I’ve been exploring some small towns. Especially those alongside the N3 motorway. After many, many trips up and down to Johannesburg passing the signs, I have eventually got off the highway and visited Grootvlei, Swinburne and others for the very first time. Harrismith is not quite as small but, until recently, I didn’t know anything about it except for the Llamas named Bridget and Carlos (yes, named after Bridget and Carlos!), the trampoline and Wimpy at the Bergview Engen One Stop. Harrismith is surrounded by wonderful flat topped hills which you can see from a distance. They really loom over the town.Harrismith has got the most astonishing amount of potholes and the grandest Roads Department building I have ever seen! The robots on the main street don’t work anymore – but everyone politely treats them as four way stops. It works. It is a thriving town, bustling with people and even has a Woollies Food Store.On the main street is a real treasure – Die TowerPot. An old house converted into a nursery, shop and tea garden with an eclectic and very creative collection of all things rusty.I particularly loved the wrecked car planted up with succulents on the roof and flowers peeping through the windows.I had an early morning cup of tea and sandwich here and left my mobile phone behind. When I went back late in the afternoon to see if it was there, it was. It is a small town, remember. Last year, when I was in Harrismith, I wrote a story about a wonderful food growing project in the township of Mokholokhoeng a few kilometres out of town. Here I met Mantombi Mbele and her friends gardening is exceptionally challenging conditions.Growing up in the Free State and Bergville in KZN, Mantombi learned umthetho wesizulu ’from her father – all the rules and traditions of Zulu culture, knowledge she is very proud of. She also learned from him how to farm – how to plough with animals, how to treat them when they were ill and how to grow great vegetables. Her mother was interested in traditional medicine, so shared that knowledge with Mantombi too. As a young woman, she went to live with her grandfather in Johannesburg and even here found small spaces to grow pumpkins, mielies and spinach. She says “I know both ways of gardening – location style and homeland style – and now I know tunnel gardening too.”Since 2009, Refilwe Food Tunnels has grown a lot. Times are tough, but slowly things are improving. They have a water tank and a pump now, so no longer need to fetch water from the stream by hand, if they can afford the diesel. The group of seven women usually work from 8 until 2pm, but sometimes start as early as 5am to get orders ready on delivery days. The tunnels are filled with spinach and beetroots and kale and cabbage. The sheltered spaces in between are put to use growing pumpkins and spring onions. Potatoes have just been planted and the mielies are ready to go in soon. There are plans to put in fruit trees this year and berry vines too.“Ngekesiphile ngapandle kokudla. Planting is the first thing – we can’t live without food, we must succeed,” says Mantombi earnestly as she walks through the garden. “Children don’t seem to understand how important this is. We are trying to get our young ones to plant at home and to get them to come and join us here as well. We hope that there will be more employed by us in the future.” Putseletso adds “We try to encourage others, but some say, who is going to pay us for this work? Life is sometimes a struggle, maybe they will see that they must work with us in the end.” I shared seeds from my garden and we have stayed in touch ever since.Last week I popped in to say hello and was welcomed warmly. I was pleased to see how much produce filled the tunnels and absolutely thrilled when the women proudly showed me all the seed saved from those I gave them last year to plant! They picked some huge bunches of spinach for me to take home.This time, I wasn’t writing about food, but about a craft project in the area. I had lots of fun with Aletta and Joana who were very complementary about my crochet although it wasn’t a patch on their gorgeous work. They gave me yummy vetkoek to snack on.Soon I’ll be in Villiers and Sasolburg, perhaps Verkykerskop and Parys too. Small towns could become addictive.