On the eve of the lockdown, staff at Spier, the historic Stellenbosch wine farm, prepared boxes of food for 450 vulnerable families in surrounding communities. Just over a week later, these families again received a food box full of nutritious ingredients. The aim of these boxes are to ensure there is nourishment for those who might struggle to access food during their time at home.
While these donations will help to keep hunger at bay in the short-term, Spier has recognised that a longer-term solution to address food security in the Stellenbosch area is necessary. In partnership with the Sustainability Institute, 13 members of the local community (predominantly from the Lynedoch area) were recruited to speed up food production at Spier and to learn how to grow their own fresh, nutritious produce at home.
“If people learn how to grow their own food, they will never go hungry again,” says Megan McCarthy, who oversees the Spier Food Garden. Over the next three months, she will be providing hands-on training in demonstration plots at Spier. An expert in using eco-friendly techniques to grow food, she is being ably assisted by Lonwabo Mfenguza. Lonwabo is sharing the skills he has gained as a student enrolled in the two-year course on the holistic growing of food that is offered by the Biodynamic Agricultural Association of South Africa (BDAASA). He also has experience running his own food garden with friends in Khayelitsha
In addition to growing their gardening skills at Spier, the 13 young growers also receive a nutritious cooked lunch daily and have received seedlings to plant at home. The organic produce harvested at Spier will be distributed regularly to hungry households in the community. As the days shorten and grow cooler, Megan is focusing on growing nutritious winter staples in the coming weeks. These include carrot, cabbage, broccoli, beans, peas, spinach, beetroot, turnips, leeks, onions, lettuce, and kale.
This is just the beginning, though: an abandoned lemon orchard is being nursed back to health while a grove of olives will, in time, provide oil. Moringa trees have also been planted: a true “super food”, their leaves offer abundant vitamins (including B, A and C) as well as minerals like iron and magnesium.
Other members of the Spier team are contributing in various ways. Spier Nursery head Wilton Sikhosana has provided space in the greenhouse for seedling production. The Spier winemaking team have provided grape biomass for compost; there have also been donations of manure and hay from Farmer Angus for mulching.
Team members who live on the Spier estate in its staff village now have access to a new communal growing space and, with Megan’s help, three small family gardens have been established. Collectively, these will provide food for staff, their families and the community at large.
While Spier’s produce gardens are allowed to operate as an essential service during the SA government lockdown, health and safety remains paramount. Stringent measures are in place, including protective clothing, masks and hand sanitiser.