Lessons from an urban farm

Lessons from an urban farm

Hey fruit-loving friends! So, as I’ve written about here and here, I am currently studying abroad in Cape Town, South Africa, where I participate in a CIEE sustainability program. A lot of my coursework is focused on food systems, which is amazing because sustainable agriculture is one of my biggest passions (check out my why vegan page to read all about why a switch to eating plants is the best way to clean up our current food system!) On Monday I got the opportunity to visit Oranjezicht City Farm, a non-profit urban farm nestled in the heart of Cape Town!

The farm produces fresh produce and herbs, including dates, pears, eggplant, kale, lettuce, tomatoes, basil, rosemary, and lavender (these are the ones I can remember off the top of my head). They sell their produce at a weekly market located at the V&A Waterfront (a touristy area in Cape Town that was home to the vegan activism I wrote about in my Vegan in South Africa post), which I am volunteering at in just a few days! They also offer weekly produce subscriptions in collaboration with other local farms in the area; profit generated from these subscriptions goes to support local microfarm development (a microfarm is exactly what it sounds like: a very small farm, typically located in urban or suburban areas). OZCF also participates in community outreach and education; in fact, there was a group of schoolchildren touring the farm while we were there!

I’ve always really loved the idea of urban farming because it is an amazing way to create green space in cities as well as put residents more in touch with where their food is coming from through education and outreach. This particular farm was incredibly beautiful with the backdrop of Table Mountain in one direction and the city of Cape Town reaching into the sea in the other. The farm also has quite a dynamic history. Needless to say, I was pretty much beaming the entire time I was there. Here are a few of my thoughts and reactions:

  • – We spend very little time actually considering where our food comes from. Even someone like myself who places a large emphasis on eating whole plant foods can often forget where my food has come from, or how it got to my plate. Even though my family keeps a vegetable garden, I still couldn’t recognize a majority of the plants in the farm, which was definitely humbling (did you know that date trees pretty much look like palm trees? In hindsight I probably should have guessed, but it was just something I had never thought about). It is such a cool thing to connect with nature through food, and I challenge you to learn about how your favorite fruits and veggies are grown. If you eat animals, give some thought to how they get to your plate as well (my why vegan page is a great place to start!) It is a really cool thing to know exactly where your food comes from in nature and how it is grown.

    • – Building off my first point, I loved the farm’s emphasis on education, and it was particularly rewarding to see it in action. Teaching children about agriculture and gardening is a really cool way to foster appreciation for food and the environment early on.
    • – Farming normally takes up a lot of land, but it doesn’t have to. Our current food system involves extensive deforestation to clear swaths of farmland that don’t even directly feed people; the majority of soy and grain produced feeds animals that then move through the food system in a process that makes animals, the environment, and consumers sick. If we could switch to farming fresh fruits and vegetables on small, sustainable stretches of land we wouldn’t need to destroy our carbon sinks and biodiversity hotspots. This urban farm was the size of a small city park and produced an impressive array of fruits and vegetables.
    • – OZCF composts! They had huge compost bins on site that are used to produce fertilizer for the farm. No manure, no synthetic chemicals. This is organic farming at its finest, but OZCF is actually not officially certified organic because getting and maintaining an organic certification is actually very expensive, and can be difficult for a small farm. This is a very interesting topic that I plan to investigate in a future post, so let me know if you have any questions or thoughts on organic certification and I will be sure to address them!

  • – The problems facing our food system and natural environment are very large and very complex. Most environmentalists including myself have several “big picture” changes we would implement in a perfect world, but sometimes we underestimate the value in small-scale shifts. It’s so easy to think that large-scale policy actions are the key to solving our numerous environmental problems, but it’s also important to make our own individual actions for a more peaceful and greener world and innovate for our communities, as the founders and volunteers of OZCF do.

All in all, I think that urban farms are an incredible way to feed a community while pursuing education and outreach to connect people with their food. I’m so glad I got the opportunity to visit one while here, and I hope you all enjoyed my musings! As always, feel free to comment or reach out with any questions!

Have you ever visited an urban farm? Farm your own fruits and vegetables? Let me know in the comments!

PS Check out Why Vegan and Inside Cape Town’s Water Crisis!

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Maille O'Donnell

Welcome to Green and Growing! I started this blog to share my passion for ethical and sustainable living. I hope this can be a place you come to for sustainable lifestyle inspiration, and vegan tips, tricks, and recipes.
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