Farm to table – a growing market
By converting a small piece of public land in the heart of a Cape Town suburb into a working vegetable farm, a group of gardeners have created an iconic tourist attraction.
WRITTEN BY RUSSEL WASSERFALL
IMAGES BY SAM LINSELL
“When all this incredible produce arrives from the farmers I can’t believe more people don’t shop at farmers’ markets like ours.” Sheryl Ozinsky
The ‘farm to table’ movement championed internationally by chefs such as Dan Barber and food activists like the Danish MAD Collective has found wonderful expression in an iconic Cape Town farmers’ market. The Oranjezicht City Farm (OZCF) Market has become a landmark in the South African city, drawing crowds of food-aware citizens to its stalls every week.
The market brings fresh food, grown or produced by small farmers or artisans, within reach of suburbanites. More and more Capetonians are doing their weekly food shopping here as they awake to the benefits of cooking wholesome, fresh food from scratch. Growers and farmers welcome the curious and the hungry to stalls displaying spectacular seasonal produce.
A number of kiosks also serve freshly-prepared, healthy delights so visitors don’t have to be avid cooks to enjoy the gift of freshly picked produce. It’s the perfect place to people-watch, to sit, completely anonymous, enjoying a salad of locally-grown raw veggies while suburban life bustles gently by. Order a fairtrade coffee and a cheeky pastry from a little neighbourhood bakery, and you can watch the stirrings of a revolution in how we eat.
OZCF is part of a global move towards better, more responsible food choices for suburban kitchens, but it has a broader role to play in food security. By supporting small-scale growers and producers and formalising a set of guidelines by which food is grown or treated, it is promoting health over convenience and freshness over expedience. It is also drawing people together from all walks of life to discuss and laugh and haggle over something that unites us all; dinner.
“Farmers markets have become places to gather and connect, but they fulfil a much more important social role. They are about food security and food justice.” Sheryl Ozinsky – market founder. We should be rolling out farmers’ markets throughout the country to enable all South Africans access to food at fair prices direct from farmers.”
Starting with a couple of keen gardeners, the Oranjezicht City Farm was an allotment-style market garden established in Cape Town in 2013. One of the first farms to get going on public land in the Western Cape Province of South Africa, it was driven by the vision of ‘food for a purpose’. Dropping fences and getting people together in a communal setting was a purpose championed by Sheryl Ozinsky.
Ozinsky is no stranger to big, ambitious projects – her name is synonymous with the development of tourism in post-Apartheid Cape Town. As a marine biologist, she worked on establishing the Two Oceans Aquarium, then helped transform Robben Island into an iconic heritage site. A six year stint at Cape Town Tourism, during which the city became a global tourist hotspot, led to a decade working as a specialist environmental and tourism consultant.
Shortly after moving to a new home in the upmarket City Bowl suburb of Oranjezicht, Ozinsky and her partner Caz Friedman were the victims of a home invasion. This trauma was a catalyst for them to look at how communities lived, isolated behind high walls that typically separate neighbours in Cape Town’s suburbs.
There was a neglected, dirty piece of public land on the corner of Sidmouth Avenue and Upper Orange Street, frequented by drug dealers and transients in the heart of the suburb. She wondered if it might be possible to use the ‘grow-your-own-food’ movement that was topical at the time to bring people together by putting a farm back in Oranjezicht as there had been some 300 years before.
Ozinsky felt it was time to take back some of our urban spaces. A suburban community farm might answer the need for a fertile space where people could gather to talk to each other – around food. They could grow or exchange food and ideas with the clear purpose of drawing a community together while providing access to fresh, sustainably grown produce.
Asked to put her finger on the pulse that gave such enthusiastic life to her idea, Ozinsky suggested: “Our food system is broken. We’re disconnected not only from each other in our urban spaces, but also from sources of good, fresh, nutritious food. We’ve lost the knowledge of where our food comes from or how it’s grown.”
Courses in everything from composting to growing veggies in small plots were offered to school-children and neighbours. The idea of growing food in small urban spaces took off. Pretty soon there was a full time team running the farm and an abundance of produce that had to be eaten. Starting a small farmers’ market offered a way to pay farmers and gather people together regularly.
At the time there were some intersecting projects setting up vegetable gardens on public land in working class areas around Cape Town. A market in Oranjezicht provided a space for those growers to bring their produce to a suburban audience as well as for the benefits of healthy, fresh food to be put on display.
The weekly OZCF Market quickly grew into Cape Town institution. It rapidly outgrew its first site on the farm itself, as space and parking in the narrow suburban streets were quickly gobbled up. After a brief move to the gardens of the Provincial Premiere’s residence, a more permanent home was found adjoining the V&A Waterfront shopping precinct and tourism hub.
Granger Bay features prominently on the city’s efficient MyCiti bus routes, so it is accessible from all over the peninsula. With access to the Waterfront’s extensive parking structures, the driving classes can also easily access their weekly fresh produce.
The market is a huge attraction, drawing as many as 10 000 people on a good weekend. Roughly 80 permanent traders employ some 300 workers. So one of the original goals of employment through growing food has been met in multiple ways.
Ozinsky and her team run all the logistics for the operation as well as the anchor fruit and vegetable stall. They buy in produce from 35 organic farmers or food garden collectives in the region. Some of the collectives, like PEDI, Abalimi Bezekhaya and Umthunzi Community Each of our farmers supports more growers. Through the network provided by the market, such community groups and small producers now also supply some of Cape Town’s top restaurants.
There are artisanal producers trading at the market who make and sell all manner of food products. From bread, cheese, pasture-reared meat, sustainably caught fish and more, every link in the food chain is represented. A set of guidelines defines the parameters which guide the provenance of food and produce.
Their trader’s manual requires traders to buy from small local farmers – organic or sustainable. Small batch production is king, as are humane treatment of animals and sustainable environmental practices. There’s also a kind of family atmosphere among traders. They’re a like-minded bunch, dedicated to authenticity, quality and provenance. Newcomers learn the ropes from the old hands.
An increasingly knowledgeable core of customers also keeps the traders aware and woke to new trends in the farm-to-table and conscious eating movements. The sort of people who shop at the market will only support small producers. Representing the entire gamut of gourmands from Sunday roasters to raw yogis who know a lot about food and supply chain, they tend to be extremely well-informed and well-read.
They also provide a regular snapshot of a cross-section of life in Cape Town. Order a smoothie bowl or a Food Barn pie and find a seat at a communal table with an ocean view. Settle in and watch the conscious grocery shoppers of the city bustle about their daily lives.
Simple tables make the perfect spot to watch the people of the city go about their weekly grocery shopping routine.
Artisan producers from bakers to charcutiers are salted among the stalls selling all manner of craft food goods.
The stunning seasonal vegetables from small farmers and community growers are the main attraction for many of the city’s conscious shoppers. Cut flowers from organic farms in Wellington and Tulbagh are so popular, they literally walk out of the market with happy customers.
Grab a coffee and a bite to eat take in some sunshine and enjoy the view as the hustle and bustle of weekend mornings at the market passes you by.