Sheryl Ozinsky is a former manager of Cape Town Tourism, marine biologist and establisher of two recycling organisations. She’s now an urban farmer who grows multi-coloured rainbow chard under the shadow of Table Mountain, at the Oranjezicht City Farm she co-founded. She explains the importance of growing food in cities like Cape Town.
It was a long time ago (before my hair was grey) when I started working in tourism that I realised that I could combine my love for the city of Cape Town with my other love — a drive for sustainable development, improving the quality of our lives without it impacting negatively on future generations.
I care deeply about making a difference and can see how a small piece of land in Oranjezicht, where we grow food, has changed the character of our neighbourhood. People work together at Oranjezicht City Farm to beautify, sustain and improve the area across boundaries of age, race and gender.
There is a palpable sense of pride and belonging that is flourishing in Oranjezicht alongside the beetroots and buchu. Importantly, we’ve created jobs, we’re helping to upskill people and we are hopefully inspiring people to make changes in their own lives, improve their health and well-being, and adopt sustainable lifestyles.
I am excited to work with many other farmers and communities beyond Oranjezicht City Farm to create a more just and secure local food economy. The wish is to find ways to ensure that all Cape Town residents — rich and poor — have a fair chance of getting wholesome, affordable, nutritious food onto their plates every day.
At Oranjezicht City Farm we have realised that the shared language of food is a unifier, bringing people together who would not previously have interacted. We notice relationships developing between our black and white farm workers and our residents when people bring their bokashi (Japanese for fermented organic matter) compost buckets to the farm week after week. We feel joy when learners from across the city from economically advantaged and disadvantaged schools visit the farm. We are humbled when volunteers of all ages who are white, black and coloured work together selling fresh produce at Market Day or planting heirloom cabbages.
We’ve seen a diverse group of peoples’ lives change and individuals enriched. Growing heirloom vegetables is addictive, but growing a community — now that is worth getting very excited about!
We hope that one day our farm and a multitude of other urban farms will meld into the fabric of Cape Town, the presence of our work becoming as regular as the work of bankers, teachers and people working on the side of the road.
I dream that one day urban farming will not be a struggle, but an intentional component of the city’s food system. Abundant farm plots will pop up in every neighbourhood and corner shops and markets will be able to proudly say they carry produce grown right down the street.
Oranjezicht City Farm and other urban farms will have rich, deep soil with compost made from residents’ kitchen waste. There will be communal greenhouses that grow healthy seedlings for urban farmers who grow salad greens, tomatoes and herbs year round.
People will walk past empty plots that are often eyesores, not ignoring them, but converting them into places that feed, enhance and beautify neighbourhoods. Retailers will label locally farmed foods, such as that coming from the Philippi Horticultural Area, so that consumers can choose this food over produce that has come from further afield.
And more than anything, we hope that growing food will enable people to change their ideas about how a city feels and what is possible in an urban environment.