An OZCF allotment is the answer for would-be veg growers with no garden
By renting out small plots, an urban farm in Cape Town is bringing people together to get their hands dirty, be out in the fresh air and feed their families, writes Emma Jordan
"Oooh delicious,” says my six-year-old, “we're eating beans directly from the bush!” It's 7am on Sunday morning and we're on a farm in the centre of Cape Town.
She's eating her 10th bean raw from the bush, and after four relentlessly hot days the sun is waking over the mountain; all is right in the world.
Except, to my dismay, I've realised asparagus is not that easy to grow. In fact, apparently you need at least four years to get good head. And right now my dream of grainy, home-grown stalks is taking up a good 40cm square of my Oranjezicht City Farm Allotment, of which I have a glorious 6m² to grow, grow, grow fruit and veggies to my heart's content.
I found out about the allotment on one of the Cape Town community pages. Housed next to Homestead Park, where the first city market took place, the OZCF, as it's affectionately called, continues to supply produce to the market (now in Granger Bay), plus rents out 15 public spaces on a six-month basis. Sizes vary from 3m² to 5m², but most are 6m².
Our space is next to artist Paul Edmunds and his wife, Heather Moore of Skinny LaMinx. We find this out at a welcome summer picnic where tables are set in the garden and veg is shared. Paul and Heather are old hacks at harvesting their supper. It's a beautiful and very Cape Town thing to do — ride your bicycle to your city farm, pick your spinach, tomatoes, cucumber and ride home to cook.
Allotments, though relatively unknown in SA, are taken very seriously in the UK, where space is short and communities gather to get their hands dirty, be out in the fresh air and feed their families.
Over season I meet a producer who immediately says, “Let's make a documentary series about it!” I'm not so keen — it feels a bit like “I had a farm in Africa”. Albeit only 6m².
Like most English, the reason I've taken on the allotment is mostly practical and a little bit emotional.
Akin to many white South Africans of a certain age, I grew up with rolling lawns with a massive veggie garden and a small orchard at the back.
I can remember picking juicy plums directly from the tree, staining my fingers with mulberries, playing hide and seek around the tennis court.
Now I live with my daughter in a 70m² flat in inner-city Cape Town. We have a small outside balcony and in the space a dog, cat and multitude of fish join us. Our life is delicious, we walk everywhere, know our neighbours, have routines that involve the local park, the library and, now, the allotment. It feels urban, alive, connected.
When we first join the farm, Ian Summers, the manager, talks us through ideal spacing between seedlings. He guides my daughter around the farm, showing her where the muti plant is that takes away stings, where the water cans live, how to feed the fish. She starts making it her own, inviting friends and spending hours running around, picking and eating raw veggies, marvelling at the circle of life.
This we see first-hand: our initial planting session involves tomatoes, thyme, bush beans, radishes, carrots, leeks, celery, mustard, gooseberries, aubergines, strawberries and the famous asparagus. It's a rich bounty that, though doesn't yield immediately, is so rewarding to watch grow.
Ian keeps trying to get me to plant lettuce but I tell him I don't eat it. So mustard is the compromise — a sharp tangy dark green leaf that comes home with our first harvest.
I put it in a niçoise with the usual — beans, egg, tuna and, for a twist, some anchovies. It's delicious, though I'm pretty certain at least three of the anchovies are baby slugs. Not my finest culinary moment but possibly par for the course when going organic, home-grown.
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