Micro-farms to Table: Abalimi Bezekhaya’s 40th Birthday

Words: Robyn Samuels

Abalimi Bezekhaya, meaning ‘farmers of the home’ in isiXhosa, has been running since 1982. Now 40 years later, we gathered to celebrate the milestone and the Abalimi family did what they do best — fed communities with indigenous local and seasonal produce. As they enter yet another decade, at the brink of their fortieth anniversary, the Abalimi team invited seasoned and budding chefs, people of the media, and more importantly, the micro-farmers to savour the fruits of their labour at a Food Jams cook-off.

Abalimi Bezekhaya

This wasn’t your usual birthday bash, instead of one giant birthday cake, the table was abundantly decorated with foraged ingredients. Some produce new and some harvested from the very seedlings that were planted almost 40 years ago — older than some guests in attendance, might I add.

Abalimi Bezekhaya Birthday Cook-off

We prepared dishes incorporating indigenous produce like sea pumpkin, stinging nettle, ice plant, imfino (wild spinach) and wild rosemary. No birthday celebration would be complete without flowers, of course, so we had brightly coloured edible marigolds. There was jubilant singing and speeches from doting Abalimi founders and family members like Ukutya, Mount Nelson and Khayelitsha’s Finest Wines, marvelling at ‘my, how fast they’ve grown’.

Although I consider myself a ‘foodie’ and would like to think that I know my way around the kitchen, I had never worked with some of these ingredients before. Luckily, each team had a chef and farmer to help us navigate cooking with the produce. I had the honour of being placed on the Veggielicious queen, chef Mokgadi Itsweng’s team. After all the chefs and farmers presented their dish, we all stood in one long line waiting to dish, the same way families would on Sundays when plating a ‘bord kos’.

At most events, the food is usually the highlight, and although delicious, what I most appreciated was being introduced to indigenous produce, and learning how to prepare them.

The Abalimi family did what they do best — fed communities with indigenous local and seasonal produce.

Cooking with seasonal and indigenous produce beyond what you see at the grocery store not only makes you think about food in an entirely different way, but also opens your tastebuds to unperceived flavours and new culinary possibilities.

Micro-farming Projects

This agricultural project started with the objective to increase food security within the Cape Flats and neighbouring communities and they have since grown considerably. With over 3000 micro-farmers and 80 community gardens spanning Khayelitsha, Philippi and the Cape Flats region, it’s safe to say that Abalimi has sprouted from the ground up.

As someone who doesn’t have a ‘green thumb’ and struggles to keep a houseplant alive, I can only imagine the enormous effort and dedication towards not growing one, but helping maintain eighty gardens (and counting). The development of Sunshine Organic Farm & Nursery, Masiphile Community Garden, SCAGA, Moya weKhaya (spirit of the home), Feed the Khaltsha, Manelisi’s Urban Farm, Asande, Zingisa, and gardening projects alike have managed to grow with the support of Abalimi Bezekhaya.

People start NGOs every day, but the work that Abalimi Bezekhaya is doing is literally groundbreaking stuff, and they need all the funding from the government, endorsements and hands they can get. Organisations like Abalimi Bezekhaya are essential for sustaining existing communities and ecosystems for generations to come. Raising awareness about similar initiatives is important because let’s face it, we don’t show nearly enough appreciation for local produce as we should.

Cooking with Indigenous Produce

Along with the help of the Sustainability Institute, Abalimi Bezekhaya will soon release a cookbook inspired by organic, locally sourced, wild produce and includes recipes incorporating up to twenty-two indigenous produce species. A sequel cook book series is in the works and set to launch on Heritage Day 2022. To pre-order your copy, contact Loubie Rusch from Making KOS.

If you would like to find out more about the wonderful work they’re doing at Abalimi Bezekhaya, make a donation or get to know more about the micro-farmers, produce or job opportunities, head up their website and social media below.

Feeling inspired to cook with seasonal produce? Make this Abalimi Bezekhaya Salad.

abalimibezekhaya.org.za | Instagram

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