There’s much more to Grootbos Private Nature Reserve than the sheer luxury of the lodges, incredible natural beauty of the reserve and multitude of sensory spoils.
The Grootbos magic extends beyond this to the education and enhancement of the community as well as conservation of its fauna and flora with the Grootbos Foundation. Their four primary projects are Green Futures, Growing the Future, Future Trees and Spaces for Sport.
I visited their Growing the Futures project which focusses on ‘creating sustainable futures’ by training eight women per year to grow their own vegetables and fruit, do beekeeping and keep livestock. The aim is that after a year they’ll be equipped to produce food on their own patch of land, no matter the size, in order to feed their families as well as potentially sell to their community.
Star student Anchelle Damon guided me through the project and what they are currently growing. When we arrived she was tilling the soil with a fellow student, preparing it to plant a seed crop. One of the most important lessons of all she tells me, is to have healthy soil and always be prepared for the future.
The method taught here is of companion planting, that is the planting of various different crops in close proximity so that they may assist each other in nutrient uptake, pest control, pollination and increase production. Its a beautiful sight, marigolds next to courgettes, cosmos next to pepper-dews, butter lettuce with strawberries, pumpkins and herbs, all thriving happy neighbours.
As a girl from the Free State, I delighted to see the Cosmos. Originally brought to South Africa from Mexico to line the fences along the barren railroad tracks when a young Princess Elizabeth visited South Africa in 1947, they’ve since become synonymous with that area. Here they attract pollinating bees and a huge sense of pride.
Anchelle checking on the butter lettuce, which they keep under green netting as it grows ready.
Baby Pumpkins, Butternut, Pepperdews, Tomatoes (some sun dried), Cucumbers, Sprouts, Onions, Olive Trees, Pineapples and much more.
There are seeds being propagated in the Green House, research and experiments on the go and an order list from Chef Duane for future weddings and functions. As well as regular deliveries to the Lodge kitchens to be attended to.
Sun dried Tomatoes.
Love Mr Scarecrow, a necessary precaution to keep the abundant birdlife away from all the juicy fresh offerings.
These ladies are indeed Growing the Future, both immediate and long term, with Anchelle an inspiring example of this. She has an abundance of knowledge and confidence and is destined to a future that will see her making a great impact in her community. An honour to have met her and eaten her freshly grown strawberries, pepperdews and sprouts straight from the source.
The project needs to be sustainable and this can only be achieved through donations and sponsorship as well as through the sale of the produce, a wonderful way for the students to learn the financial side of business. Part of the training also focusses on jam and preserve making, which teaches the important “add value” lesson. Yes, a strawberry can be eaten, but jam can be sold.
For the students the course is fully subsidised, they receive transport, tools, uniforms and study material as well as a small allowance to cover their living costs.
There is no greater thing than to grow your own food, to be able feed yourself and your family. Its the gift of life. This is one of the most valuable programs that I’ve seen. We need trained food ambassadors in every community. Actually we should each be growing something ourselves to alleviate the pressures of world food production.
It is indeed the best way to Grow our Future.