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Grown in Philippi - Skye Fehlmann, the organic farmer

Grown-in-Philippi---Skye-Feldman-the-organic-farmer

Blog and photos by Deni Archer. This series forms part of World Design Capital 2014 #WDC585. 

Organic farmer borne out of a young man’s distrust of “the system”

Have you ever looked at your dinner plate and wondered where the food came from? Who grew it, and how? Maybe you’ve felt a little uncomfortable with the fact that you didn’t know these answers, or perhaps even a little distrustful of the system that churned it out. It was this sort of thinking that lead Skye Fehlmann to start growing food at the age of 20. This desire to eat clean food he could trust, coupled with the need to be productive while he was studying psychology through correspondence.

At first he experimented with organic methods he learned from books and the internet, growing just enough to feed himself and his mother, who shares the four hectare farm in Philippi with him. It was a hit and miss process, but with the support of his helpful neighbour, long time farmer Leon Rix, Skye soon got the hang of it, and started selling his surpluses to a small shop in Muizenberg. Gradually the surpluses grew. “The day I packed my mom’s golf full to the brim with veggies for delivery was a happy day for me,” Skye reminisces.

Naturally Organic now Philippi’s thriving organic farming business

Now Skye’s small organic produce business, Naturally Organic, is supplying a wide range of clients across Cape Town, including the likes of Wellness Warehouse and even Spar and Pick n Pay. He has teamed up with another small farmer in Philippi to meet demands, and also mentors an emerging farmer who grows for him. Some of his produce is sourced from outside Philippi, but all are organically grown. His produce range is extensive and includes: carrots, beetroot, leeks, spring onion, radish, turnips, potatoes, sweet potatoes, rhubarb, parsnip, celery, swiss chard, salad greens, rocket, pak choi, tatsoi, kale, spinach, herbs, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, kohlrabi, tomatoes, peppers, chilli, brinjals, sweetcorn and a range of fruits.

Skye, now 29, has been farming since 2005 in Philippi. He grew up on a wine farm in Tulbagh.

Grown-in-Philippi---Skye-Feldman-the-organic-farmer

Philippi Cape Town’s “wild west”

But all is not pastoral utopia, Skye points out. “I feel like I am living back in a more primal time where I have to protect my land from hoarders and pillagers. I feel like a bit of a cowboy out here.” Theft is a real problem for him and recently he lost an entire crop of beetroot to thieves. To combat this, Skye patrols in the early hours of the morning with his rottweilers. “Alarms and border security are just too costly, even for the bigger farmers,” explains Skye, “but I am planning to start fencing off areas bit by bit. I just don’t have the energy to farm by day and patrol by night.” He also experiences cable, piping and equipment theft.

The crime experienced in Philippi, which is mostly petty theft, is a symptom of the City’s neglect of the area, coupled with the poverty urban migrants are experiencing. But remove the farming, and the poverty would likely get worse. Skye’s small operation alone employs 32 workers, while the bigger farmers like Ian Grimmbacher and Johan Terblanche employ hundreds each.

A vision of Philippi as a destination

Aside from the negative impacts on labour, the cost of food and food security if developers were to eat up the arable land here for housing, Skye feels Cape Town would be losing what could be built into a major tourist attraction. “The bird life here is outstanding,” says Skye, “and there are donkeys and horses and other animals to visit. It could be amazing to bring school groups out here. You know, we take them to see the nuclear power station, why not bring them to learn about where their food comes from.”

Grown-in-Philippi---Skye-Feldman-the-organic-farmer

Note: The opinions expressed in this article are not those of Foodwithastory.co.za. This is a representation of the interviewee's opinion as interpreted by the interviewer.

The Grown in Philippi project is independent of Foodwithastory.co.za. Deni Archer is a founder of this project, which aims to create a relationship between Cape Town’s citizens and the food growing area at its heart. Grown in Philippi is presently a zero income volunteer programme focused on storytelling and consumer education. Grown in Philippi is fully supportive of the Save the PHA campaign, led by Nazeer Sonday. To find out more about the Save the PHA campaign, contactnasonday@gmail.comTo find out more about Grown in Philippi, contact deni@foodwithastory.co.za

Gumtree farm is the only organic farm in Philippi. It's four hectares in size, though this is supplemented through rented land and partnerships around and beyond the area.

Grown-in-Philippi---Skye-Feldman-the-organic-farmerGrown-in-Philippi---Skye-Feldman-the-organic-farmerGrown-in-Philippi---Skye-Feldman-the-organic-farmerGrown-in-Philippi---Skye-Feldman-the-organic-farmerGrown-in-Philippi---Skye-Feldman-the-organic-farmer

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