I was in Cape Town last month for my niece’s wedding and I took the opportunity to visit the Oranjezicht City Farm (OZCF). A pop-in visit turned into an afternoon’s expedition. I met up with Sheryl Ozinsky, the founder of the garden, who is passionate about greening urban spaces. As we met she gave me a bag of black Turkish figs – my most favourite fruit of all – that I munched as we walked around the farm.
This productive urban farm, formerly a disused bowling green, which had become a refuge for vagrants and drug dealers, has a rich history. The site of OZCF comprises part of the original Oranjezicht Farmstead, once the largest farm in the Upper Table Valley. Seven generations of the Van Breda family farmed here from 1709 until 1901 and it has now gone full circle, with a small group of local residents forming a non-profit organisation to “celebrate local food, culture and community through urban farming.”
Sheryl has focused her considerable energy on this project. The city of Cape Town is also showing support. Permission is in the pipeline to use local spring water, a valuable resource for urban farmers, which is currently going to waste.
The project is striving to be sustainable – solar pumps feed the pond and the drip irrigation is gravity fed. An earthworm farm digests hundreds of kilograms of household waste per week, all supplied by the local residents. The farm is headed up by two full time gardeners, with help from volunteers, both local and international.
Every Wednesday there is a guided self-harvest expedition in the garden and there is plenty to choose from. On the day I visited, the beds were full of bounty – from tomatoes, to eggplant and plenty of greens. Fruit trees have recently been planted next to solid poles, ready to be espaliered over the next few years. Pupils from nearby schools are taught about sustainability and organic food production on the farm.
A buzzing weekly Saturday Market Day provides an outlet for artisanal food producers and local farmers, with the emphasis on local, fresh and seasonal. The innovative market organisers have introduced a Kids Market Day, where young entrepreneurs can learn the skills of producing and marketing their own wares.
With the success of the OZCF, they are now looking at other unused or under-utilised public green spaces. “There are hundreds of spaces that have the potential to serve our communities as places that beautify, educate, feed and strengthen residents,” says Sheryl. “We are hoping OZCF will serve as a model, providing mentoring, support and resources to inspire and strengthen other groups keen to do something similar.”
As we were leaving, walking under the ancient oaks adjoining the farm, a white squirrel scampered down the trunk and began nibbling on an acorn, a few metres away from us. “It is an albino squirrel” said Sheryl, “very rare, only one in 100,000 are born white.” OZCF is itself a rare treasure, one that I hope will inspire and spread to many more urban spaces. With predictions that by 2050 70% of the world’s population will live in cities and that food production needs to double, urban farms like OZCF are the food of our future.