Put on your Permaculture Glasses!
Xola Keswa-Dlamini cannot pass a pile of rotting logs or heap of dry leaves without thinking how useful they would be in a food garden. “We are surrounded by so many valuable resources. There should be food growing everywhere. Unfortunately, many people still throw these resources away.”
Xola didn’t always see things this way, starting his journey by studying Primary Agriculture. “I had spent a lot of time with my Gran in her garden on a farm in Ixopo. She always used to tell me I could be like my grandfather – who had made a successful life for his family, growing food. I loved being outdoors in nature, so I thought I would check it out. I was curious about how people really grew food.”
Xola soon rebelled against the mainstream commercial practices and started asking questions that his lecturers couldn’t, or wouldn’t, answer. “Why do we have to use all these machines? So many chemicals? Is there no other way?” Google became his favourite teacher in his search for a better, more natural way. The word organic kept popping up on screen.
Driven by his curiosity, Xola started to explore on his own. He volunteered with many organisations, learning, networking and developing all the time. An encounter with permaculture guru John Nzira in a suburban Johannesburg garden that was now a mini-farm, really blew him away. “The more I did, the more I could see that this is it! Food growing is about something bigger.” In 2012 he spent a few months at Dovehouse Organic Farm with Paul Duncan and Mary Mlambo, which cemented his determination to study permaculture.
With Food and Trees for Africa his completed a Permaculture Design Course and volunteered on many of their projects. An internship with SEED in Mitchell’s Plain Cape Town followed, and a stint with permaculture dynamo Alex Kruger at the Berg-en-Dal Permaculture Training Centre and Sustainable Dryland project in the Klein Karoo. This is a 405 hectare, off-grid farm in a very challenging environment and provides the ideal testing ground for the effectiveness of Permaculture systems. “Alex is completely inspiring, she really walks her talk. She is the Mother of Permaculture in South Africa.”
“I started to realise that the best permaculturist is the guy who has the most info and imagination. Those are the most precious resources. With that you can achieve anything.” A fascination with the principles of Biodynamics, a practice initiated by Rudolf Steiner, lead him to Bloublommetjieskloof beneath the Hawequa mountains. Biodynamics involves a conscious working with the spritual world, using specific preparations to improve the soil and food production.
Xola is also intrigued by the HugelKultur system, pioneered by Sepp Holzer. “Mound culture is my culture!” he laughs, “Look, it won’t work in every situation, but it makes so much sense in cooler climates, especially when there are unwanted logs and branches lying around. As the seasons pass, the wood breaks down and your raised bed becomes incredibly rich with life.”
“Looking back, I can see how much I learnt from my Gran. How much she influenced my love of growing things,” he says. Nowadays, there is a bit of a tussle in the back yard of the home they share. While Xola is doing his best to create a food forest – with green manures, traditional grains, beans trailing up the mealies, pumpkins taking over the patio and plenty of wild greens popping up, Gogo prefers things tidier. While filming the documentary ‘A Taste of South Africa’ for UK TV recently, Gogo Kewsa was surreptitiously pulling up ‘weeds’ while Xola was explaining just how nutritious many of these unwanted plants are. “Granny happens” laughed the producer!
Xola’s journey has certainly been organic. He makes the most of every chance to learn new things and meet new people, grasping opportunities to explore forests and mountains, grasslands, beaches, township gardens, farms and urban landscapes. In the process building knowledge that will help him meet the challenges of a rapidly changing world, and assist others to become more resilient in the face of climate change and diminishing resources. “A permaculture garden can provide for your needs as well as benefit those around you – it is the path to abundance, health and freedom. Just put on your permy glasses and have another look around you – you will be amazed!” he declares with a grin.
Contact Xola at Organic Matters for a quote to design and implement as beautiful, bountiful and resilient garden of your own. 074 490 1136 firstname.lastname@example.org