For a real taste of Cape Town’s amazing nature, go food foraging!

Roushanna Grey is the founder of Veld and Sea, an organisation that runs courses to teach people how to forage for foods from the natural environment. Cape Town, with its abundance of edible plants and two coastlines dishing up plenty of sea-salted treats, is the perfect place to forage for food, she says.

Traditional foraging

Our Paleolithic ancestors lived in caves some two to five kilometres from the sea on a little strip of the southern coast of South Africa east of Cape Town. They were sustained by a unique, stable diet of nutrient-rich shellfish full of Omega-3 fatty acids foraged from the intertidal rock pools, as well as plant food from the abundant vegetation around them.

Protein came from the land animals they could catch, but more importantly they had a steady supply of shellfish, including brown mussels, periwinkles, alikreukel, abalone and the occasional beached whale.

Carbohydrates came in the form of various underground tubers, roots, corms and bulbs foraged in the plains.

In our South African history we have had many hunter-gatherer tribes who relied on foraging for a large part of their existence, carrying them through the dry seasons. Roots, potherbs, cereals, leaves, seeds, flowers, buds and berries were eaten. Most of these plants are also medicinal. This edible plant knowledge is in danger of being lost if not passed down from one generation to the next.

Indigenous edibles

We have a wealth of edible and medicinal plants within our biodiverse plant kingdom here in the Cape. Some are edible only in certain seasons, or after certain preparations.

It is very important to know which part of the plant to pick, how to prepare it and how to harvest sustainably, responsibly and legally. Veld and Sea run seasonal foraging courses at the Good Hope Gardens Nursery and, in the cooler months of the year, we have our Forage Harvest Feast courses where you learn how to identify, pick and prepare a range of delicious new wild flavours. People leave saying “Wow, I have that growing in my garden and I never even knew I could eat it!” Then they show their neighbours and friends and so the knowledge is passed on. It’s great!

Seasonal super foods

Eating seasonally and locally is nutritionally perfect for your body’s immune system. For example, the berries that ripen in autumn make a great tonic to see you through winter, and new spring greens are good for your digestive system after a long cold winter of eating heavy foods. Just like eating local honey is good for you, so is eating edible plants from our surrounding environment. Local phytonutrients are a win!

Seaweeds

Seaweed is a highly nutritious sea algae. Seaweeds are an amazing source of iodine, which helps keep your thyroid healthy and helps your hormones work well. They contain vitamins, minerals and trace elements in a natural form that our bodies can easily absorb. I have seen a few imported seaweed products in our health shops, but the fresh goodness is growing right here on our seaside doorstep.

The story of how an urban farm changed a Cape Town community

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.