“Organic farming means using the earth to produce earthly goods” says organic farmer Skye Fehlmann. But what exactly does this mean?
Organic produce is growing in popularity because we are told it is free from harmful chemicals and healthier for us. Food Jams set off to the Naturally Organic Farm in Philippi, Cape Town, to find out what the organic difference really is.
It took a little while to find Schaapkraal. After several U-turns in Mitchell’s Plain and the Cape Flats area, I eventually found myself driving open mouthed through the fields of cultivated greenery. I even overtook a horse and cart making their gently bucolic way down a lane.
“Everyone says that when they arrive,” she smiled, “But I have been living here all my life” Ronel is responsible for the distribution of the organic vegetables grown at Naturally Organic, a capable looking blonde, who appears to be in her in her early twenties.
Skye himself is only 28 years old and has already been in the business for 7 years – it started out as a way of making some extra money while studying, he told me. Today he runs a 16 hectare organic farm and even provides training to those interested. The organic food market in South Africa, says Skye, is still tiny compared to what is going on in Europe.
So what is the difference between organic and conventional farming? We know what it is not: in order for food to be organically certified, no “sludge fertilizer” or synthetic chemical compounds may be used. Also no pesticides, hormones or artificial additives. But how does this translate into practice though?
Skye explains that organic farmers create what he calls a forest floor, ensuring that not only are the plants fed but also the soil. Micro organisms live in the soil, and if soil starts to get depleted they begin to feed on the vegetables. Conventional farmers respond to this by gassing the soil to kill the organisms; organic farmers make sure those organisms remain well fed and exist in harmony with the crops. To keep the plants and soil well nourished Skye makes his own compost made out of green manure; a mixture of weeds and other organic material; straw and animal manure (chicken and cow.) Conventional farmers use fertilizers which are made in factories with chemical compounds.
So what’s next I ask Skye? He tells me he’s always experimenting. Currently he is working on a plan for tunnels to grow vegetables organically out of season. Especially tomatoes, he says, everyone wants tomatoes all year round.
Finally we discuss the price of organic vegetables – while Skye disputes that they are substantially more expensive, there is some price difference because the organic process requires more labour than conventional farming methods. The land is weeded by hand, the crops are fed by hand, preparing the compost is a very labour intensive procedure. This will always cost more.
Consumers can expect the supermarket prices of their vegetables to rise soon though, as the increased cost of labour on the farms will inevitably impact the price. “You need labour and you have to pay for it” says Skye .“All the farmers in the area are having to put up their prices, I have to do the same.”
A number of supermarkets and private shops sell vegetables from Naturally Organic:
• Organic Zone (Lakeside)
• Alphen Spar (Constantia)
• Hout Bay Spar
• Green Point Spar
• Wild in Woodstock
• Ethical Co-op
• Wellness Warehouse
• Zetler Pharmacy (Thursday Veg boxes)
• Organic living.
• Also many vendors buy vegetables from this farm to sell at the markets.
Written by Natalie Simon