Do you know your farmer? This question was posed during the recently started Oranjezicht City Farm Food Dialogues.
It is “an opportunity for food growers, academics, activists, writers, nutritionists, food lovers and anyone interested in a sustainable approach to engage in key issues intimately connected to the food we eat and the future of food in Cape Town.”
Time is right for urban agriculture
Sheryl Ozinsky, one of the founding volunteers at Oranjezicht City Farm (OZCF) explained the food dialogues series have “gotten more of a response than we could ever have hoped to believe. The time is right for urban agriculture and for understanding our food system in South Africa.”
I felt relief that we finally have a group of pioneering people starting a food revolution – right here, on our own doorstep!
The OZCF and the dialogues series have both been set up and put together by various volunteers who are putting their time and energy into bringing to light key issues we face as a society in Cape Town, but also, South Africa in general. She explains, “we believe that urban farming is the most important movement of our time right now.”
“It is a window of opportunity like none we have ever had before.”
Revolution of health and nutrition
Right now, there is a revolution of health and nutrition. People are becoming more aware of the quality of their food and understand more and more that the food that we are eating is not only substandard, but also in fact bad for us. Environmental stewardship is also a strong focus. We know that we need to take care of our land and the planet. It is the only one we have.
Now, more than ever, we need to focus on community and allowing our future to unfold through determination and collaboration. It is time to focus local efforts on organizing and strategizing to enable things like food security and proper land use. Decision-making must be based on real basic needs – our need to eat. Not only to eat, but to eat well. To eat balanced, healthy, clean food.
When OZCF was started, very good questions were put forward. Why is it that we pay the doctor to make us better, yet we should be paying the farmer to keep us healthy? These very pertinent questions were then posed to the audience. “Who in the audience knows the name of their farmer?” Silence. Many knew the name of their doctor, their lawyer, their preacher, but almost nobody knew the name of their farmer.
A break in the health chain
“It would be very different today, if we took the time to connect with the people who grow and supply our food”, Sheryl explained. “Imagine knowing where that food came from, what it contained and how it was grown. Farmers and suppliers would have a very different attitude if this connection were made. We would all care more about the health and care of the ground this food is grown in and the accountability of those who grow and supply it.”
This disconnect with our food is a broken link in the chain to health and longevity. If farmers knew their customers, they would be a lot less inclined to include chemical inputs and genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in our life sustaining fruit and vegetables that they grow.
The labeling of our food is another contentious issue – why is it that a farmer can spray chemicals on the food to kill bugs, spray more chemicals to kill weeds, then add chemicals to the soil and we don’t require any labels? Yet if a farmer would like to certify and label his food as “organic,” they must pay a lot of money and fill out loads of paperwork just to prove that they didn’t use any chemicals.
What this series aims to achieve is to highlight obstacles, successes and important questions relating to Cape Town’s food systems.
“There are so many projects, but they don’t talk to one another – there is not one overview of urban agriculture in the system”.
Supporting urban agriculture
“How can the city support urban agriculture? What is required in order to ensure that this happens? And why is it that land currently used or zoned for agriculture is the most vulnerable to land use change? Why is it that the city supports developers, when they should be supporting farmers?
Understand that there is no shortage of food in the city, there is a shortage of good food in the city. How can urban agriculture be more of an economic success incorporating community upliftment and enhancement? How about the use of public space for growing food? Is the city banking land for urban agriculture? What are the pressures on agricultural land in the area?
The Philippi Horticultural Area (PHA) supplies just over 50% of the fresh produce consumed in Cape Town.
This area needs to be preserved for agricultural use. Nazeer Sonday – a businessman, farmer and activist had shared his experiences on the PHA:
In 2008 Nazeer, who owned a farm stall in Philippi for 14 years, obtained a grant from the Department of Agriculture and set up a greenhouse of 3 000 tomato plants. In the process he experienced many of the difficulties faced by the PHA farmers. He decided it was necessary to address issues impacting on farming, fight for decent services and build a united vision for the PHA.
Phillipi farmers supply 48 types of vegetables to city
There are 40 commercial and emerging farmers across Phillipi that produce over 48 types of vegetables consumed in Cape Town. Sadly, there is only one organic farmer, who is stretched to capacity. If we don’t have more organic farmers, if the city doesn’t bank land for urban agriculture, what will happen? We won’t have access to good food.
In a climate of rising fuel and other input costs, the PHA is also ideally situated close to the city. It is very important not to transport our food far away. In addition, there is an abundant water supply in this area, the Cape Flats aquifer, providing water to the PHA. This also supplies two thirds of Cape Town’s potable water.
In any future climate change scenario, that is going to be imperative. The PHA employs over 2000 people on about 20 farms and it is thanks to Nazeer, civic organisations, NGOs and through tremendous community support that the PHA has been preserved for agricultural use thus far. This keeps developers and the city at bay.
During her presentation Leonie Joubert, science writer and journalist, said food security in an urban context is not about whether there is enough food around; rather it is about access to wholesome, nutritious food that is good for us.
Did you know that one in 5 South African children are so poorly nourished, that they will be less employable as adults? There is a critical 1000-day period from when a child is in utero until when they are 2 years old in terms of the brain’s development. This affects their income potential for the rest of their life if they haven’t been well nourished during this crucial time. So people are locked into poverty because they didn’t have access to good food in this country.
Food deserts in poorer communities
Leonie highlighted how much of the food in the city makes us fat and sick. The healthier food is more expensive. There are food deserts in poorer communities – cheap, highly processed, addictive food making people obese and sick.
Leonie also explained how sugar is the new tobacco and should be outlawed by legislation – it is finding it’s way into almost everything that we eat and causes illness and disease, from Alzheimer’s to diabetes, obesity and heart disease. Our food system is clearly broken; profit driven and highly refined.
The food that is grown is not for nutrition, but for shelf longevity, for aesthetic value. One must remember that the food industry picks up the benefit, yet the State picks up the cost of the health care. We should look at the external aspects of food production, in terms of the environmental and health cost to the State.
By Tara Cumming