The Western Cape Food Forum, convened by the Western Cape Economic Development Partnership, comprises around 70 organisations and close to 400 individuals, with interest in shifting towards local production for local consumption across all levels of the food system. The SA Urban Food & Farming Trust, a founding participant in the Forum, was put in the spotlight in the monthly newsletter in July 2022.
An interview with Kurt Ackerman, CEO, SA Urban Food & Farming Trust
What is the Trust’s main objective?
The trust is an NGO working through urban food farming and gardening to strengthen resilience in communities. This includes looking at social cohesion, resources, and most recently food security and nutrition. As a result of the pandemic we have focused on how the Trust can contribute to building local agri-hubs.
What do you see as the key challenges in our local food system?
South Africa is the most unequal society in the world, and it’s hard to have any system that works in that context. One of the challenges for Cape Town specifically is that the city is such a large and mixed area with complete affluence and settlements that have nothing; from rural Philippi to a concrete jungle in Dunoon with no space, with everything in between. This makes it difficult to come up with a response that reflects that diversity and responds to each situation. Nevertheless, compared to other parts of the country we have assets:our climate, fertile peri urban spaces, capacity, agriculture knowledge, a functioning harbour and other good infrastructure. We have a lot going for us and can do better!
How is the Trust tackling some of these challenges?
We are focussed on four main areas; the Oranjezicht City Farm (OZCF) which started ten years ago and soon thereafter incorporated the market. After the market was sold in 2017, the Trust decided to focus its energy on making a difference in vulnerable communities and turned the farm into a classroom and resource for mentorship, apprenticeship, compost making, seedlings and more.
The AgriHub is a pilot for infrastructure and services that can help at a community scale to catalyse change in local food security in vulnerable communities from the bottom up. Importantly, we do not tell people to grow their own food; rather we look for places where there is already activity and we bring resources and expertise. The aim is to scale up in the next few years to engage with impact investors.
The Food Dialogues is a programme of events to hold and share the breadth, diversity and complexity of our food system. The aim is to engage an increasingly wider range of people to deepen their understanding of the system and underlying issues; and to motivate or direct them to ways to get more involved. Food Dialogues has been an annual programme for the last three years and serves as a platform for others to partner, and to create public awareness and outreach to keep food system issues on the agenda.
Lastly, since last year, we started a capacity development programme called GrowSA with a local restaurant and NGOs. It entails a 6-month mentorship programme for catalytic people within catalytic projects working in the grassroots green economy (waste, community kitchens, etc.) The aim is to build their skills, social capital and confidence and for sharing and peer-learning to happen between mentees. More information can be found here.
What have you learnt about collaboration?
Collaboration is baked into our DNA, and we have relied on collaboration as neighbours and volunteers since the start. We have learned to reduce our desire to control things and to focus on the goal rather than owning projects. When you work in under-resourced communities, you have no choice; we simply find people we can work with, and try to align with what they are already doing. We are deeply conscious of the need to collaborate both formally and informally.
How can people get involved with Food Dialogues?
We are broadening the scope of the Food Dialogues programme this year because we can meet in person. The mini conference which brings together elements of biotech, formal retail, logistics and more will provide a depth of content for people working in the food system (academics, activists, and other food systems ‘nerds’) and there are events for everyone.
There are also interactive workshops helping communities to facilitate practical action; something not really possible in a virtual platform. Walking tours in Philippi and the City centre aim to tap into a bigger audience and to explore how tourism and the food system can attract awareness.
There will also be a visual arts exhibition, and dialogues through food, where we will cook and eat together. This will bring mindfulness and understanding about how food connects us to one another, our environment and health. We will not only talk about food but also eat, celebrate and commemorate.
Anyone is welcome to join the Forum.