“You think you are all alone with your worries, and then someone shows that they are thinking about you, and the burden is lifted.“
The late evening light spills like golden honey over Lindiwe Makena as she stands amidst a field of lush spinach, edged with the lemon grass she uses to ward off pests. Around us the occasional rocky outcrop provides a sense of being in a small valley, held and protected. Like her farm, aptly name Fairharvest, Lindiwe radiates a wholesome serenity, but her tone is determined.
‘Dealing with hardship well is something you come to accept as part of farming. I left my corporate job and started planting here in 2008; a year later we received our first organic certification from the BDOCA. But I was dealing with middlemen so my margins were tiny. In other instances the packaging and labeling requirements for organic produce were just too onerous. I was struggling, pouring money in with no return, so I put the farm on the market at the end of 2010. I didn’t want to give up – my youngest daughter even offered me her piggybank to help! She knew how much it meant to me.
One morning I received a call from Ndivuyo. ‘What can the Pick n Pay Foundation do to get you back on the farm again?’ he asked. It was one of those wonderful moments in life: you think you are all alone with your worries, and then you realize there is someone else worrying about you, and the burden is lifted. You think things look impossible but you take one more step forward and the opportunities open.’
With the R1, 270.070.00 she received from Pick n Pay Foundation Lindiwe has been to gear up, building her own packhouse which would allow her to supply Pick n Pay and others directly, and shaded tunnels for more delicate crops.
‘I am more careful, now that my resources are limited. I am often asked ‘why organic?’, when it is more difficult to make money. But this is not about the money; it’s where my passion and drive lies. Not because of the perceptions around the health properties – though yes, I think the taste is more robust! – but because I want to protect the soil, and the natural eco- system we depend on. I don’t want to produce organic vegetables that cost more; with far lower yields. We want to produce bakkieloads, not baskets! So we are zeroing in on the most productive crops, like spinach, butternut, green pepper and sweetpotato. But we are also looking at varietals that work for our climate and needs, like the Bophelo,’ Lindiwe points out a thickly vegetated furrow, artfully marked with a recycled milk bottle. ‘This crossbreed sweetpotato was developed by the ARC because it is particularly rich in Vit A, which makes it an excellent choice in feeding schemes, and not too dependent on water due to its broader leaf.’
‘I am ready to deliver to you daily. Where is my contract?’ she jokes with Ndivuyo. ‘Let me know your capacity and I will arrange it,’ is the immediate response.
Box The sweet smell of …healthy compost!
Lindiwe is justifiably proud of her organic compost – heaped in 3-ton aerated batches. Currently she produces only for Fairharvest but the intention is to create enough compost to sell. The most attractive part of her compost heaps is the sweet smell emanating from them – not dissimilar to hay. ‘That’s how you can tell the health of your organic compost,’ she smiles, ‘is by the smell.’