The monthly Dargle Local Market rolls around terribly quickly and I am not always properly organised or inspired. I usually make “Seasonal Sarmies” to sell. I bake focaccia and make a chickpea or bean puree and top with whatever is in season. Sometimes roast beetroot with cashews, or sweet potatoes and onion marmalade. This week I was stumped as there were only greens in my garden – and as much as I might like spinach sandwiches, I didn’t think they’d be a hit with market goers! Dovehouse Organics didn’t have much either and I really don’t want to buy commercial, non-local produce if I can help it. Things that don’t grow around here I get from closest source (Winterton for flour, Kalahari salt and Gauteng or Cape for olive oil).
Then I remembered once seeing a flourishing veggie garden when I attended a funeral in Lion’s River. The graveyard is right beside Engonjeni. It is only about 6 kms away, so I decide to explore and see what I could find. I was delighted!
“I don’t see the point of selling food to hungry people” Percival Gwala tells me when I ask if he sells his produce. His neighbour Christopher Mbele agrees, “We like to help those around us who are needy.”
Engonjeni is a newish settlement in Lion’s River – one where you might imagine that community spirit is not that strong. However, meeting these men who are enthusiastically growing and sharing food dispels this idea, entirely. They have no formal gardening training, simply having learnt from their parents and grandparents while growing up – one of the very best ways to learn!
Christopher has just harvested a great crop of carrots which his wife, Phumele, looks forward to cooking in stews. There was a big pile of carrots tops beside the road and buckets full of fresh carrots in their home. Just what I needed!
In place of the carrots, Christopher plans to plant green beans, which he particularly likes, along with spinach. His madumbis are slow, something he puts down to the dry spell early in Spring. Grapevines are twirling cheerily along a pergola.
Next door, Percival is harvesting lettuce and cauliflower – his favourite veggies. “My health is not good, so I need good food” he says. “I can see that this fresh food is also making my family stronger and making a difference in the community.” Despite having full time jobs, they look forward to days off to spend time in the garden. “Gardening is so relaxing” they tell me.
As usual in township gardens, chickens and goats are a real problem, meaning good fences are essential for growing anything. There are a number of other gardens dotted about – evidence of the great growing conditions (perhaps because this earth is only recently been tilled?). “This place, Engonjeni, is rich” I am told, “when you plant here you get big cabbages.”
Percival hopes to fence the ground around the small building beside the soccer pitch, where he holds daily prayer groups, to improve food security and health in the community he cares about.
The peach trees in Phumlele’s garden are full of tiny fruit. Does she bottle it I ask? “No, we like to eat it fresh” These are real food heroes – saving seed, sharing surplus, eating well – who understand the that good, fair food builds strong bodies and strong community.
My carrot sandwiches sold out. I can’t wait to visit Engonjeni again.