Tag Archives: sustainability

We Are What We Eat

Seven members of the Mpophomeni Conservation Group visited Enaleni Farm recently. Enaleni is an agro-ecological mixed farm – a place of abundance.r Mpop Kidz Club 260

At Enaleni, Richard Haigh and Dave Brennan, grow most of their food. All the pulses, herbs, fruit and vegetables they need and much of the maize. The maize variety is heirloom. It is called ugati gati – traditional Zulu red maize. While Enaleni farm is a small operation – it is BIG in terms of animal care and compassion. All the rare and primitive breeds of animals, birds and vegetables mean they are making a big contribution to food diversity too. Richard takes great joy in celebrating the uniqueness of our food heritage – particularly Zulu culture – and farming with hardy ‘indigenous’ breeds which have adapted to tough African conditions.

r enaleni ugati gati drying

The idea of the workshop, funded by N3TC, was to inspire the Mpophomeni Conservation Group to add value to the food they grow already, to learn how to keep money flowing in the community, and produce food that neighbours would like to buy and which is much healthier than store bought alternatives.

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The day included with a farm tour – visiting the permaculture veggie garden to gather ingredients for lunch.

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They also visited the Zulu sheep, dairy cows, Colebrook pigs, indigenous fowls, and rabbits. This was animal lover, Penelope Malinga’s, favourite part of the day. “Although their destiny is to be eaten, at least their lives are worthwhile. The spotted pigs were adorable.”

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At Enaleni they grow orchids too – everyone was amazed at the beautiful blooms and incredible colours.  “I have never seen such flowers,” said Tutu Zuma, “or such beautiful chickens.”

Enaleni indigenous chickens.res

As most of the group are using low energy cooking options, harvesting water and aiming at sustainable lifestyles, they were interested in the alternate infrastructure which Enaleni had installed, including a solar water pump. “It was a great day to learn and see different things, feeding my brain with more knowledge. One thing I really liked was learning new skills by action.” commented Tutu.

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This is what they made: real bread, pasta (cannelloni), yoghurt cake, cordial, mayonnaise, butter, bottled guavas, rhubarb and apple crumble and a rhubarb relish.

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These recipes are tried and tested on the farm and are made regularly. Richard pointed out that the method of making is as important as the ingredients. “Don’t cook in a hurry, take your time and enjoy the process of preserving and transforming food.” Everyone took home a set of notes. “Everyone needs bread and most people dig mayo,” said Penelope – looking forward to trying out her new talents.

r Penz mixing bread

They stuffed the cannelloni with spinach and cheese for lunch. Richard shared plenty of tips and anecdotes throughout the day “We started off making pasta with a hand pasta machine that broke the first time we used it. In Italy we witnessed people hand rolling pasta with a rolling pin, needless to say we now only ever hand roll our pasta. The trick with pasta is in the method. It’s all a ‘feel’ thing given that eggs are not equal in size and flour varies. We use a quality stone ground flour and fresh farm eggs.”

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Richard’s advice for bottling surplus produce: “The essential rule with bottling is hygiene and hotness at the time of bottling and focus. If you have a mobile phone turn it off or better still throw it away. Make sure that the bottles are washed in hot soapy water and placed in the oven for 20minutes at 100o C or boiled for 10 minutes. Always use new lids and never plastic lids if you want to keep what you have bottled for several months. Bottle only when bottles are hot and add boiling water to lids just before screwing them on. Never add cold ingredients to a hot bottle. Use stainless steel spoons and stirrers. We keep some bottled produce for 2 even 3 years successfully. Store in a dark place if you want to keep what you have bottled for a longer time in a cool area.”

r bottling guava

While everyone was squeezing oranges, kneading dough and slicing fruit, there was ample time for discussion about nutrition. Richard explained the E numbers on food labels – the colourants and preservatives and other additives in processed food. Many people do not read the labels on the food they buy and they do not know what is in the food they eat. These things are generally very bad for your health. They are added by food companies to make food look nicer, last longer and taste better. “Yoh, today was one of the most special days of my life” commented Ayanda Lipheyana, “I will never forget this awesome experience. I enjoyed every minute, but like making the cordial juice the most.”

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Richard Haigh also had a good day. “What a nice group to work with – energetic doers and all so appreciative. We had a busy day to say the least. I’ve asked them to please implement their new skills within 14 days and 7 days if possible, as it is well known that unless there is practice within two weeks, skills are often forgotten.”  Nathi Adam was impressed at how healthy and simple to prepare the food was. “I had an amazing time at Enaleni, I have already made cordial and prepared spinach the Enaleni way.”

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Tutu got stuck in right away too “I have made cordial, baked a bread, cooked spinach with cheese and turned rhubarb in my garden into a relish for my family. I will never buy butter again, now that I know how to make  it.  I am starting to be a friend to my kitchen!” she reported after a couple of days. Thembilihle Mchunu had made some delicious cakes for her family. “I am so proud to be one of the lucky people chosen to attend this workshop.” She said.

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“We were treated like kings and queens,” concludes Ntombenhle Mtambo, “we will treasure everything we learnt this day and teach others. Richard and Dave are heroes – they have planned everything on the farm with love and care and now they have it all. I wish one day to copy their example, or at least work with other people who have a farm like that.”  Ntombenhle was delighted to be able to try her hand at bottle feeding a little lamb.

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Before returning home, everyone sat down to a delicious wholesome lunch including the food they had just made. Soon, they will gather a few neighbours who were not able to attend the workshop, to share their new skills and knowledge and bake a batch of real bread to celebrate!

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This programme is part of the Midlands Conservancies Forum’s Building Resilient Communities Project which is funded by N3Toll Concession.

r making bread Mpop

People vs Biodiversity

This article first appeared in the Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife Rhino Club Newsletter.

Most, if not all, of the environmental progress we’ve made in the past 40 years could be undone in the next 40 by the sheer size and resource demands of our ever-growing, all-consuming population. The threat is very real.

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This year a national park was de-registered(lost its legal status) in Mexico to provide food and water to a growing local population; the U.S. government announced it will cease reintroducing wolves to new areas because there are too many people; and record numbers of endangered manatees, red wolves, gray wolves and panthers were killed in the U.S. by cars, boats, snow mobiles and guns. The historic recovery of these and many more imperilled species is being reversed by too many people consuming too much and crowding out wildlife habitat.

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Last week the Cabot Institute hosted a debate for BBC Radio 4’s Shared Planet programme, asking whether we can better manage resources to live within our planet’s means, or whether there are simply too many of us to co-exist with wildlife. Fred Pearce, science and environment writer, was one of the panellists. He argued that nature is dynamic and with better management of the resources we already have, we can reduce our consumption and live within the planet’s ability to recover.

Kierán Suckling, Executive Director of the Centre for Biological Diversity in Arizona, had a more pessimistic view. He believes that the human population is going to rise to a level far greater than the planet can sustain, and if we do not control our population level we will not be able to prevent ecological destruction on a global scale.

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We are losing biodiversity at an unprecedented rate. The 2012 Living Planet Report by the WWF estimated that we lost 28% of global biodiversity between 1970 and 2008. Fred took a more holistic view, that while of course we have a huge effect on the natural environment and should try and minimise damage, nature is resilient and will fight back. Foxes invading urban environments, weeds in a garden and rainforests’ ability to regrow in 15 years show that nature isn’t as fragile as we think. Animals and plants that depend on very specific environments are likely to be more at risk than more generalist species however and Kieran argued that we have an “ethical responsibility” to keep all remaining species alive.

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Every day around 870 million people do not get enough food. How can we hope to feed a predicted 9.6 billion people by 2050 whilst growing food more sustainably? Suckling described how industrial agricultural practices are highly damaging to the environment, for example pesticides which probably have a severe impact on bees. He argued that organic farms are unlikely to provide enough food for the growing population. Globally, 19% of forests are protected, but rising demand for fuel and agricultural land means we are losing 80,000 acres of rainforest each day and probably 50,000 species of animals and plants every year. The good news, Pearce said, is that that we already produce enough food to feed the predicted 9 billion people, although we waste enough for 3 billion. Recent reports showed that 15 million tonnes of food is thrown away in the UK each year. He argued that we should be encouraged by the notion that “we can reduce our footprint just by being more economical”. The real challenge is how to make people understand that food waste is both socially and environmentally unethical.
Fred mentioned that overall women are having half the number of children that their mothers had. This is in part thanks to medical advances, meaning that most children will survive to adulthood so fewer births are needed to build a family. It is also an education success story. Both the panellists agreed that “when education and freedom levels rise, the population starts to grow more slowly”. Opportunities for women to educate themselves will be critical in changing gender stereotypes and reducing the numbers of unwanted pregnancies. This is good news for human rights as well as managing our growing population’s impact on the environment.

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The debate ventured into the ethical question of whether animals and the environment should have same right to live as humans. Does sustainable living have to be an “us versus them” question? Fred took a humanist view, but argued that we as a species need the services that nature provides. Kieran argued that we must not simply steal the most resources we can get away with, but live sustainably with other species.

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Where do you stand on this issue? Are you prepared to structure your life around sustainable living or do you believe that it’s a problem for future generations. Must your children and their descendants inherit a world where the loss of resources threatens humanity’s very existence?

Green Grant Builds Resilience in Mpophomeni

A small group of conservationists, food growers and environmental activists have started the Mpophomeni Conservation Group under the auspices of Midlands Conservancies Forum.  They host regular walks and talks, screen environmental movies and hold discussion groups on environmental issues. Their own organic food gardens are living/working examples of sustainable living.

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In South Africa, an estimated 1.5 million children suffer from malnutrition, 14 million people are vulnerable to food insecurity, 43% of households suffer from food poverty.  School children who are hungry cannot concentrate or perform to their potential.  There are 35 000 residents in Mpophomeni, the HIV rate is over 60%, and Unemployment about 80%.

The Global Green Grants Fund have provided funding to start this process.  To begin with, low energy cooking equipment was purchased.  Ntombenhle Mtambo was so delighted with the Wonderbag and Sunstove “We can do other things while our food cooks, we don’t have to watch it all the time and it will save so much electricity.”

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Tutu Zuma set water on to heat right away in her SunStove for herbal tea (herbs just picked from her garden, naturally).

tutu sunstoves mpop res

That evening Penz Malinga made vegetable curry on the Istofu and was amazed at how little wood it needed to cook “It’s unbelievable”, while Tutu’s neighbours all snuggled around hers as it kept them warm indoors – no smoke!

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A week later, some of the garden equipment arrived. Penz had the most fun spraypainting red symbols so they would be identifiable.

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Ntombenhle Mtambo is absolutely thrilled. “I have never owned so many tools, before my hands were my tools. I love them all! Now we have to go out there and educate people about how to grow food and help each other.”

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Lindiwe Mkhize “My favourite tool is the small yellow garden trowel. First I have to use the pick remake my veggie beds and collect manure in my bucket.” 

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Shine Murphy helped with delivery and was rewarded with an impressive cabbage!

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Despite her garden being absolutely devastated by rats this winter, Ntombenhle has redesigned and replanted with renewed enthusiasm – see her wonderful old garden at:  http://plantabundance.wordpress.com/2011/09/20/permaculture-princess/

ntombenhle new garden Aug 2013 mpop res

Memebers of the Mpophomeni Kidz Club (aso an MCG intiative) are also excited by the abundance of tools and cannot wait to start helping in one another’s gardens. The hosepipe is their absolute favourite!

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Penz has already planted peanuts and rhubarb, a tree tomato, peas, onions and spinach and built a compost heap.

penz compost heap aug 2013 mpop res

MCG plan to inspire others in their communities to think about their lifestyles with regards to sustainability, resilience, climate change, biodiversity conservation and animal rights.  Leading by example MCG intends to help and influence their neighbours , one garden at a time by hosting workshops and gardening parties (known as ilima in Zulu culture) to assist people to improve their gardens, grow indigenous plants and food plants.

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The idea being that being that while they work, they informally chat about recycling, sustainable living and environmental issues.  Their own lifestyles, homes and gardens will provide the inspiration to share their vision of a better, greener, kinder and more sustainable future for their community. Read more about Tutu Zuma’s inspiring garden at http://plantabundance.wordpress.com/2013/03/25/tutu-zumas-garden/

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Next up: water tanks and gutters to harvest rainwater, fencing to stop chickens and goats from helping themselves, a brushcutter and plenty of old hay to mulch the gardens and build more compost heaps.

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Ntombenhle and Tutu have approached the uMngeni Municipality to turn two areas of wasteland into community gardens.

“We would like to help the community we live in. We would like to see them learn to understand the importance of nature and caring for the environment where they live in their daily lives, every day.  Learning about these things will open their eyes, save money, water, energy and give them opportunities to earn money out of waste and gardening. 

We would love to get rid of all the dumping sites because they cause misery for those who live near them, the rubbish blocks the storm water drains, rotting things smell bad and can cause disease. We need to teach the community that much of the waste is useful so they stop dumping and causing problems. Education is key for people to take advantage of opportunities to grow food and improve their lives.  Programmes like “One Home, One Garden” fail because although they are given trees and seeds, most people do not have fences or information on how to make a garden or plant a tree.  We would like to help people to start gardens and be able to sell surplus or donate to those in need.

Previously, we have approached the Municipality, but despite promises, nothing has happened.  We are still standing and proud to carry on doing the things we believe are most important – growing food and helping the community.”

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Watch this exciting initiative unfold! Join Mpophomeni Hills group on facebook: https://www.facebook.com/#!/groups/321905831247501/

Learning about Sustainable Living

The Eco-Committe at Shea O’Connor School in Nottingham Road have chosen to focus on Sustainable Technology for their WESSA Eco-Schools portfolio this year. After successfully earning their International Green Flag in 2010 under the guidance of the Midlands Meander Education Project, the very enthusiastic learners on the Eco-Committee have taken over the task of retaining their Green Flag status from the teachers.

Midlands Conservancies Forum offered to arrange some fieldtrips to support their learning in Sustainable Technology.  At Entabeni they learnt about a donkey boiler using alien wood as fuel and how vulnerable solar panels were to theft, at WESSA Sustainability Commons they learnt about rain harvesting, heat pumps, sky lights and recycling.  Yesterday, they visited two homesteads in Dargle to find out how people are actually living in a more sustainable way. African Insight provided the transport.

First stop was Lane’s End Farm, home of Susi and Andrew Anderson, where they met the utility ducks and chickens which supply eggs and meat and the exotic species which provide additional income.  Andrew explained his views on Sustainable Living and reducing one’s resource consumption. “There are so many different ideas, so it is important to gather as much information as you can, to find which is best suited your lifestyle and needs. Different circumstances need different solutions” He added “The three most effective ways to effect you carbon footprint is transportation, energy use and diet. We can’t leave it up to the Government, we have to take personal responsibility”.Andrew was most impressed with the learners knowledge, commenting that often the 2nd year varsity students who come on his trips don’t understand terms like symbiosis and carbon footprint.  “We try so hard to teach others at school about these things, said Vusi Mvelase, “but sometimes they just don’t want to know.”  Andrew encouraged them in their efforts saying that behaviour change is always slow and  that if they influence just one person in their lives, they have made a difference.At Lane’s End attention is paid to being as food independant as possible. Each component is linked to another to make the best use of the sunlight falling on the farm. The cows convert the grass into meat and milk, provide manure for the compost heaps and biogas digester. Keeping cows can create lots of flies, so the chickens wander around eating fly larvae to reduce this problem and provide eggs, meat and manure. Goats keep the invasive alien vegetation on the banks of the Mngeni river under control.The highlight of the morning was seeing how the biogas digester worked as the learners had built a model of one for a recent science expo. Nigel explained that only a bucket of manure (about 5kgs) was needed to keep it working and producing more gas than they could use. Cooking is done on the gas and hot water provided for daily showers. Sanele Maduna was most impressed at this saying “Geysers waste so much energy and there are problems with solar geysers on rainy days,” adding “We really should use this system at school to cook. We could be an example for the whole  community.”Then Mlungisi explained how compost was made layering straw, manure and greens from the gardens on the multiple heaps under the trees.When it had heated up properly (we could feel the heat by sticking our hands into the middle of one) and decomposed, it was used in the vegetable garden.  This garden supplies much of the needs of the household and excess is sold to neighbours or at the Dargle Local Market. Eveyone was impressed to learn that Susi made yoghurt and cheese from the excess milk too.Then it was around the base of iNhlosane to Rainbow Homestead, the off the grid home of Sam Rose and Shine Murphy.  Shine explained how he had an ‘ordinary lifestyle’ growing up and only when travelling in Asia did he start to ask why his life was so different to that of others.  After trying to make a difference from his base in London, he realised that he needed to be a living example – it is not about words, it is about action – and moved home to Africa. After ceremoniously cutting through their Eskom electricity line, they have been living ‘off the grid’ for the past few years. Generating all the energy they need from a couple of solar panels, fireplaces, a parabolic sunstove and a solar oven, is pretty impressive.Passionate about permaculture, the vegetable garden at Rainbow is  a great example of these principles. Nothing is wasted, there is no “rubbish bin”.  The flourishing food garden supplies their community of ten with fresh greens and vegetables.  Situated on a sunny slope, deep swales catch all the water which falls, rather than allowing it to drain away into the valley.  Nitrogen fixing acacias, and fruit trees, are planted on the ridges, providing some shade and shelter from hail as well as biomass when they are felled (‘chop and drop’ is what Shine calls it) into the swales.Compost heaps are everywhere around the garden.   Much effort is put into building the soil.  Comfrey, which mines minerals from deep in the ground, is planted everywhere and used to make comfrey tea – an extremely good fertilizer and also added to the compost heaps. It is also great at healing broken bones – something Shine tested when he broke his collar bone a couple of years ago.  “This garden is also our medicine chest, we seldom need to go to a doctor”.A solar driven dehydrator dries herbs and excess fruit for storage. There was much enthusiastic discussion about how it works.There is a small worm farm to create vermi-compost and worm tea, and the composting toilets the family use provide lots of good organic matter which is worked into the garden beds. Nothing is taken off site – everything goes back into the soil. A bee hive is close by as the importance of bees in a garden cannot be over emphasised. Learners guessed that the eco-systems services which bees provide through pollination was probably worth millions.Lots of fragrant Buddleja shrubs are planted as wind breaks, which along with Ouhout, Polygala myrtifolia and Halleria lucida provide nectar for the bees and birds. “I am starting a food forest, which will eventually look after itself and create soil all on it’s own” Shine says “It will hug our home and protect us from the cold winds.”Their home is built from wood sourced on site – only the poles and roof had to be brought in.  “If I built it again, I would definately use wattle and daub – it is the best building material in the world.” Unfortunately, the wooden cabin has gaps which let in cold air – the family collects all soft plastics on the farm, tightly packs them into mesh fruit bags and stuffs them into corners and crack – they work a treat. To escape the fierce heat outside, everyone enjoyed a cup of solar brewed fresh mint tea and played with the newly arrived kitten indoors.Cooking is done in solar stoves, hot boxes and with gas as back up.  Washing water is heated in a donkey boiler or in big pots on the sunstove. Black pipes laid on the ground in the sun mean hot showers are available after a hard day in the garden and a fire bath is a family favourite. An outdoor enamel bath is filled with water and a fire lit beneath it to provide the most luxurious bathing experience beneath the stars.Solar panels and 400amps of battery provide enough power for their laptop, hand held blender, plenty of LED lighting and even the sewing machine.“Eish this guy is intelligent” said Lungisane Mthalane following Shine around asking questions, “I didn’t know that someone in South Africa can live like this. It is impressive.”

Rainbow is also an Eco-School and everyone was delighted to see the familiar green flag hanging on the classroom wall and read through the 2011 portfolio of work they had done to earn their flag. The classroom is a Yurt – built of wattle poles and canvas and all agreed it was a very nice place to learn.Rainbow Homestead and Sustainability Commons is very welcoming to anyone who would like to learn about sustainability and permaculture while they work. There is an overwhelming sense of abundance here, underpinned by the philosophy of “Live Simply so that others may Simply Live”. Contact them on 083-599-4792

Teacher, Antonia Mkhabela said after the fieldtrip “Now things we introduce at school will be sustained because the learners have seen it on site and experienced for themselves. Not just had someone come and tell them about it. They are doing what they are learning and seeing that the theory is implementable.”

Fantastic. Superb. The Best Day Ever. Lovely. Wonderful. Interesting. These were some of the words learners used to describe their experience.  The Midlands Conservancies Forum believes that education is key to helping change perceptions and behaviour so was pleased to be able to assist. “I have hope for the future when I meet young people like these.” concluded Andrew.