and who to sell to.
When discussing the possibilities of starting a food box scheme, Carol shared the obstacles she has faced and also reminded the group of the importance of co-operatives as well as the danger of over-promising and under-delivering. We shared ideas around how to successfully start a business and start small rather than big to ensure a steady supply as well as to be reliable in quality as well as quantity of produce. The food box packing demonstration was well received, everyone participated and much was learnt, including how to pick and eat peas before packing them.
Finally, time to feast. We shared briefly about nutrition and the importance of eating foods from our gardens and raw food first.
The idea of salads and salad sandwiches, for lunch was not received with glee by all visitors. Carol did overhear the request “Is there any peanut butter and bread to eat?”
However, the majority of participants tucked into the lunch with gusto and enjoyed the harvest from the garden. Kwenza commented “That kind of juice food we ate was delicious and healthy. Now we know about organic gardening.” Stembile added “I really enjoyed eating the lunch; my taste-buds are still dancing”
We closed our day with a feedback session on what new learnings had been received and where people would like to go to from here.
Some comments made in the feedback session were:
“I never thought you could plant flowers in a vegetable garden”
“I am so surprised how clean this place is, I have never been to a place like this, where there is no litter”
Ntombenhle was delighted ”This workshop helped the group to know and understand what we are trying to do on the community garden site. They now have a good picture of what is going on. I am glad that we are not alone anymore.”