The Oranjezicht City Farm Market is probably one of the coolest spots in Cape Town, providing fresh local food, an incredible sea view over Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront, and a relaxing outdoor area to hang out with family and friends. The core of the market is a fruit and vegetable stall, run by the market’s originators and founders of a city farm of the same name. One of them is Kurt Ackermann, whom we met in February 2017 to talk about the market and the benefits of urban farming.
The Oranjezicht City Farm is a non-profit project supporting local food, culture and community through urban farming in Cape Town. Tell us about the beginnings and your personal motivation for this project.
Kurt: The story for this project starts with “Oh Watch”, a community-driven program improving safety and security in the neighborhood. The park that´s next to the farm, and the site of the farm itself, were quite neglected. The unused green was home for vagrants and a place for drug deals, until “Oh Watch” started to clean things up and make the cultivation of plants possible. With the official permission to farm in the end of 2012, we began to improve the soil’s health, lay out beds and plant trees. We learned from the farmers among us about how to grow organically, asked for donations and called for volunteers. People joined for different reasons. Organic farming was one important aspect, although my own motivation was community development. My wife and I had a child, and we wanted to get to know people in the neighborhood, and give them the chance to do the same.
"Organic farmers pay more attention to the rhythms of what´s happening around them,
instead of trying to control everything that´s happening.”
The farm offers a weekly box scheme. What is it all about?
Kurt: The weekly box scheme actually isn´t from fruit and vegetables that are grown here. Those are from Harvest of Hope, a marketing arm of an NGO, supporting over a hundred gardens, with the farmers coming from poor communities in Cape Town. We basically operate as their marketing distribution channel through a weekly box scheme of fresh, local produce, fruit and pantry items such as olive oil, coffee, tea or grain.
Are all of these items produced organically?
Kurt: Organic is a very difficult term in South Africa, because there´s no official certification existing in the country. The farmers we buy from don´t use any pesticides or synthetic fertilizers. And we´re working on getting them into the Participatory Guarantee System, in order to create an accepted and verified standard among the farmers. It´s kind of a more affordable step towards certification, with benefits on both sides. Organic farmers pay more attention to the rhythms of what´s happening around them, instead of trying to control everything that´s happening. This mentality is very important for our nature and entails different cultural and social benefits.
What do you think about large-scale conventional farming?
Kurt: We don´t take the position that we´re opposed to these farms. We still need large-scale farms in order to provide enough food. But we´re opposed to the practices they choose to use. So the goal is to work together with them, to have a positive impact on their practices.
"There´s a huge income inequality in Cape Town,
so we need people with money to buy their food
from farmers who are coming from poor communities."
You´re growing food and helping others to do the same. What is the idea behind this?
Kurt: People who grow some of their own fruit and vegetables develop a stronger awareness towards the seasons and have a greater interest in food diversity. Both aspects are very important, in order to shape a society with a healthy attitude towards food safety and nutrition. And this is what we want to support. We´re sharing tips in composting, growing, pest management and harvesting. But we´re also encouraging people to not just grow enough to actually feed themselves. There´s a huge income inequality in Cape Town, so we need people with money to buy their food from farmers who are coming from poor communities.
Next to the farm, you´re running the Oranjezicht City Farm Market at Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront. When did you come up with the idea?
Kurt: We actually never planned to start a market, it kind of developed on its own, when we started planting in the end of 2012. And we quickly realized the market was an important platform that we´d been missing in our local food system. In less than five years, we went from selling three bunches of spinach in the park next to the farm, to having sixty traders and over five thousand visitors a week. For a city of four million people, it’s not much, but the demand is growing. And we intend to open a second day a week, where people can buy freshly prepared food to go.
Tell us about the concept.
Kurt: The Oranjezicht City Farm Market is a sustainable community farmers-style market for independent small farmers and artisanal food producers. Our concept is based on local, fresh food that varies according to the seasons. A conscious effort is made to offer vegetarian and vegan alternatives and a range of wheat-, gluten-, sugar- and dairy-free products. Visitors can do their weekly shopping of fruit and vegetables, bread, organic dairy, free-range eggs and much more, and try out some tasty cooked and raw dishes while enjoying the stunning view over Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront. Additionally, we have some traders selling plants, organic seeds and gardening equipment, and we´re currently testing out a small section of jewelry and vintage cooking items.
“The more we know about the food that we eat, the more we appreciate it.”
The market is a place where consumers and small producers get in direct contact with one another. What are the benefits of that?
Kurt: Direct knowledge is probably the biggest benefit. The consumer can talk to the person who´s making the food, and who´s willing to answer every question about the food’s origin, cultivation and production. This special interaction, which results in a trusting relationship between the consumer and the producer, is completely missing in a retail shop. It´s very important though in order to see the value behind the product, and to get in touch with the processes that we often take for granted. The more we know about the food that we eat, the more we appreciate it. Also, direct trade comes without a middleman, which means that the farmer gets paid more and the consumer pays less.
FOOD · NOVEMBER 19, 2017
PHOTOS: THE FRANK STORY