Yesterday we went to visit the Oranjezicht City Farm off Upper Orange Street, to see the excellent work which its co-ordinator Sheryl Ozinsky and her team of volunteers is doing in turning an old unused bowling green back into a non-profit urban farm, which was its initial usage more than 200 years ago, using the latest sustainable farming methods to grow vegetables, herbs, fruit, and flowers.

Sheryl and I go back many years, when she was the CEO and I the Deputy Chairman of Cape Town Tourism, both passionate about our city, Sheryl positioning Cape Town as a world class city with a minimal budget.  Sheryl is a passionate person, and one who puts her heart and soul into projects in which she believes.  Living in Higgovale, she became head of the Oranjezicht – Higgovale Neighbourhood Watch, and organised a Heritage Day festival with a market last year. Using Homestead Park for the market, and seeing the derelict bowling green next to it, which had become the home of ‘bergies’ and therefore creating a fire and security risk, it was clear that action was needed. From a security perspective the piece of land needed attention, and research into its heritage showed that it was originally part of a 182 ha farm belonging to Pieter van Breda, which he established in 1769, growing vines, vegetables, and fruit.  The land was particularly attractive to Van Breda for having 35 springs, a valuable supply of water for his farming.   Sheryl explained that while it would have been easier to build a harbour in Saldanha than in Cape Town’s Table Bay, Cape Town was chosen because of the supply of potable water at the foot of Table Mountain. Van Breda called his farm Oranje Zigt, being able to see the Oranje bastion of the Castle of Good Hope from the farm.  He planted pear trees and guavas, and the pear trees still are on the property. Owned by the Van Breda family for seven generations, the farmhouse was demolished in 1957 when the City of Cape Town took ownership of the land, but the barn and slave bell have been retained.

The first step was to interact with Heritage Western Cape to obtain permission to use the heritage site, and to redevelop it to its former glory.  The property was fenced, the vegetable and herb garden beds were laid out, original cobblestone-style walkways were recreated, with a central pond feature being developed.  The neighbourhood was involved in a participatory process, and its support has been unbelievable, Sheryl says. The City has offered the project water at no charge for three years, and has just granted a permit for the farm to use the spring water. Farmer Mario Graziani guides the farming, with Tania de Villiers and Kurt Ackermann playing a leading role in the project.

Sustainable farming is vital, to save costs, and to be ecologically responsible, which has led to a solar pump creating renewable energy being installed, to pump water and eventually to set up drip irrigation for the farm.  An earthworm farm has been set up, which digests 100 kg of household waste per week. Compost heaps provide material to enrich the soil naturally, which has been neglected for so many years.  We were amazed to see volunteers helping to weed the beds, a Kenyan volunteer having cycled from Green Point to make a contribution.  Volunteers are welcomed on Saturdays from 7h00. A total of R600000 has been raised to date to develop the farm, R100000 coming from Madame Zingara, which has committed to buying the first crops when they are ready. The community will be able to buy into the project, and share in its return.  Beautiful wooden benches designed by Liam Mooney are being erected, which can be sponsored at the cost of R7200, Charly’s Bakery having committed to the first one, to honour the late creator of the bakery.

Learners from surrounding schools such as St Cyprians are brought to the farm, to teach them about sustainability, and the production of vegetables and herbs. Sheryl is very passionate about our population’s ignorance about what is in the produce that we buy, quoting the example of strawberries being mutated by Monsanto to allow them to grow in cold regions, resulting in side effects in the population’s health.  She is delighted to see that younger persons are questioning the origin of the food that they eat, and choosing a healthier lifestyle above making money.  Some of the crops planted at the Oranjezicht City Farm are carrots (we bought some of their first crop yesterday), radishes, rosemary, peas, broadbeans, buchu, granadilla, spekboom, comfrey, garlic, beetroot, sage and thyme, with olive trees, lemons, and limes having been planted too. We thought it would be great of vines could be planted, as in the Van Breda era, so that wine could be made.

A small Saturday morning market started about a month ago, alongside the Oranjezicht City Farm, with Tamboerswinkel selling Deluxe coffee, jams, muffins, and sandwiches and offering free wine tasting. Naturally organic grown vegetables are sold until the farm produces its own supply, as are plants.

The Oranjezicht City Farm is a most commendable project, not only in generating healthy produce, but also in regenerating a piece of land which is part of our city’s heritage.  Once this farm becomes financially sustainable, they will consider expanding it to include other pockets of land in the area.  One wishes them the best of luck and success, and we salute Sheryl and her team of volunteers in their involvement in this project.

POSTSCRIPT 20/6: Today in the Cape Times Sheryl Ozinsky and her team responded to criticism by Caron von Zeil, a researcher into Cape Town’s underground water resources, about the waste of the spring water for which the project has received approval from the City of Cape Town, and that it is illegal too,  which was published in the Cape Times by Melanie Gosling.

Oranjezicht City Farm, corner Upper Orange and Sidmouth Street, Oranjezicht.  Cell 083 628 3426.      www.ozcf.co.za

Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage