Future farming

Leonie Joubert.

The idea of an urban community farm in an upmarket suburb is most certainly not a new one.

Visit almost any overseas city and you’ll find dozens of inner city “farms” where residents have allotments where they can potter around in their veggie gardens.

The philosophy behind the Oranjezicht City Farm (OZCF) is far more than that. Much has been written about the urban agricultural space and, according to founders Sheryl Ozinsky and Kurt Ackermann, the idea of the farm is not so much about a community coming together to cultivate vegetables (although that counts for a lot) as it is about the journey getting there – nurturing the bonds that are formed when residents meet to dig their hands in the earth and put their roots down in a commonly shared soil.

As they point out on the OZCF website, “it quickly became a rallying point for people wanting to make their community better and an inspiration for others seeking alternatives to the mainstream industrial food system. Since 2012, this small, educational, non-profit project has hosted thousands of schoolchildren, and, through its weekly farmer’s market, supported numerous small, local farms, dozens of artisanal food purveyors and the hundreds of jobs they provide.”

Leonie Joubert, author of oranjezicht city farm, is an award-winning science and environmental writer.

She was tasked with writing the book to explore what makes the farm tick, the aspirations and the history of the farm, which includes the history of Oranjezicht, nestling on the slopes of Table Mountain.

Ms Ozinsky, formerly the CEO of Cape Town Tourism, was in 2012 also wearing the cap as chair of the Oranjezicht-HiggovaleNeighbourhood Watch. In that year, she organised a Heritage Day festival with a market, using Homestead Park as the venue. Noting the derelict bowling green adjacent to it, she decided
to do something about it and so, after lengthy negotiatons, blood sweat
and tears, the OZCF was established.

Leonie’s brief to write the book came late in 2014, and she completed it in 2015. Published earlier this year, a lot has transpired in the intervening time.

As several visits have attested, the farm is thriving, but the market at its present locale at Granger Bay, has almost outgrown the farm, with almost as much written about the market as the farm.

Leonie and I meet up at a cafe in Oranjezicht opposite the OZCF.

She is passionate about writing about climate change, biodiversity, natural history and agriculture. With a Master’s degree in science journalism from Stellenbosch University and a Bachelor’s in journalism and media studies from Rhodes University, Leonie has penned four books, Scorched, South Africa’s changing climate (2006); Boiling point, people in a changing climate (2008); Invaded, the biological invasion of South Africa (2009) and The Hungry Season, feeding South Africa’s cities (2012).

She has been awarded two honorary Sunday Times Alan Paton Non-Fiction Awards, one for Scorched and the other for Invaded.

Leonie has a passion for issues relating to food security and the challenges of food sustainability. “The idea for the farm is about the sense of community, and while they could have created anything, it is a reminder of how difficult food is to grow in fact, but yet how dependent we are on environmental resources,” she says.

“There are problems with the food system in dealing with big business, and I was aware of this when I was tasked with this book.”

The Hungry Season tackles the issue of how difficult access is to food and the bigger picture it presents.

“I like to say poor people have bad access to good food and vice versa. This book (on the OZCF) is about getting access to good food.

“Writing this, I focused on the ways in which communities deal with issues relating to food. The food system is much more complicated than we think, but the book, and also the farm, is actually about peddling ideas rather than peddling lettuce.”

In the book, Mr Ozinsky refers to herself as an activist rather than a revolutionary and, indeed, food activism has become something of a catchword these days in discussing the unsustainability of the food system.

“In the city, we are surrounded by calories, by lots of energy with no nutrients, and we need to critique the food system,” says Leonie.

“As activists, we need to find our point of leverage and bring about change, and if people can engage with food in the way they deal with it, then we can create more sustainability.”

Leonie has shown in the book, how a pipe dream, given the right people, can be turned into a reality – and a viable reality at that.

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