Dragonfruit, Custard Apples and Happy People

Wednesday, August 5th, 2015

104I love farmers’ markets. They are goodness incarnate. For me, it’s not just the organic eggs and kale and berries, or the flaky croissants and coffee that make even grey mornings bright. Markets are a happy gestalt of fresh wholesome food, farmers who care enough to grow it, people-watching (let’s be honest… just as much fun as the produce ogling) and the sense of community.

In Cape Town, farmers’ markets are relatively new – the first one began trading less than 10 years ago. We are lucky here that because we’re in a very fertile part of the country, regular supermarket produce is generally of a high quality. A small portion of it is even organic. Still, farmers’ markets offer that personal connection between you and the food which in itself feels almost as healthy as eating a bowl of lentils and greens. In the beginning, the markets were more about prepared product (i.e. jams, chutneys, tapenade) and less about raw product (i.e. produce, meat, eggs). In the last couple of years though, that’s been changing, as more and more markets emerge and give space to small, largely organic growers. One of my favourites is the OZCF Market Day, which takes place every Saturday at Granger Bay at the V&A Waterfront.

This wildly popular market is the most public face of OZCF (Oranjezicht City Farm), a non-profit urban farm in a picturesque city neighbourhood of Victorian and Edwardian homes. The force behind the market is Sheryl Ozinsky.

The market that Sheryl, Kurt Ackermann and many volunteers built germinated after she moved to Oranjezicht a few years ago. “I expected a great community, and instead only saw high walls, security beams and neighbours who didn’t speak to each other,” she said. After a traumatic robbery in her home, she decided to try and change things and do some community building.

Credit Fiona McPherson
Credit Fiona McPherson

Sheryl is a charismatic hands-on doer with chutzpah deluxe. She ran Cape Town Tourism for six years shortly after South Africa became democratic, and helped make the city an international destination. She is also passionate about sustainability. When we met for coffee and for Sheryl to tell me her story, she had to excuse herself to wash the soil out from under her fingernails. In the lead-up to the Saturday market, she and other volunteers drive all over the Peninsula, loading up produce from the smaller farmers who don’t have their own transport. On Market Day, she walks around in an urban-hip OZCF apron, stopping to show off gorgeous candy striped beets and green beans to strangers.

With her reputation for getting things done, it was no surprise that the Neighbourhood Watch she started (Phase 1 of community building) led to the renewal of an abandoned park on the site of a 300-year-old farm that once spanned 350 acres. This then led to the conversion of the adjacent derelict recreational bowling green to a working community farm.

It’s not like in 2012, there were other urban farms in Cape Town to model; this was virgin territory for OZCF. Sheryl had no farming experience but is highly resourceful. Neighbours, like Mario Granziani and Josephine Fitzmaurice, pitched in with manual labour and expertise, and a few unskilled workers were employed to tend the garden, which is irrigated from natural springs. Today, it’s both bountiful and beautiful. So beautiful that when I drive right past it on my morning school route, it’s hard to avoid crashing into oncoming traffic.

IMG_1679The Saturday Market Day started out as a way to keep the farm going, with Sheryl herself funding much of its development. With just a few loaves of bread, gluten-free cupcakes and the farm’s weekly haul of produce, the OZCF market was born, and it soon became a neighbourhood hub.

Working on a heritage site had its bureaucratic challenges, and when a market tent pulled down a 300-year-old wall, things got tricky for OZCF. Just as it seemed the market might become history, Twitter intervened: a local resident tweeted Helen Zille, the Premier of the Western Cape (provincial head, similar to a US state governor). By the next day, Zille had offered the beautiful grounds of Leeuwenhof, the official Provincial residence not far from the garden, to use as a market space. It quickly became known as The Market at Zille’s Villa. With the added attraction of the premier’s swimming pool being made open to the public, the market became somewhat of an urban phenomenon.

A few months later as the Cape winter began (meaning rain, sunshine, rain, rain, rain, sunshine, etc.), the ground became too wet to comfortably house the market. By then, the market had proven its legs, and Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront offered OZCF Market Day a space overlooking the Atlantic. Now the Market has a sea view and for the first time, parking is a pleasure.

Sheryl says that today there are about 15 regular independent organic farmers who supply the market with 95% of the produce sold; the rest comes directly from OZCF. Sixty traders sell everything from dragonfruit, custard apples and Brussel sprouts to fresh oysters, almond milk and kimchi. There are also tons of great snacks and meals to be had with new stalls opening all the time… a pop-up English tea garden that sells scones with signature lemon curd, strawberry jam and clotted cream as well as stands that serve stuffed simit (Turkish bagels), shakshuka, potjie and potjie-stuffed pies, etc., etc., etc.

081Besides the food, I love that the OZCF market puts R30 million into the local economy every year. So says Sheryl and as far as she’s concerned, this is not the end of this story: eventually she’d like to see 100 markets all over the city, where rich and poor shop for healthy food. Currently in development are two new Cape Town community farms being modelled after OZCF and an online Food Hub which will offer delivery of organic products. Sheryl also wants OZCF to hold an International Food Symposium, following on the success of a 10-part Food Dialogue series OZCF hosted in 2014.

I’ve been to the OZCF Market at Granger Bay a couple of times since its relocation, and I think they’ve nailed it. Besides all the great produce, crusty loaves and fresh-pressed juices under Nomadic-style tents, there are hay bales and stools from which you can watch the stream of people or ponder the Atlantic backdrop. The coffee is great and the right kind of music always seems to be playing in the background. What more could you ask for?

I think the appeal of OZCF is simple. As Sheryl says: “We all have the desire to connect with people and to be healthy and well. To be well, you need to have a connection with nature.” Sheryl believes that markets should always be outdoors, and if they must be under a roof, at least have outdoor components like courtyards. They should always, always be places where people from all backgrounds can connect and hopefully get to know each other better.

“If you can chat, you can sort anything out,” she says. Good words to live.. .and eat by.

OZCF Market Day runs Saturdays from 9am to 2pm at Granger Bay, V&AWaterfront, Cape Town.

Written by Ilana Sharlin Stone

I'm a food writer, blogger and former chef who found her umami in Cape Town, South Africa.

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One thought on “Dragonfruit, Custard Apples and Happy People

  1. Hi Dorothy. I personally don’t know of any suppliers, but if you drop an e-mail to cityfarm@ozcf.co.za, they should be able to tell you. Good luck with your custard apple hunt and sorry I can’t be of more help.

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