The Food Connection

A trench bed

Recently I have become more and more intrigued about where the food I eat comes from. Not only from a health and well-being perspective, but it dawned on me, not so long ago, that we’ve put ourselves in a rather vulnerable position where we rely on others to produce one of the necessities of life – our fuel for our bodies. We are heavily dependent on others to be our constant food source; most of us make the assumption that every time we walk into a supermarket, there will be produce on the shelves available for purchasing at reasonable prices.

One of the ways I’ve been trying to reconnect with my food is that I began frequenting local markets and actually speaking with the farmers and producers about what they have on offer. However, You actually begin to form a relationship with your food and with the people who bring the food to the markets.

We are very fortunate that most of the local producers and farmers are very knowledgeable and are extremely passionate about what they have to offer. They live and breathe their produce. The majority of them are great sales people, but great produce doesn’t need good sales people, the produce sells itself – if you need to be convinced, try some for yourselves.

One great thing about these weekly markets is that they do bring the producers much closer to the consumer – bringing the consumer back to reality that sweet potato in reality doesn’t grow in cookie cut cubes sans skin and pre-packaged.

But I have digressed, so let me get back to what I’m really wanting to write about. After visiting the markets and after reading Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma – I was hungry to learn more about the origins of what I eat. I wanted to know how to grow my own food.

I took part in the “Grow to Live” workshop organised by the not-for-profit organisation Soil for Life. In this workshop we learnt about how to prepare the soil for growing our vegies and also how to grow the vegies.

The soils in the Western Cape are quite nutrient poor, so a fair amount of work needs to be done to prep the soil upon which you will grow your crops.

We were shown how to prepare trench beds (no back breaking stuff for us, luckily it was all prepared beforehand) and what sorts of organic materials that can be used to fill these trench beds – you’ll be surprised at how much stuff you can put into a 3m long, 1m wide and 0,5m deep trench bed. We discussed the factors affecting your choice for a planting site (sun, wind, water access, etc.), garden layout, as well other planting methods, including container planting.

On the second day of the workshop, we actually got to do some planting! But first we needed to work out how we were going to arrange our plants, what sorts of plants to plant – and here we had to consider anything from the need for water and shade, pH of the soil, companion planting, the nutrient needs of the various plants to what are the inexpensive yet effective ways of pest control.

Finally after much deliberation, our two trench beds full of seeds and seedlings were planted. I’m planning to go back in about a month’s time to see how they are all doing.

Over those two days, not only did we learn about the basics to plant your very own vegetable garden and that if you do all the groundwork beforehand (excuse the pun) you can be a lazy gardener – your garden will do a fair amount of the work for you. But, more importantly, we got to appreciate how intricately everything is tied to the earth and its myriad of systems. You cannot help but to feel humbled by the beauty and the complexity of life itself – life is truly beautiful.

Hin Wah Li

Visit the Soil for Life website for more information on their Grow to Live workshops : or call them on +27 (0)21 794 49 82.


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