Our Coffee Guy – Michael Goddard

Not many people would consider the space between the railway line and dusty trading store car park the ideal spot to set up a café. Michael Goddard, thought it a great find and actually, it is.

Michael is passionate about ‘garage coffee’ – “Everyone needs fuel, and coffee (human fuel) is available at most garages. Not always good coffee, often relatively terrible”, he smiles. Michael is part of the movement to reinvent ‘garage coffee’ land is setting a whole new standard, off the beaten track beside Thokan’s Store. Michael believes that Seattle Coffee is leading the charge in offering the highest standard in garage coffee at the moment.

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Steam Punk Café takes coffee seriously. “Importing good African coffee is one thing, making it properly is quite another.” To ensure that the taste is a good as it can be, he carts fresh, natural water to the Café each day from the farm where he lives in Dargle. Apparently, the salts and minerals bring out the savoury flavours. Water is heated to just the right temperature (73 degrees for cappuccino) which sweetens the lactose and means sugar is an unnecessary addition. Clearly very creative, Michael sees each cup as the chance to create something new – capturing the moment – then it is gone.

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Already, local coffee aficionados, including teachers, designers, chefs, cyclists, sculptors, farmers and hipsters are flocking for their daily fix. Michael Ndlovu who works up the road stops by each day. “This is the place to start the morning, with the best espresso ever to give you that voom!” he grins. Self-proclaimed coffee addict Sebastian Laccarino, agrees “You won’t get coffee this good at a petrol station for miles.” Neville Trickett pops in so often for four shots of espresso to get his day started, that there is a particular blend named after him. “I like people that think left of centre. Michael is living proof that if you do something from the heart and you do it well, people will come,” he says. Michael is thoroughly enjoying the interactions with his customers – describing them as real, gritty and authentic – convinced that coffee always attracts positivity.

r steam punk michaelSnacks to accompany your favourite brew are simple and stylish, with local ingredients showcased. Wood fired Love Bread from Lidgetton makes great toast, especially when topped with real cheese found on a foray to the Karkloof Farmers Market. On the weekends there are utterly irresistible Portuguese custard tarts too.  r nibbles steam punk 106

Michael is determined to keep things as green and local as possible. He dreams about using the coffee grounds to grow mushrooms, of opening up the back of the Café to take in the view of the tracks, of roasting his own coffee and sharing these skills with others and perhaps, creating a tiny deli filled with delectable local goodies…  Certainly this is a space to watch.

There seems to be an abundance of creative young foodies emerging from Dargle.  Head over to Lion’s River for a steamy interlude to add a little spice to your day, today.

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Quietly. Kindly. Respectfully.

“I was swinging on the vines, the flowers were lovely and the air was nice. I miss Papa Ben, I wish to go back.” Olwethu Nzimande

In the past couple of months, we have hosted a number of different groups in the Kilgobbin forest, over and above the monthly walks which Barend Booysen guides. Without exception, everyone has left refreshed, delighted and inspired.  We may get a little used to the wonders of wandering in our forests, but guests are always amazed.

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The Thembelihle Junior Eco Club had a life changing experience.  Entering the forest the children were astonished at the variety of trees and plants. They rustled about searching for the distinctive black stinkwood trees leaves, ran their hands along the moss covered rocks and recognised yellowwoods (they had planted one at school before heading to the forest).

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Sitting quietly in the forest they breathed in the scents, listened for bird calls and drank the delicious water before having a storytelling session about ‘The Lorax’ by Dr. Seuss. On the way back through the forest some lucky learners spotted a green boomslang who soon slipped away into the trees. Rafiki (Barend’s Samango monkey friend) was lolling in the trees and the children were utterly transfixed by the monkey’s beautiful coat. One little boy  whispered ‘This is the best outing EVER’

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Dargle Primary School Grade 6 and 7 classes were very excited about their trip to the Dargle Nature Reserve, but first decided on a few rules.

  • To be quiet in the forest
  • To be kind and helpful to each other
  • To respect the forest and its inhabitants.

Barend greeted the group warmly and explained how he and Helen look after the forest and why we need to leave only footprints. Eidin Griffin and Gugu Zuma of MMAEP report on the day:

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As we walked along the sun dappled paths, Barend pointed out interesting trees including wonderful yellowwoods in different stages of life from 20 years to 1000 years old and showed us how to differentiate between the various leaves. Everyone was thrilled to spot some Samango monkeys browsing on new leaves in the trees. We sat for some quiet time, breathing in and breathing out all our cares. Mlungisi was amazed at the old trees saying “Wow, you will never find a person that is 200 years old.”

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Barend had the children really intrigued when he took out his cellphone, played bird sounds and then the birds came to visit! The children recognised different bird sounds and were lucky enough to see two African Harrier Hawks skimming above the canopy.  They got to swing on a liana and investigate mosses and lichen.

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Eidin said “We had an utterly magic day.” Gugu added enthusiastically “We had so much fun and learnt so much. What a wonderful place. I would like to bring the kids from my Zenzane and Nxamalala Enviro Clubs here too.” The children LOVED their adventure in the forest with ‘Papa Ben’ and have started writing stories and drawing pictures about their experience. Thanks to Dargle Conservancy for giving these children such an incredible experience. Big hugs to Barend for his generosity of time and spirit – the children were especially impressed when he challenged them to catch him and raced off across the hayfields! It would not have been possible to get all the children back and forth without the help of Carl Bronner and Dennis Sokhela.

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Eugene Moll lead a two day Forest Ecology  and Tree ID Course in October. Eugene, who lives in Cape Town now, loved spending time in the forests he remembers so fondly from his student days and relaxing on the veranda of Crowned Eagle Cottage listening to tree dassies call at night.

Participants were enchanted by his enthusiasm and knowledge and couldn’t believe their luck at having such an expert on hand for a few days.   One thing we all learned was to QUESTION things. To think about what makes a peach a peach, for instance. If we understand the basic characteristics of familiar plants we find in our gardens, we will have a much easier time trying to identify new trees. Everyone was keen to try our they plant id skills using the Keys in various Guide books. Just to confuse everyone Eugene included two samples of Kiggelaria Africana (Wild Peach) – one branch from a mature tree and a twig from a little sapling. They were COMPLETELY different and had everyone puzzled for ages.

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Most of the course we spent outdoors under the forest canopy. Each tree has a little space around it if viewed from the air, we learnt. The tree tops brush against one another and keep each tree separate. Eugene prefers to call Podocarpus (Yellowwoods), Afrocarpus, which he feels is a more accurate description. We hugged some really big ones and had heated discussions about ‘the twisted petiole’ of P. henkelii! He also feels pretty certain that none of the trees in the forest are over 500 years old.

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We learnt how specimens of Clausena anisata (perdepis) probably got mixed up with specimens of Hippobromus by the early collectors. The scientific name Hippobromus means ‘smell of horse’, but when the dried specimens were finally described, the smell had gone from the leaves, so there was no way of telling which was which! We felt the stickiness of Protamophila prehensilis and the velvety leaves of Quisqualis parviflora admired Briophytes and Epiphytes, tasted Asparagus stalks and smelt Lemonwood leaves. Naturally, we got down on our knees to find interesting things in the stream, including nematodes and damselfly larvae.

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Kathy Milford won’t forget the course in a hurry. “The most memorable thing for me was the crazy expert peering through his treasured old magnifying glass with a chipped frame, at a little leaf and his saying ‘this must be a Diosypyros whyteana, look at those orange hairs on the edge of the leaf’. That was a special moment, and when I looked through the magnifying glass there were the most beautiful little orange hairs that became larger than life. I felt like Alice in Wonderland! He showed us the most amazing little details on the leaves and trees which would normally have escaped my attention! Wonderful”

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We learnt so many fascinating facts like: Insects are the biggest herbivores and that woody plants (C3) utilise higher levels of carbon dioxide. Eugene demonstrated how to make rope from the bark of Dais cotonifolia (Grewia occidentalis also used for the is purpose), and we learned the vines of Dalbergia obovata  are used to make fishing baskets.  Sarah Ellis “I found Eugene fascinating, with such a huge passion and depth of knowledge. How fortunate we are to have spent time with a man of this calibre. I also enjoyed meeting and chatting to some of the other like-minded people on the course.”

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Oriah and Kei Ellis used the opportunity for some outdoor learning.  “The tree ecology course was a great experience – learning about the different shapes of leaves, learning through the interactions with others, and how to simply identify trees.  I also enjoyed taking a walk through Barend’s forest, eating cookies and making new friends! ” said Oriah afterwards.

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Jenny Fly commented “I enjoyed every minute of it. Eugene is such a nice man, so knowledgable with his trees and so happy to help us mere mortals along the way. I certainly learnt a lot and need to get into the forest far more often to get really familiar with all of them.”

Julie and Richard Braby, who live in Underberg, enjoyed their time with other people as passionate about plants as they are. “We felt we were in another world for those two days and were sad to get home. The venue was fantastic. The talk and very good food at Tanglewood in the evening in the company of Dargle Conservancy members, was wonderful.”  Barend Booysen, who is custodian of the section of forest we spent time in, had a marvellous time. “I really thought I knew this forest backwards. I have been humbled by all the things I have never noticed before and my head is spinning with all the new information. I learnt so much. What a delightful man.”

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N3Toll Concession, who fund many projects in the Midlands, including in a number of Conservancies, have visited twice this Spring too.  First, we showed off some the Midlands treasures to a film crew and members of the media who visited our special part of the planet.  In the Cairn of Old Kilgobbin they enjoyed a country style lunch prepared by Nicky Farqhuarson of Tanglewood, and then a walk in the Kilgobbin forest.   There is nothing quite like drinking water straight from the stream, listening to Knysna Turacos call and watching Samango monkeys swish through the tree tops, when you usually spend your days dodging traffic in the city.

Anita Heyl commented: “Oh, my goodness what a special piece of paradise. If I was Winnie-the-Pooh this would most definitely have been my part of the forest.”

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TV journalist Blain Herman captured the midlands magic in the short video that aired on SABC recently. Watch our 15 seconds of fame here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=G3yIKpWoRxs

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Then, on a magical, misty day, shareholders of the N3TC Board arrived in anticipation of a picnic in the forest!  Con Roux Commercial Manager of N3TC said “The mist made it all the more special. We were fortunate that it wasn’t pouring with rain.”

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After an interesting stroll along the old logging path, we all returned to the Booysen’s verandah and fireside for lunch. We didn’t think that the urbanites would really enjoy sitting on a damp log with trees dripping all about them! Lunch was all handmade local Dargle produce and went own well.  Chantal Wood of Future Growth commented “I had such wonderful time and have been raving about your lunch. What a great bunch of people.” Bothwell Hlaba of PIC also had a good time “Many thanks for hosting us and showing us the great work that you are doing conserving our forests and the ecosystems. I really enjoyed the forest walk and the picnic.”

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Thanks to the N3TC for supporting these important environmental projects and the ecosystems on which humans rely, we hope you’ll be back to wander in the forest again soon.

In the great African tradition of auspicious rain for special occasions, the Midlands Summer Celebration in early November was suitably wet.  The Cairn of Old Kilgobbin Farm is right in the mist-belt, beside the forest, a wonderful venue whatever the weather. The drizzle did little to dampen the spirits of those who headed off on a forest walk. The rain hardly penetrates the canopy, so there was no rush to get back.

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A gentle afternoon spent smelling Clausena anisata leaves, collecting yellowwood seeds, hugging the really big trees and puzzling over some species.  Dineo Dibakwane of SANBI commented: “I enjoyed the walk, Barend is the best! It was nice meeting other people who share the same objectives regarding conserving our planet.” Tshepiso Mafole, also from SANBI added  “It was great to be part of the inspiring and refreshing world of conservationists.” Tutu Zuma of Mpophomeni Conservation Group thought that the best part of the afternoon was the walk in the forest.

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Then they emerged through the mist, and were welcomed warmly.  The red wine went down particularly well, but there was also plenty of Notties beer and homemade lemon and mint cordial too.

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Many Midlands Conservancies were represented at the gathering and lots of local environmental organisations too.  Janet Snow of Environmental Learning and Teaching observed: “It was inspirational to see the projects conducted with such enthusiasm. It is a true indication of the community of practice in the area – something to be proud of.”  Caroline Leslie, Honorary Officer for Ezemvelo “Thank you so much for the lovely time shared by fellow enthusiasts.  The wine was splendid, the food was outstanding, the venue was breath taking but most of all was special times spent with special people.”

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Everyone tucked into yummy food that Jennifer Pretorius of The Farmer’s Daughter had made – split pea and asparagus salad, roasted sweet potatoes and butternut in balsamic reduction; and tomatoes, pesto and cream cheese.  There were hand made relishes, a selection of just baked breads, fresh organic greens, local cheeses and fruit too. Kevan, Karen and Hannah Zunckel thoroughly enjoyed themselves “What a wonderful afternoon with a lot of special people.”  

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Then Judy Bell, Chair of MCF thanked everyone for coming and especially, for all the work that volunteers do to protect the Midlands ‘water factories’ – the ecosystems on which we all rely.  Judy acknowledged Barend Booysen’s incredible contribution to inspiring, motivating and challenging so many people with his walks and insightful discussions along the way and presented him with a Mad About Chameleons certificate to thank him.

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Eidin Griffin of the MMAEP also thanked Barend for his kindness and generosity in leading school groups recently and introducing them to the Kilgobbin Forest magic, saying “The children  wrote about their experiences and all of them had an amazing and inspiring time.”  She read a few of the children’s delightful comments from the Eco-Schools portfolio they have compiled.

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Judy concluded “It was a wonderful opportunity to talk to people, to hear their tribulations and successes and, especially nice to be able to welcome the newly formed Rosetta Nottingham Road Conservancy. Everyone works so hard, so it is good to have an opportunity to just relax and celebrate our efforts. Thanks to Dargle Conservancy for sponsoring the food to go with our drinks and everyone for participating with such enthusiasm.”  Long may the Summer Rains last.

Dargle Conservancy thanks Barend Booysen for passionately sharing his time and knowledge to inspire others to care about our forests, and Carl Bronner for generously offering her gorgeous venue for all our functions.

World Food Day – Bishop Siwa Speaks

Today is World Food Day. In Dargle we are quite removed from the billion starving people and billion obese people on our planet, the food wars and land grabs that are accelerating due to Climate Change and greed.   Most of us are fortunate enough to pick peas for our lunch, unearth potatoes for supper and find fresh eggs for our breakfast, every day. Even if we don’t grow our own food, there is an abundance of great local produce all around us and often for sale at the Dargle Local Market.   While we mostly believe in good, clean, fair food, occasional reminders of the impact our eating habits have on the world are useful.

Compassion in World Farming published this article today, which you may enjoy. The pictures are all happy Dargle animals!

Bishop Ziphozihle Siwa appeals for a change of heart and mind – “a transformation of society at the level of culture itself”.

“I am writing this appeal as one of the followers of Jesus Christ who said in John 10:10 “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” I write as the faith leader on the eve of the World Food Day (16 October) and out of deep concern for the ecological crisis that threatens to bring us and the whole of creation to the brink of mass suffering and destruction. My appeal is that we pay special attention to this and request all people of faith to pause, reflect and act as stewards of all that God has created.

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This crisis is human-induced, caused among other things by industrialised agriculture which depends on monocultures, pesticides and factory farming of animals, as well as our prevailing culture of consumerism. The challenge to overcome this crisis lies in the human heart. Combating Climate Change requires nothing less than a radical change of direction, a change of heart and mind, a transformation of our society at the level of culture itself.

We need to realise that we have been captured by the lure of consumerism to believe our happiness and success depends on what we eat, wear, own and use.

We are trapped in the logic of consumerism which emphasises what we lack downplaying what we already have. We are reminded daily of our unfulfilled needs, thus placing consumerism at the heart of culture. The over consumption of animal-derived products – meat, eggs, milk and so on – is part of this culture of consumerism and places an enormous burden on human health, as well as on the lives of animals which are crammed into factory farms in order to supply our demands, especially for cheap meat. Farmed animals eat grass and bushes by nature – food that we, as humans, cannot eat – and 67% of land in South Africa is available and suitable for grazing and browsing.

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Yet we take the animals off the land and cram them in large numbers into huge sheds, feeding them vast amounts of fish and grains in order to make more meat, more eggs, and more milk, cheaply.  The meat, eggs and milk from these animals is directed towards the Consumer Culture which then, in turn, struggles with obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure, while  the oceans become depleted of fish and rural farmers lose their livelihoods because they are unable to compete with cheap supermarket products. As for the animals, they live and die without ever seeing a blade of grass or a ray of sunshine.

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The church has a moral and theological responsibility to set aside this stupidity and embrace its role of stewardship of our beautiful earth and all its creation. We need our congregations to become eco-congregations transforming culture to promote a healthy diet for all, sustainable livelihoods for rural farmers, as well as the well-being of the land and all its creatures. Only in this way can we ensure sustainability and establish justice for all.” Bishop Siwa is the presiding Bishop of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa and President of the South African Council of Churches.

Pictured below: Compassion in World Farming’s CEO Philip Lymbery met Bishop Siwa in his office in Johannesburg earlier this month. Here he gives the bishop a complimentary copy of his book ‘Farmageddon: the true cost of cheap meat’.

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Our Farmer’s Daughter – Jen Pretorius

There is absolutely no doubt that Jennifer Pretorius has had a big impact in our community. Everyone loves her food and now we can get it everyday of the week (except Mondays) at her funky new restaurant along the road in Tweedie.  Jen doesn’t do ordinary – one doesn’t usually expect red velvet cupcakes to come decorated with a spotted gumboot – but this farmer’s daughter if full of surprises.

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She grew up in Dargle, wearing gumboots to splash in the streams and hang with the Herefords. “I’m Dargle bedonnered.” she says with a grin!

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Since she was tiny, she was quite determined to be a chef. One of her first experiments (aged 4) in using local products was inspired by the original Dr Dolittle movie. “I collected lots of garden snails, mashed them with a little soil and leaves, picked my mom’s prettiest Tupperware and baked them in her new oven.” Oops, the resulting melted mess completely destroyed the oven and needless to say, no one offered to try her creation.  Nowadays, her pear tart has a lot more takers.

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By the time she was six, she was starting to complain about her mother’s cooking. “That noodle pie was an abomination,” she recalls, so she whipped up a Neopolitana sauce with the abundant tomato harvest from the veggie patch and they served it with everything for days. Her spot as a champion of local produce was sealed.

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“I remember being so disappointed that the mielies I picked in the fields absolutely refused to be turned into caramel popcorn.” Jen has since learnt (at chef school and various jobs in the catering world) that you can’t pop any old corn but is still adamant about celebrating our astonishing Midlands produce. She uses only her dad’s chicken, eggs and beef; cheese, yoghurt and milk from her neighbours; giant garlic grown just up the road, and many of the salad ingredients and other greens are picked outside her kitchen door.

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Jen wants to feed everyone, so her restaurant in Tweedie – aptly called The Farmer’s Daughter – gives her an opportunity to do just that. Here she has created a truly happy place with gumboots on the garden steps, staff that grin incessantly,

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where local ingredients are treated with respect and birds feast on the crumbs.

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There are couches for bored housewives to dream in,  cappuccinos to savour, and sweetie jars for the kids.

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While the veggie beds are flourishing already, Jen dreams of using only produce from a big garden filled with absolutely everything she needs – from figs and fennel to goats and granadillas. Like at the inspirational Babylonstoren.

Jennifer Pretorius - farmers daughter

After a long day of making many people smile, nothing beats sourdough toast topped with garlicky mushrooms and fresh rocket on the couch with her best friend/husband, Ryno, and precious pup Petal Piggy Jackson Pretorius. Not a bad supper for a boer and his dog to get out of the bakkie for.

Find The Farmer’s Daughter at Patchwood Elephant on the R103 between the Mandela Monument and the Everything Store.

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Fierce Cucurbits in Macho Contest

Autumn is pumpkin time in the Midlands and every year the Dargle Local Market celebrates in style.
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Last Sunday’s Pumpkin Market was the usual riot of colour, high spirits and community which epitomises the monthly market.

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Squashes come in so many colours, shapes and sizes, and taste quite different from one another too.  There were some magnificent specimens entered into the Annual Pumpkin Growing Competition.

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Philippa Gordon editor of our favourite paper the Meander Chronicle was the Important Judge, ably assisted by Emma – who created a ‘cat pumpkin’ specially for the occasion.

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Eidin Griffin won the prize for the biggest one, grown from heirloom Connecticut Field Pumpkin seed. Her favourite way of serving pumpkin is in a Thai style curry which is ideal to chase winter blues away! Chop up two big onions, fry them until translucent. Add a couple of fresh chili-peppers, one medium sized pumpkin (chopped up), five large potatoes, a handful of chopped carrots, salt and black pepper and fry for 5-10 minutes. Add enough water or stock to cover the veggies, bring to the boil, simmer for 20 minutes, add a can of coconut milk and pop in your hot-box for an hour. Garnish with fresh coriander.

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There were plenty of delicious pumpkin treats to eat at the market too. There was pasta with roast butternut, flash fried sage leaves and toasted sunflower seeds and delicious slow cooked pumpkin soup.  Lucinda’s freshly made carrot juice was a perfect pumpkin colour and jolly popular.

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Fabulous freshly brewed coffee was served by a pumpkin coloured lady (who does delicious teas too).

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Rose’s Pecan, Pumpkin and Ginger muffins went down a treat. Make some before pumpkin season is over:

1 1/2 cups flour, Pinch of salt, 1 cup sugar, 2 teaspoons baking powder, 1 cup pumpkin purée, 1/3 cup melted butter, 2 beaten eggs, 1/4 cup water, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon allspice, 1 teaspoon ground ginger, 1 cup chopped pecans, 1-2 Tbsp chopped preserved ginger.

Preheat oven to 180°C. In a medium sized bowl, sift together the flour, salt, sugar, and baking powder. Mix the pumpkin, melted butter, eggs, water and spices together, then combine with the dry ingredients. Do not over-mix. Fold in the preserved ginger and nuts. Spoon mixture into a prepared muffin tins and bake for 25-30 minutes. Makes 12 muffins.

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At this friendly community affair, everyone shares recipes to deal with the abundance – Dennis Sokhela declared the best way to eat pumpkin is as isijingi – mashed with soft mielie meal (or polenta), Robin Fowler loves to roast slices of pumpkin in avocado oil and honey.

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As winter sets in, try Nikki’s favourite: Roast crescents of pumpkin in the oven until browned – sprinkle olive oil, salt, pepper, brown sugar and cinnamon first. Fry small peeled onions until golden, add whole peeled garlic cloves and pitted prunes and just enough water to cover. Simmer until water is absorbed, adding a little more as needed. The onions become soft and caramelised all the way through and the prunes start to disintegrate into the sauce – should take about 20 minutes. At the end add a handful of blanched almonds. Pour the sauce over the pumpkin pieces with lots of fresh parsley.

Seeds from many of the prizewinning pumpkins will be available at the Dargle Local Market come Spring, so you can grow your own Macho Squash!  Thank you il Postino, Midlands House of Healing, Sterlings Wrought Iron, Corrie Lynn & Co  and Meander Fine Wines for donating prizes.

pumpkin market Winners

Holiday Fun at Nxamalala

Dargle Conservancy organised a Holiday Club at Nxamalala village on the Petrusstroom Road.  Gugu Zuma ran it with enthusiasm and imagination!dargle holiday club nxamalala 011

The kids were so happy to be involved as it was the first time they had ever had a holiday club. Thobani Gumede said “It is the first holiday that I do something meaningful. Usually we just play soccer.”

Nxalalala kids gather for holiday fun

On Wednesday the focus was on Farming – comparing industrial and family farming and discussing the importance of healthy food. Everyone was surprised to learn that healthy food is that which you grow in your garden, rather than that you buy at the shop.

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Most commercial vegetables have been sprayed with chemicals that are not good for your body. Now everyone is keen to make an organic garden to keep their families healthy and pass this message onto their friends.

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On the second day we discussed the water cycle and water pollution before heading down the road to do a miniSASS test in the uMngeni River.

Nxamalala kids head to the wetland

We found some insects and worked out that the river was in Poor Condition which is not good for drinking. Mhloniswa Ncele was surprised “I always thought that moving water was clean.”

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We also explored the wetland. The kids knew a lot about wetlands from school lessons and have made a commitment to look after the wetland in Nxamalala. Sabelo Zuma found a frog “I always thought that frogs were dangerous, but now I am not afraid to touch and hold them.” Using candles and watercolours, everyone drew pictures of things they observed in the wetland.

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On Friday, we made mandalas using leaves and flowers that we picked around the houses.

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This was part of an Anger Management lesson. The basic principles being: expect the best, think before reacting, ask for a non-violent path, care for others and respect yourself. All these are transforming powers and I taught the children how to apply these in their own lives. We used these words when we created the mandala. The boys were so amazed to know that there was a way to solve a problem non-violently through good communication.

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This was our last lesson and everyone enjoyed it. Peni Hanbury, Jenny Fly and Nikki Brighton supplied sandwiches, juice and fruit each day. “They asked if we could please have a regular Enviro Club in Nxamalala.” concludes Gugu.

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Splashes & Stoneflies in the Dargle River

We think our river is pretty special and hope to encourage everyone alongside it to take care of it.  Earlier this month, members of the Conservancy and friends gathered for a Water Workshop. It was a glorious, sunny summer day. Penny Rees was delighted to be back one of her favourite places – the Dargle River on Howard Long’s farm Craigdarroch.

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This spot was chosen because it is one of the few parts of the Dargle River that is in good condition.

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After tea and scones made by Cheryl and Jennifer, I showed everyone a slide show on the Dargle river walk which took place in January this year. There was lots of discussion about how to clear invasive plants in the riparian zone and ideas and experiences were shared.

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We then headed out to the river, passing large bulls getting ready to be shown at the Royal Show and hearing about the history of the farm.

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We loved the old stone storage shed that had been built by the original Scottish settlers (the Sinclairs), apparently to double up as a fort if the need should arise.

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Above a cascade, Howard pointed out a large sheet of flat rock that was the ford (in the old days) – the only access to the farm! This must have been either terrifying or non-negotiable during heavy river flows!

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Howard told us how they drank the water from this Dargle stream until about 10 years ago. He has been clearing wattles and other invasive plants along the tributary gullies which feed into the stream for many years.

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“Once you take out the wattles, the indigenous vegetation comes back. It is a 100 times better than it was, but obviously, each year you have to keep going back and clearing.”

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“This river is only 18kms long,” he added “Surely, if we work together we can restore it to it’s natural state?”  Wyndham Robartes shared his experience of successfully clearing the river banks on his property using goats rather than herbicide.

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We crested a hill and there lay the Dargle River, clear bright water bubbling over rocks passing beautiful river banks with long waving veld grass that alternated with patches of forest.

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Penny explained how to do a miniSASS and armed with plastic containers, we were rearing to go.

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Getting our feet wet was great fun as we hunted for the invertebrates in the river – we found stout crawlers, prongills, damselflies and plenty more.

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Once again (as during the River Walk in January) we hit the jackpot – and found a Stonefly.

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The mini sass score was 7.1 indicating that the river was in good condition.

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A lively discussion followed on the roles that the different invertebrates have in the river ecology – from the slow moving planaria that favour shaded quiet waters to the frenetic riffle beetles that rush around on the surface of the fast flowing water.

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Rose Downard found the morning really interesting. “Quite amazing what a difference it can make to the score to find a Stone Fly, yet every insect has a part to play, including the humble snail. I think it would be wonderful if the whole of the Dargle River could be cleared of alien vegetation and restored to a healthy river again. It is an important part of the Dargle and should be treated as such.”

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Everyone had fun splashing in the river and learning about all the interesting creatures which inhabit it. The dogs had a ball! Thanks to Midlands Conservancies For

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The challenges of Small-Scale Farming as experienced by Croft Farm Chickens

An interesting and well written article which features our very own Dargle produce – Chris and Kandi Slater’s delicious, award winning chicken. Written by Karen Zunckel for Verdant Life.

Small-scale agriculture or family farming is increasingly being seen as a more attractive and sustainable alternative to factory farming or more broadly, industrial agriculture that is prevalent in primarily first world countries.

Croft layers

A change in mind set is encouraged whereby the agriculture industry acknowledges its dependence on a finite natural resource base – including the finite quality of fossil fuel energy that is now a critical component of conventional farming systems.  The advantages of family farming production methods far outweigh the industrial alternatives for a few of the following reasons:

  • Foods are produced without the use of pesticides, hormones, antibiotics, and other hazardous inputs and are therefore more healthy for the consumer.
  • Sustainable farms help preserve genetic diversity by raising a wide range of animal breeds.  Many of these breeds are chosen due to the geographic areas in which they are raised, thus maintaining genetic diversity of breeds which are more resilient to disease.
  • Intensive livestock production contributes 80% of agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Small-scale farms have a lower carbon footprint on their transportation as they sell their product locally through farmer’s markets, local stores, a marketing network or small outlets.
  • Sustainably-raised animals are treated humanely and are permitted to carry out natural behaviours such as rooting in the dirt and pecking the ground.
  • Sustainable farms support local economies by purchasing supplies and materials from local businesses.
  • Sustainable farm owners provide a safe working environment and pay their workers a fair wage.
  • In conventional farming, due to modern selective breeding, laying hen strains differ from meat production strains. As male birds of the laying strain do not lay eggs and are not suitable for meat production, they often succumb to the most horrendous deaths by cervical dislocation, asphyxiation by carbon dioxide and maceration using a high speed grinder.

Apart from the ruin of our natural resources, there is an equally dark side to the industrialised agriculture system, one which is matched every bit by putting the pinch on rural families and futures, where every day small-scale farmers suffer rude awakenings and big agribusinesses squeeze them into more financial difficulties while reaping huge profits.

Croft free-range hens

One would think that the lower capital costs necessary for a free-range poultry system, together with the high premium paid for free-range broiler meat, may give admirable results in the economic feasibility of a small-scale broiler farm[1].  Added to this is the fact that South Africans’ appetite for chicken is at an all-time high.  The poultry industry is the largest individual agricultural sector in South Africa, contributing some 22% of the total agriculture gross value in 2012 and almost 47% of animal product gross value. It provides direct employment for over 56 000 people and indirect employment to almost 108 000 people, is the largest consumer of maize, and supports many peripheral businesses as well as those downstream in the value chain.  The country’s poultry industry is today worth more than R27 billion a year, and continues to grow rapidly. More than one billion broilers are slaughtered per year and average per capita consumption of chicken meat is currently more than 33kg[2]. Although at first glance the industry might seem to be dominated by large-scale producers, as many as 25% of all broiler chickens supplied to the market are produced by small- and medium-scale growers. This means that these suppliers have a market share currently worth more than R6 billion a year[3].

So it was intriguing to read the email from Croft Farm Chickens on the 3rd January 2014 saying:

Having had a few days off we have taken a look back at the last year and realised that it has been a tough one all round. For us it has been fraught with ever increasing input costs (feed, wages, petrol) and while we have tried to weather these as best we can, it has taken its toll. We are ruled by feed costs (being 75% of total costs) and while maize has actually come down this year, unfortunately the feed companies have not followed suit and we have just been informed of yet another feed increase!

Kandy Slater and her staff, proudly displaying their Eat In 2012 Award

We decided to investigate further.

Both the broiler and egg industries have been under severe pressure and negatively impacted on a number of fronts. Most significantly, these include the flood of imports of frozen poultry meat into South Africa, unprecedented grain cost increases due to the drought in the USA and subsequent higher feed prices worldwide, energy cost increases, and a change in consumer behaviour and spending, which created supply and demand imbalances and a market characterised by oversupply in the final product. Operating cost increases and improved efficiencies could not protect margins in this constrained environment[4].

Supply and Demand

About half of South Africa’s maize is used for animal feed, and about 70% of the feed is used for poultry.  While annual national maize production in South Africa fluctuates widely according to rainfall, average production has remained constant over time. This is a concern, as consumption has increased with the growing population and maize production may soon not meet local demand, affecting both local and regional supply.

South Africans have already shown interesting changes in food consumption since the 1970s. They have shown a decrease in the consumption of the staples, maize and bread, and have massively increased their annual consumption of chicken from 6 kg to 33 kg per person and chicken exceeds the total consumption of red meat; a trend that is likely to continue. With local poultry production increasing significantly over the last 20 years, producers have been unable to meet the massive increase in local demand for white meat, and chicken is now one of South Africa’s largest agricultural imports.

Chris Slater with his day old broiler chicks

Rising Costs

The producer price indices for maize, fertilizer, fuel, animal health and crop protection, maintenance and repairs and animal feed prices have increased dramatically since 2002[5].  Add to this their dependence on external factors that the farmer cannot control; retail prices of these commodities are linked to the oil price and to the rand/dollar exchange rate. Currently, farm feeds are the biggest expenditure item (75% in the case of Croft), followed by fuel and fertilisers.

The indirect impact of rising food prices on small businesses comes via the reduction in the disposable income of the business owner and in many cases, their input costs grow faster than their revenues.  Most small businesses finance their expansion and cash flow requirements from their own savings, and are unable to source other types of soft finance from institutions like the Land Bank.  They face a situation where government support was phased out at the same time as the markets opened up to allow competition from cheaper imports. Therefore, a reduction in disposable income translates into less money being available for investing in the business or helping to ride out adverse business periods.

The minimum wage for farm workers was raised by 50% to R105 on 1 March 2013. The research shows that if wages were to rise any higher than R105 a day, many farms would be unable to cover their operating expenses and this would precipitate a huge restructuring of agriculture.  Despite this, a further daily minimum wage increase, by 6,4% from R105 to R111,72 for a nine-hour workday, will come into effect on 1 March 2014 which is unaffordable to many small and medium businesses and many job losses are expected[6].  Diesel is expected to have reached R16/litre by the middle of 2014.

This makes small businesses relatively more vulnerable than other types of businesses to diverse price changes so only the biggest survive.

Croft broiler Croft logo