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Posts tagged ‘Philippi Horticultural Area’

Political

Last week I wrote a post outlining the threat to the Philippi Horticultural Area (PHA) in Cape Town, asking why the city’s food bloggers and foodies – its chefs, restaurateurs, and writers – seemed to have such little interest in the proposed development of a piece of land which grows half of Cape Town’s fresh produce.

The response has been fantastic: Food24 picked up the post, and some magnificent people got in touch with ideas. (I’ll tell you more about them in due course.) More importantly, and not related to my post, the campaign to save the PHA has stepped up. Other than signing the Avaaz petition, do please watch and share this excellent short documentary about the PHA:

Anyone keen to help out with the Save the PHA Campaign should email Nazeer Sonday, nasonday@gmail.com, or Rob Small, rob@farmgardentrust.org.

With a few exceptions, though, the majority of people who have expressed dismay at the development of the PHA and who have offered to do something about it, have not been involved in Cape Town’s food world. In fact, again with a few exceptions, it seems to me that the city’s foodies remain unmoved about the issue – which is quite an achievement given the amount of coverage the development of the PHA has received.

As I wrote last time, considering that these are people with an unusually intense interest in food and where it comes from, I would have thought that they’d be lining up to condemn the development of land which produces their vegetables. Moreover, some of them have such enormous readerships and access to the media, that their ability to communicate with large numbers of people would allow them to be exceptionally helpful to the campaign.

If a blogger with a fairly small readership (and I love each and every one of you) sitting in Joburg can help to get two projects off the ground in Cape Town, imagine what someone with a massive audience and the odd TV appearance could achieve?

In this post, though, I’m interested in why the city’s bloggers – and there are lots of them, and they wield some power – have displayed such little concern for the PHA. One of the excuses that readers of my post offered for not wanting to become involved in the campaign is that it’s toopolitical.’ This is an interesting comment, and worth unpacking.

I think that by ‘political’ respondents meant that they did not want to be associated with a campaign that confronts Patricia de Lille, the Mayor of Cape Town, and the members of the Mayoral Committee who took the decision to develop the PHA.* It’s more likely that bloggers would mobilise to raise funds and awareness around poor children or abused animals. My point is not that we shouldn’t support the SPCA or Nazareth House – far from it, and please do because they do vital work – but, rather, that these causes are more easily depoliticised.

The irony is that all food writing is political: it’s all implicated in the ways in which power works in society. There are few more potent indicators of inequality than access to food. Some of the most evocative reporting on the effects of Europe’s austerity regimes has focussed on the rise of food insecurity: from the organisations which have emerged to feed people in Greece, to the increasing numbers of food banks in the UK.

As a recent edition of BBC Radio 4’s excellent Food Programme reported, austerity eating has been reflected in a shift in food blogging too. Jack Monroe has documented, eloquently, her struggle to feed herself and her young son on almost no money at all:

Poverty is the sinking feeling when your small boy finishes his one weetabix and says ‘more mummy, bread and jam please mummy’ as you’re wondering whether to take the TV or the guitar to the pawn shop first, and how to tell him that there is no bread or jam.

Part of the appeal of Monroe’s blog is that she is able to connect her delicious, nutritious, and incredibly cheap recipes with, as she says to Sheila Dillon, ‘a political spike’: an awareness of the connection between what she eats and the social, political, and economic context in which she and her audience operate.

What Monroe, as well as the brilliant Skint Foodie and North/South Food, is doing is not anything new: there have been other attempts to describe budget cooking (I think of Catherine Whitehorn’s altogether frothier Cooking in a Bedsitter (1961)), and the best food writing and reporting connects what people eat with the circumstances in which they buy, cook, and consume food.  What these bloggers are achieving – articulately, effectively – is to demonstrate how the UK government’s attempts to dismantle the welfare state are causing an increasingly large number of people to go hungry in the eighth richest nation in the world.

Vegetables ready for packing at Harvest of Hope in Philippi.

Vegetables ready for packing at Harvest of Hope in Philippi.

I would not be surprised to see other, similar blogs being established over the coming few years. And I’m interested in answering why South African food blogging has not demonstrated a similar awareness of the country’s vast inequalities. A cursory reading of most South African food blogs would not reveal that they are written in a country where one fifth of children have stunted growth and one in ten children suffer from severe malnutrition.

I don’t want to suggest that every blog must be a worthy condemnation of the gap between South Africa’s very poor and very, very rich – continue to eat your cupcakes with impunity, please – but I’ve often been struck by just how incredibly unaware so many bloggers are of their privilege: that their ability to buy their food from upmarket supermarkets and cute urban markets is a very rare thing indeed in South Africa.

In some ways, this lack of awareness among Capetonian bloggers is particularly obvious because of the city’s affluence and its ‘whiteness’: because, unlike other South African cities, its middle-class suburbs, expensive food shops, farmers’ markets, and top-end restaurants remain overwhelmingly white.

I’m not really sure how to end this post. I think that some bloggers’ unwillingness to engage with the politics of cooking, eating, and growing food are probably the product of a range of anxieties around race, class, and an uncertainty about where to fit into post-1994 South Africa. But this is pretty obvious.

All comments welcome.

*I’d point out that one of the chief joys of democracy is that you can criticise the DA and still vote for it.

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Tangerine and Cinnamon by Sarah Duff is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Occupy Philippi

Cape Town is unusual in that half of the fresh produce consumed by its residents is grown within the boundaries of the city. Cauliflower, lettuce, beetroot, onions, tomatoes, herbs, and other vegetables have been grown in the sandy soil of the Philippi Horticultural Area (PHA) since the end of the nineteenth century.

Today, the area encompasses about 2,370 hectares, and is split between smallholdings and larger commercial farms, which produce around 100,000 tonnes of produce every year. Some of these have embraced sustainable, organic farming. While most of the produce goes to supermarkets, a portion of it is sold to the surrounding, desperately poor communities who live in Philippi – to people who would not otherwise have access to fresh fruit and vegetables. In other words, the PHA is absolutely essential to ensuring that these households remain food secure:

According to a survey of 1 060 low-income households [in Cape Town] conducted by the African Food Security Urban Network in 2008, 80% of respondents were food insecure. The study looked at various indicators of food insecurity, such as whether respondents went to sleep hungry, or whether there were times when there was no food in the house.

A 2012 study by Rooftops Canada-Abri International and the African Food Security Network that examined the horticultural area’s significance in sustaining food security within the Cape Town municipality found that without it the city would be ‘place[d] in extreme risk’ of food insecurity, with low-income households suffering the most. A 2009 report commissioned by the city had similar findings.

As Rob Small of the respected urban farming project Abalimi Bezekhaya notes, Cape Town is ‘a farm with a city in it.’

A vegetable box packed at Harvest of Hope's shed in Philippi.

A vegetable box packed at Harvest of Hope’s shed in Philippi.

As I wrote a while ago, this farm is under threat. Last month, Cape Town’s Mayoral Committee (Mayco) approved an application from the private property developer MSP Planners to have 280 hectares of the PHA rezoned for housing. This isn’t the first time that parts of the PHA have been identified for rezoning: in 2011, an application from Rapicorp to develop 472 hectares of the PHA was also approved, but nothing came of this because the company soon went into administration.

There are compelling reasons to oppose this development. Two studies have demonstrated not only that local people depend on the produce grown in the PHA, but that farmers are keen to extend the area under cultivation. Investing in the PHA – helping to increase the number and size of farms instead of reducing or threatening them – would create jobs and attract business to the area. As a group of academics at the University of Cape Town’s School of Architecture, Planning, and Geomatics argue:

The decision to allow development represents the not-so-thin edge of the wedge. There are three aspects to this. First, remaining farmers are unlikely to invest in the land if there is a sense that they may have to move. Second, it will become increasingly difficult, on the ground of administrative fairness, to reject future speculative applications if this one is approved. Third, there is considerable evidence to suggest that the provision of extensive urban infrastructure in the area will attract further development, both formal and informal. Infrastructure has a strong ‘lock-in’ dimension. In short, it’s a poor, short-sighted and dangerous decision.

What are Captonians doing about this? There is an Avaaz petition – and it’s worth signing it. But other than lobbying from NGOs and some PHA farmers, the lack of interest from Cape Town’s bloggers and foodies is palpable.

I wonder why? I mean, after all, these are the people who profess to love local produce, and who argue that their interest in food and cooking has the potential to do good in the world. These are people with clout: who appear on television programmes, who write for newspapers and magazines with large circulations. These are the people who have the power to shame Patricia de Lille and other members of the Mayco into rethinking their decision. They have, I would argue, a moral duty to use their position to save the region that produces the vegetables they cook with, and which they eat at restaurants.

And what are they doing? Is their lack of interest in the PHA to do with the fact that it’s in a poor part of Cape Town? That there aren’t any high-end chefs with restaurants in Philippi? That they can’t find the same sort of meaning in the PHA as they do in baking brownies? If they’re really serious about supporting small agriculture in Cape Town, then, surely, they’ll pay as much attention to the PHA as they would to the garden at Babylonstoren.

So. Foodies and food bloggers of Cape Town. What are you going to do to save the PHA?

For more information on the Save the PHA Campaign, see here.

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Tangerine and Cinnamon by Sarah Duff is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

A farm with a city in it

A few years ago I spent boat race day in London at the first of what has since become a major annual event: the Oxford and Cambridge goat race. Arriving early to size up the relative strengths of the two racing goats, punters placed bets on the likely winner, and then lined the course, waiting for their champions to canter by. Unfortunately, Cambridge – who, when I placed my bet, had seemed friskier as his minder had attached his number to him – lost interest, and ambled part of the course. Smaller, more ambitious, and, frankly, faster, Oxford won the day by more than two lengths. (Which says rather a lot about the relative usefulness of university league tables.)

The purpose of the race was, and is, to raise funds for the Spitalfields City Farm, a wonderful institution just off Brick Lane. It’s one of several city farms in London – the best known probably being the larger, well-established Hackney City Farm – whose purpose is to bring the countryside and the farm into London. There, Londoners can pet farm animals – including goats – and some farms have fruit and vegetable gardens too. All operate projects and events aimed specifically at children.

Cape Town’s first city farm was opened at the end of last year, in the leafy inner city suburb of Oranjezicht. It’s been established on the site of a former bowling green and, as its slogan – From Bowling Green to Bowl of Greens – suggests, its work emphasises food growing. But although the Oranjezicht City Farm (OZCF) will eventually produce organic vegetable boxes, its primary purpose is not, oddly, to produce food. In a suburb where no one goes hungry willingly, and where most properties have gardens large enough to grow vegetables, its aim is to foster community.

OZCF has grown out of the Oranjezicht Neighbourhood Watch. Based on the Rudy Giuliani principle of fixing broken windows, it keeps an eye on parks and open spaces, and helps to ensure that public buildings are well maintained. OZCF is part of an initiative that uses areas which would otherwise become run-down and crime ridden.

At the community garden adjacent to the Fezeka municipality building in Gugulethu.

At the community garden adjacent to the Fezeka municipality building in Gugulethu.

OZCF isn’t the only food-growing initiative in Cape Town’s middle-class suburbs. Based in Constantia, Soil for Life teaches people from all communities how to establish community gardens along organic lines; the Woodstock Peace Garden aims to bring the community together and to produce food; and Touching the Earth Lightly is pioneering rooftop gardening.

There is a strong link between urban agriculture and economic recessions. The example most frequently cited today of how community gardening can help unemployed, impoverished communities cope with the effects of the recession is Detroit. But this city has a long history of using urban farming to deal with depressions. In the 1893 depression, Detroit donated small lots of vacant land – known as Pingree Potato Patches – to the unemployed, who were able to grow enough to feed themselves, and then sell their surplus produce for cash. The project was so successful that it spread to New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Boston, and elsewhere.

There were resurgences of interest in urban gardening during the two world wars, the 1930s, and the 1970s, as Laura Lawson explains:

In the 1970s, new interest in community gardening grew as an expression of urban activism and a new environmental ethic. Garden programmes emerged, such as New York’s Green Guerrillas and Boston Urban Gardeners (BUG). In 1976, the USDA sponsored the Urban Gardening Programme that established urban offices to promote vegetable gardening and community gardens in 16, later 23 cities. In 1978, activists from around the country formed the American Community Gardening Association (ACGA) as a non-profit membership organisation.

Guerrilla Gardening – where vacant public land is planted without the permission of the authorities – was a product of the economic downturn of the 1970s.

Contemporary interest in community gardening and urban agriculture stems both from the recession as well as from a set of interconnected concerns about food safety, sustainable food production, the creeping power of Big Food to control every link in the food chain, and slowly rising food prices.

Turnips grown in Gugulethu.

At Harvest of Hope – a vegetable box scheme run by Abalimi Bezekhaya, an urban farming project based in some of Cape Town’s poorest suburbs – this interest in the provenance of food has translated into increased demand for organic produce.

Urban agriculture is nothing new in Cape Town. Abalimi was established in 1982 to provide support to community gardens in Khayelitsha, Nyanga, Gugulethu and surrounds. Today, in exchange for R100 from each gardener, it supplies training, compost, seedlings, and tools to around 2,500 individuals and between 55 to a hundred urban farms every year. These are run overwhelmingly by elderly, female pensioners, most of whom support five to six relatives. Those gardens which produce a surplus of vegetables – after the women have taken what they need and sold some over the fence – can become suppliers of Harvest of Hope. At the moment, between twenty and thirty gardens send vegetables to the project’s packing shed in Philippi.

Cabbages with pest-deterring marigolds.

Cabbages with pest-deterring marigolds.

The genius of the Harvest of Hope model is that it guarantees community gardeners a monthly income of R3,000 for as long as they supply vegetables for the box orders. They aren’t Khayelitsha, Gugulethu, Nyanga, and Langa’s only small farmers, though. Abalimi’s Rob Small reckons that there around three hundred community gardens in these suburbs, of varying size and productivity.

Importantly, what they do is to make vegetables cheaply and readily available in areas where fresh produce is difficult to find: small spaza shops tend not to sell fruit and vegetables. Those wanting to eat varied diets need to stump up the cash to travel further into the city, to large, expensive, supermarkets.

Peas.

Peas.

Most of the vegetables grown in these gardens remain within the communities. But close by – in the Philippi Horticultural Area (PHA) – half of the city’s vegetables are cultivated. Cape Town is unique in South Africa in that such a large proportion of its fresh produce is actually grown within the city. Farmers have grown fruit and vegetables in the sandy soil of the PHA since the late nineteenth century. Today, the area encompasses about 2,370 hectares, and is split between smallholdings and larger commercial farms, which produce around 100,000 tonnes of produce every year. Some of these, like Skye Fehlmann’s Naturally Organic, have embraced sustainable, organic farming.

The area is, though, under threat. In 1988, 3,200 hectares of land were designated to horticultural use. Sand mining, illegal dumping, and encroaching informal settlements are all eating up land which could be used to farm. But all this pales into significance against the proposed development of a 472-hectare area. Heidi Swart explains:

In 2008 a company by the name of Rapicorp 122, in whose name the land is registered, lodged an application with the provincial government to change the land-use designation of the 472 hectares from horticultural to urban. Rapicorp proposed about 172 hectares of 20 000 mixed-density housing units, 41 hectares for industrial use, 26 hectares for mixed use and 157 hectares for open space and conservation.

Although the City of Cape Town turned down the application, in 2011 the Western Cape provincial government approved it. Luckily, though, the Rocklands group, of which Rapicorp is part, is now under curatorship following a Financial Services Board investigation. Only when that is resolved can the development of the PHA take place.

At the Harvest of Hope Packing Shed in Philippi.

At the Harvest of Hope Packing Shed in Philippi.

Preserving – and, indeed, extending – the PHA is important not only to keep the price of fresh produce low in Cape Town, but also because it is surrounded by desperately poor communities which would not usually have access to fruit and vegetables. Although still more expensive than staples like maize meal, white bread, and sugar, it is considerably cheaper to buy vegetables off the back of farmers’ trucks than in supermarkets. In other words, the PHA is absolutely essential to ensuring that these households remain food secure:

According to a survey of 1 060 low-income households [in Cape Town] conducted by the African Food Security Urban Network in 2008, 80% of respondents were food insecure. The study looked at various indicators of food insecurity, such as whether respondents went to sleep hungry, or whether there were times when there was no food in the house.

A 2012 study by Rooftops Canada-Abri International and the African Food Security Network that examined the horticultural area’s significance in sustaining food security within the Cape Town municipality found that without it the city would be ‘place[d] in extreme risk’ of food insecurity, with low-income households suffering the most. A 2009 report commissioned by the city had similar findings.

Cape Town’s official policy on urban farming commits the city to ensuring that urban agriculture will ‘fill form an integral part of future development planning’ and to supporting community groups involved in community gardening. It seems to me that not to protect the PHA contradicts this policy.

Rob Small describes Cape Town as ‘a farm with a city in it.’ Cape Town has a population of about 3.7 million, slightly more than half of whom live in the city’s informal settlements. When people speak of ‘Cape Town’ they tend to mean its older suburbs with their – still – mainly white inhabitants. It strikes me that so much of the city’s problem with urban agriculture is that its community projects maintain the distinction between the historically ‘white’ and wealthy, and ‘black’ and poor parts of the city. Projects based in Constantia, Woodstock, and Oranjezicht ‘reach out’ to ‘educate’ and ‘uplift’ the ‘poor’ (whoever they may be), ignoring the fact that so much of the city’s informal settlements are being farmed – and are exceptionally productive.

It’s old women in Nyanga and farmers in Philippi who are the key to ensuring the city’s future food security. They are the ones who should be deciding Cape Town’s urban agricultural policies.

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Tangerine and Cinnamon by Sarah Duff is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Beet the System

Omnivorous readers! This week’s blog post is over at Eat Out magazine, and it’s on urban farming in Cape Town.

Part two – longer, in greater detail – follows next week.