By Sue Derwent
Durban - After hot tea and home-baked biscuits in her pretty home and a potter around her lush veggie garden, Nikki Brighton of the Dargle Local Living organisation walked me to my car.
She handed me a hand-drawn map on bright green paper, 10 small brown paper envelopes filled with seeds, a bag of home-made pasta, pecan nuts from a local tree, a packet of her home-made biscuits and a huge sack of hay for mulching my city roof garden.
She suggested I don’t buy any food, but rather see what I can make for my supper from things I get given during my visits to various farmers in the district. I chuckled nervously as I set off down the dirt road.
I’m used to buying my food in shops. I live in a city. However, seeing I was doing the “Local Living” thing, I took up the challenge.
Of course, it was a good idea, especially in this age of rising food prices and expensive petrol. It is something we should possibly all be taking more seriously.
“Dargle Local Living” was established after Brighton began screening a series of films dealing with issues such as climate change, peak oil, sustainability and transition at the regular Dargle Conservancy meetings.
Many of the residents and local farmers, some big commercial farmers, recognised that it is not just sensible but becoming increasingly necessary to reduce their dependence on fossil fuels and the industrial food chain, and so they committed themselves to making some real lifestyle changes and to living as locally as possible.
It entailed following the natural seasonal cycles, not making unreasonable demands on animals and nature, taking only what is needed and being mindful of the entire natural process.
“We are fortunate that our beautiful Dargle Valley is also home to many small producers of vegetables, trout, chicken, honey, cheese, herbs, pork, milk and eggs,” said Brighton. “With the establishment of our Living Local group, most homesteads now have a food garden to supply their kitchens and they share their surplus with neighbours.
“Local restaurants have also committed to supporting local producers and using seasonal, organic food as much as possible, serving food that satisfies your taste buds – and your conscience.
“In the Dargle, plenty of folk are perfectly happy to do without eggs for a few weeks while hens follow their natural spring cycle. Others are content to wait patiently for their cow to finish weaning her new calf, forgoing the extra milk. Gathering wild spring greens in the fields is an activity eagerly anticipated for much of the winter. This is really what slow food and local living is all about.”
For Gilly Robartes, of Wana Farm, “living locally” is a natural extension of her interest in farming. Starting with one Dexter cow, “to keep the grass down and provide a little milk”, her small yoghurt and cheese business has grown “organically”, as over time, she acquired Jersey cows and yoghurt-making skills.
Over more hot tea, a home-made rusk and an interesting discussion about the qualities and tastes of milk, Robartes explained how she now provided to a number of local outlets in the Midlands.
I left for the next farm laden with yoghurts, cottage cheeses, yoghurt ice cream and a tub of thick cream.
Susi Anderson, of Lane’s End Farm, is another Local Living enthusiast. Anderson is one of the residents who supplies surplus milk to Robartes’s dairy products enterprise. Robartes and her husband live with a range of species of more than 120 ducks and chickens, a handful of pigs, a herd of cows, some horses, cats, dogs and goats.
Having worked in conservation for many years, the Andersons love living in the country, but admit that it is exceptionally hard work. Anderson had me in awe and hysterics explaining how, one year, in the absence of their husbands, she and Robartes undertook the somewhat daunting and challenging task of the annual slaughter and butchering of two of their pigs. I left the Andersons with veggies from their organic garden, seedlings and a tray of lovely fresh eggs.
Across the way, the Fowler family have been on their big, commercial farm since the mid-1800s. After being inspired by the Dargle conservancy movies and a compost-making course at Dove house organic farm, Robin and Tinks Fowler reconsidered the way they were farming.
They encouraged the concept of Local Living among their staff who were so inspired that many established compost heaps and organic vegetable gardens at their own homes. A self-taught cabinet maker, Fowler not only farms, but he also makes beautiful furniture for a range of corporate clients, game lodges, hotels and restaurants, as well as holding furniture-making courses for beginners and more advanced cabinet-making skills at the custom furniture-manufacturing business on their farm.
By the time I arrived at Barend and Helen Booysen’s Crab Apple Farm, the mist had turned to a light drizzle.
Booysen handed me a bowl of delicious home-made vegetable soup. He cut a large slice of farm-baked bread and opened a bottle of gooseberry jam he had made the day before.
We took a tour of the gardens, the indigenous forest, the stables and the enormous organic vegetable “green-house”. We passed the paddocks of horses and the “We-Supply-the-Green-Parrots” pecan nut trees and after peeping into the pretty, ivy-covered wedding chapel, we came to the compost heap, a huge bank of organic material mixed with horse manure at the bottom of which was the amazing veggie garden. I left Crab Apple Farm laden with three bags of horse compost (for my roof garden of course), fresh gooseberries, gooseberry jam, and spinach, broccoli and other veggies.
My last stop was with Baba Sokhela who works on a large, nearby commercial farm. He grows much of his own food and as we stood admiring his wonderful vegetable garden and his free-range chickens, he spoke with delight about low tillage and other old traditional methods of farming.
He pondered on how many people in the world no longer seem to care about growing things to eat any more.
I drove away filled with smiles and old Zulu wisdom and headed back to the city to share my home-made, home-grown bounty with my friends – a yummy supper of pasta with a creamy veg sauce, and a hunk of farm-baked bread slathered with farm butter and gooseberry jam. After all, mindful local living is all about sharing.
l For more information about Dargle Local Living, Dargle Conservancy and ideas of setting up a local living, slow food movement in your own community: www.dargleconservancy.org.za
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