What are the expected timelines?
We received permission to launch the Farm on 9 October 2012 and began work clearing the grass off the bowling green, which took us into January (thanks to help from a front-end loader donated by Lema Civils!). We then got the pond excavated (Lema again!) and began to lay the cobbled paths. From late January through April we have been bringing the soil levels up and feeding the soil with tons and tons of compost (all organic, and all donated by Reliance Compost!), and doing this in blocks so we could plant as we go. From early May 2013 we have been able to plant across the entirety of the Farm, and harvests proceed according to the seasons and the crops.
What are we planting?
Vegetables, herbs, a few fruit trees (these mostly for aesthetic and wind-screening reasons). We will plant according to what suits the conditions of the site, as well as what is needed by restaurant and trade partners. Everything will be organic (but we will not pay for organic certification at this point – our farmer is well-versed in formal organic farming requirements, and we have a technical advisor volunteer whose job is to go around and confirm standards and practices for organic certification). We will prioritise heritage and heirloom varieties where sensible. We’d like to plant the kinds of things that were grown on the farm historically as well (including, apparently, a coffee plant – but that would be just for show.) We also are planning a section of the Farm dedicated to indigenous culinary plants of various types, in addition to the indigenous herbs that are planted as part of the edging, such as tulbaghia, buchu, pelargonium, wild rosemary, spekboom, artemesia and more.
What will happen to the produce?
Produce is available for residents to purchase on a regular basis, including our weekly Saturday morning Market Days and mid-week self-harvests. We are also selling some herbs and vegetables to local restaurants, and this is an area for future development. It will take us some time to work out the balance between wholesale and retail (direct) sales, and what we sell to whom.
Is the farm viable?
Because the small size of the available plot (roughly 700m2 of productive land), we are not really on the scale of a commercially viable farm. It also is not conducive to an allotment system, because not enough allotments of sufficient size could be offered to make financial sense.
We have been fortunate to raise funds to cover the substantial start-up costs for the Farm via a donation from the Madame Zingara group of restaurants, and we have received some additional donations from private individuals. We will be looking to raise money from grants and donors, through small-scale commercial activities, and by selling additional gardening-related services to the community. But the core of the finances needed to keep operating will come from growing and selling vegetables and herbs.
The goal is to use the bowling green site as a demonstration to the City that we can be effective stewards of underutilised green spaces, and that an intensively cultivated urban garden can have positive benefits (skills, education, social cohesion, beautification, etc.). We have already had preliminary conversations about the possibility of other underutilised green spaces in the City Bowl being used by OZCF for more typical farm-type cultivation, or for use in an allotment system. The bowling green site would then function as more of a demonstration and hands-on garden, with any other sites probably much more limited in terms of casual visits. The City is very open to this possibility for expansion, but we must focus on making the current plot work and not get ahead of ourselves or become distracted.
How does it “work”?
Our farmer, Mario Graziani, is responsible for managing the work of the farm (while also holding down his ‘day job’). Farming is a 7 day per week responsibility, and so OZCF has hired several assistant farmers to ensure that the daily requirements of the farm are met in addition to the contributions and efforts of volunteers.
We are building working relationships with other urban farming NGOs, such as Abalimi Bezekhaya, community greening initiatives, like Greenpop, and other projects such as SEED, Soil for Life and others in Cape Town. This is to develop and enhance the skills of volunteers as well as assistant farmers.
In the future, we would like to have our assistant farmers also providing services to residents for setting up, maintaining and harvesting private vegetable and herb gardens, establishing and managing compost and worm farming systems, and the like, to supplement their income and to spread some of the benefits of having the Farm in our neighbourhood beyond the boundaries of the former bowling green. This may take some time to get up and running, but if there is good demand for it from residents then we can make it a priority.
The basic operations of the farm are according to a cycle of planting and harvesting, with various schedules for different crops in different seasons. We anticipate having festive planting and harvesting events to bring people together, celebrate the passing seasons, and share the workload.
The real activity on the farm comprises educational visits by people of all ages, especially children, and hands-on engagement with volunteers (primarily on Saturday mornings). There will be interpretive and educational signage throughout the farm, and casual visitors as well as tour groups are quite common.
How do volunteers fit in?
Volunteers are needed to lend a hand with farming, in particular at specific times such as planting and harvesting. The goal is to supplement our assistant farmers at peak periods of need, and simultaneously to enable residents to get hands-on experience in soil preparation, composting, planting, harvesting, pest management, crop selection, pruning, and other aspects of organic farming. We also hope to reduce barriers in a safe and controlled environment between different parts of our society who share the same neighbourhood.
There are many other opportunities for volunteers to contribute, including in education, communications and administration. All those trying to make OZCF happen are volunteers.
The reality is that every bit of money we are able to cobble together will need to be ploughed back into the farm for the foreseeable future. The benefits from this project are not directly financial ones.
What can volunteers expect to receive?
Volunteers can expect to benefit from working hands-on to create a better community to live in, to learn more about growing and choosing food, to meet and get to know (and like!) their neighbours, and to grow personally in other ways.
What are other plans for the future?
The City is open to discussing future phases and will entertain the conversation once they are confident that the basic farm operations are in place and we are reliably looking after the site. A bit of commercial activity would help the finances of the Farm, but the point is not to distract from the core function – we would need to find the right balance for the farm, the City and the neighbourhood.
We are also keen to find out the level of interest for regular (weekly?) organic veg boxes. We need to proceed carefully, however, as we would not be growing these vegetables (at least not for some time to come) and there are good projects that already offer this. We would probably look to develop a partnership with one of these to the benefit of local residents.
There are also initial ideas for setting up a membership scheme of some sort, with benefits to members that have still to be worked out in detail (e.g., discount purchases in local businesses, free compost, discounted gardening assistance, free seeds or seedlings, etc.).
All of this will play out in a dialogue via public meetings, e-mail newsletters, and on the blog; it’s a very organic process.
Why didn’t we leave the bowling green as it is?
For years the bowling green was allowed to fall into neglect and it became a haven for vagrants and drug dealers. In recent years the neighbourhood watch (OH Watch) has paid for the lawn to be cut and has hired Straatwerk to clean the area. They also paid for a substantial portion of the fencing that has been erected around the site. This level of investment and attention from OH Watch is unsustainable and the City is not in a position to maintain the bowling green in a safe manner, much less to invest money and energy to make it a community resource.
The site also has great heritage value which remained hidden in its former state and cut residents and others off from this part of Cape Town’s history. There are other open green spaces for playing ball and for running dogs within a short walk of the site. Homestead Park also remains as a park and is benefitting from the additional draw of people and activity at the Farm.
Aren’t there other uses for this space, such as low-cost housing?
Increased density in the city is a major goal of the City of Cape Town, and there may come a time when spaces such as the bowling green are looked to for housing – low-cost or otherwise. At a practical level, with the site being declared a heritage site, it is unlikely that permission to build housing on the bowling green would be provided without a lengthy process, and then only if other alternatives were not available. If it turns out that such a decision gets made at some unforeseen point in the future, the fact that the Farm will not be erecting any permanent structures means that it will have little effect on the suitability of the site for housing.
Why should ratepayers support OZCF?
No funding from the City is going toward OZCF; all funds for the project are raised privately and it is private, non-profit, volunteer efforts that are making this happen. The farm is contributing to the beautification of the neighbourhood, to good neighbourly relations, to the safety of the area, and in other ways enhancing Oranjezicht, Higgovale and the City Bowl.
Why not do this project in a more needy community?
There are a number of urban agriculture and community garden projects in neighbourhoods across Cape Town, including Abalimi Bezekhaya with more than 3000 women farmers in poor households across the City, and the more recent Erf 81 project in Tamboerskloof/Bo Kaap. OZCF represents an opportunity for residents of our more affluent neighbourhood to find ways to connect with these other projects, to build bridges to these other communities, and to support them through partnerships.
In addition, social change needs to begin in one’s own community, and to go to others and tell them what to do and how without walking the talk oneself is far less effective an approach than showing commitment where one lives first.
Finally, to believe that we and our children cannot benefit in profound ways from understanding where and how food is produced, where and how our waste is handled and the kinds of effects our lifestyles are having on the environment is short-sighted. As among the more privileged Capetonians, we are particularly obligated to understand these issues and to mitigate our own negative impacts on resource use and the environment. OZCF is an important way that we can come to understand and deal with these issues in a manner that is constructive, collaborative and sustainable.
Where does the money go?
OZCF is a non-profit organisation and the money raised is ploughed back into the Farm. A business plan and full financial plan have been developed for OZCF. The organisation has its own bank account and financial records are compiled monthly by an independent and qualified volunteer. Anyone is welcome to contact us for more information about these aspects to the project, and to review the plans.
Who are some of the people involved?
There have been dozens of volunteers contributing in various ways to the projects, events and initiatives of the Farm since its inception, and hundreds of volunteer farmers coming out to lend a hand. There has been a core team of people pushing the project from the earliest days, and this includes our farmer, Mario Graziani, as well as Sheryl Ozinsky, Kurt Ackermann, Tanya de Villiers (landscape architect), and Mark Stead (designer and creative director). Yvonne Sumter has become centrally involved as well, particularly with regard to starting up the Market Day and getting the nursery on its feet, and there are others growing into key roles as the Farm finds its legs and moves on its journey forward.