Our food garden, first planted in 2013, was significantly expanded in 2020 under the guidance of Megan McCarthy, an expert in using eco-friendly and regenerative techniques to grow food.
Today, our food garden covers roughly a hectare. On what was formerly an old horse paddock, Megan and her team of 10 cultivate a bounty of nutrient-rich and delicious fruits, herbs, salad greens and vegetables. No inorganic pesticides or artificial fertilisers are used; instead, much effort is spent to ensure the soil is healthy so that the plants have a robust immune system to withstand attacks by pests. Worm compost and weekly foliar sprays (a natural form of fertiliser) boost nutrients. Alien vegetation removed from other parts of the farm has been chipped and turned into mulch; this has helped ensure the food garden’s soil is now rich with microbial activity.
When it comes to taking care of unwelcome critters, Megan gets help from a gaggle of Indian Runner ducks. They roam freely through the garden during the day, snacking on snails and slugs and sleeping in mobile enclosures at night. Megan’s dog, Lufie, doesn’t just provide company: he keeps a protective eye over the ducks, and scares off Egyptian geese, guinea fowl and rock pigeons too!
The bounty grown here is used in our restaurants and sold at Spier Farm Cafe. During the hard lockdown last year, the farm’s produce was donated to about 600 vulnerable families in nearby communities as part of relief packs. These packs were supplemented with seedlings and guidance on how to grow food. 11 families in Lynedoch have started food gardens to provide their families and community with nutritious food. With Megan’s support, six gardens were also established by Spier staff members in our staff village in March 2020; four of these continue to grow food.
Last year, in partnership with the Sustainability Institute, Spier recruited 13 local community members to increase food production on the farm and learn how to grow their own fresh, nutritious produce at home. Megan provided hands-on training in demonstration plots at Spier, ably assisted by her deputy, Lonwabo Mfenguza, a graduate of the Biodynamic Agricultural Association of South Africa (BDAASA) two-year course on the holistic growing of food. Eight of these community members continue to work with Megan.
“They have all really blossomed, learning and growing so much over the past year; it’s so inspiring to see!” says Megan. “I’m lucky to work with such a great team, full of laughter and enthusiasm.”
She says each team member has found their own niche. Lorenzo is the “muti man” — making sure the garden’s biodynamic feeding programmes are implemented and goggas are dealt with. Nathan is the “techie”; wielding a toolbox, he has a keen interest in maintaining irrigation and fixing things. Sandra manages the sowing of seedlings, while Yolanda is the “soil room superstar” in charge of planting. Felicia, the “salad and herb queen”, has incredible attention to detail; she puts a lot of passion and effort into the finer, more delicate crops. Lucretia and Agnes are the “worker bees”, doing whatever tasks need to be done. Ronaldo, an 18-year-old in his last year of school, loves the garden so much he works there during his days off.
Although the garden only officially opens to the public later this year, Megan says that anyone is welcome to pop in while they’re exploring the farm. On Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings visitors can observe the preparation and packing of fresh produce in the pack room, a recently renovated space in the former stables.
“There’s a beautiful sense of both peace and productivity here,” Megan says. “We hope to see you soon!”