Richard Haigh is a farmer.
A baker, a cheese maker, a cook, a seed saver, plantsman, food activist, creative spirit and all round lovely human. He probably makes candles too.
His small scale agro-ecological farm, Enaleni, just outside Pietermaritzburg is home to heritage Zulu sheep, landrace Kolbroek pigs and Nguni cattle, traditional ugatigati maize and many varieties of heirloom vegetables – in particular African staples like amaranthus, sorghum, millet, air potato, flat Boer pumpkins and cow peas. Enaleni translates from isiZulu as ‘Place of Abundance’ and that it certainly is.
Keen to explore ways of sharing this abundance and his farm to fork philosophy, Richard hosts pop up lunches on the first Sunday of each month, known as Eataleni. Using produce grown mostly within a 350m radius (now that is seriously local!) including water, eggs, dairy, cheese, fruit, nuts, honey, vegetables, meat, grains, herbs and foraged greens.
Richard grins “It’s the absolute opposite of ‘factory fresh’! Our food is grown and prepared with love, with respect for the land, the animals, the wildlife and the people who participate in the process.” Here varieties of plants are celebrated for their natural diversity within the variety, so no two cucumbers will look the same. Enaleni’s approach to planting, saving and maintaining the integrity of seeds, encourages their adaption to their immediate environment and their viability, which supports Richard’s aim of seed sovereignty and food security. As you can imagine, this food is delicious too – without any addition of salt or sugar, the common additives to make industrial food more palatable.
Eataleni provides an opportunity explore our local food diversity and is any locavore’s dream lunch.
Local means different things to different people. Barbara Kingsolver defined it as a 100 mile radius in her book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. The Slow Food #EatLocal Challenge suggests 200 miles is local. Usually, local food defines a geographic area or as Wikipedia states: “The concept of local is also seen in terms of ecology, where food production is considered from the perspective of a basic ecological unit defined by its climate, soil, watershed, species and local agri-systems, a unit also called an eco-region or a food shed. Similar to watersheds, food sheds follow the process of where food comes from and where it ends up.” I would define local as far smaller – 50kms perhaps. 350m beats that hands down!
I attended a recent event, Vegaleni, where only vegetables were served and provide a taste here to tempt you to book a table for the next one.
We began by exploring the food garden, where cow peas scramble up sculptured skirts, rattlesnake pole beans twirl across arches and broad beans, coriander and parsley flourish beside the seed amaranth. Wild birds clearly help themselves, so some of the Chinese cabbage was particularly frilly, and a duck had to be shooed out of the garden before she did too much damage.
Those of us from the Midlands were astonished at the variety of lush veggies growing strongly in this frost-free area. Enaleni has major challenges with water (which we fortunately don’t). We nibbled on big basil leaves, savoured interesting flavours of mint, and admired all the pollinator attracting flowers among the vegetables before heading inside for lunch.
Our gaily laid tables had skewers of beetroot, red pepper and spekboom, Turkish flatbreads to mop up the pickled lemon and horseradish harissa, carrot and orange hummus and macadamia nut feta to snack on. Most of these flavours were completely new to us.
The kitchen was in full view of the diners, so we were able to observe the preparation. Starters included red cabbage, pea and Jerusalem artickoke salad with a tangy Asian dressing along with slowly fermented kimchi and freshly shredded Chinese cabbage, all topped with crispy deep-fried kale. The taste of water chestnuts, harvested right outside the window, was interesting and difficult to describe – a bit coconut-like, crunchy and very refreshing.
In between courses, we sat chatting on the veranda admiring the views across the thornveld to Table Mountain.
The main course was a Meso-American celebration. Not only do corn, beans and pumpkins traditionally grow together – they taste best when eaten together too. A medley of beans including Lima, Rattlesnake and Jacob’s Cattle paired perfectly with spaghetti squash and little zucchini balls. Nachos made with heirloom maize provided the crunch. Naturally, at Enaleni where a lot of attention is paid to food, the masa harina (corn flour to make the nachos) was prepared using a method invented by the Aztecs thousands of years ago. The maize soaked in slaked lime water to soften the kernels before it is ground.
Earlier, we had met Oink the tiny Kolbroek pig complaining noisily because he was tucked out of harms way sharing space with some spectacular chickens. Now he was feeling happier, back in the kitchen nudging the cooks ankles in the hope of some titbits tumbling his way!
Dessert was a delicious chocolate and orange mousse on a nut crumble with fragrant biscotti, with a choice of refreshing orange and mint sorbet or fig ice cream. The ice cream being the only non-vegan dish of the day. Contented cows Delilah and Marigold provided the milk.
Afterwards, those of us keen on seed saving pulled out our jars and boxes beneath the ceiling of spectacular ugatigati maize to share with fellow guests. There were yellow Lesotho beans, Yugoslavian finger fruit, spaghetti squash, tree tomatoes, zebra beans and of course, some of the very special maize. Richard has carefully saved and planted this seed for 20 years to ensure that this non-GMO contaminated strain continues.