Going Green: Building & Renovating

Thinking of renovating or building a new home? Here are a few tips from Simon Gear to keep things green and sustainable.

 1. Build Appropriately

Next time you’re in the Eastern Cape, do yourself a favour and stop by Grahamstown. Have a wander through the town and pause to think about the fact that many of the buildings you see there pre-date your grandparents’ births by half a century or more. And because they’ve lasted so long, every one of those buildings is inherently more eco-friendly than any modern development. Somewhere after the Second World War the building industry lost its pride and soul. Sure, there are a couple of worthwhile projects going up here and there, but I have yet to see anything that can compare to the quality of materials and craftsmanship used more than a century ago. So next time you build, be realistic. If you envisage this building being a testament to your time on the planet, do your bit. Pick decent, long-lasting materials. Employ the best builders you can afford and take your time and do it right. If you have something more temporary in mind, look at building with wood (or indeed straw, little pig) and thus dramatically reducing the footprint of the structure.

2. Think About What You Build With

Everything material has embodied energy. That is, energy that went into the creation of the material, and this energy needs to be taken into account when making decisions on the ecological footprint of a building. For example, the amount of energy (and associated emissions) that goes into making fired bricks or cement is substantial, whereas natural stone or wood will obviously have very low embodied energy. There are a host of green building techniques and materials on the market these days but you still need to do a little bit of research to confirm which is going to be best for your area and application. As a general rule, the closer to the site you can source your material, and the fewer production steps it has had to go through, the better. Same principles as green food, really.

3. Permeable Paving

One of the most difficult to manage side effects of our love for paved surfaces is the additional power created by water run-off that isn’t slowed by soil infiltration. This increased run-off means that water courses downstream have to cope with larger and faster flowing volumes of water than they would otherwise have to, often leading to quite severe erosion problems in places. By laying down permeable paving, surface run-off is slowed down as it slowly permeates the paving and seeps into the soil below, better mimicking a natural system and thereby maintaining a more natural cycle. You may not notice the difference immediately but a wetland a few blocks away may continue to receive its water flow in a more natural manner, making the knock-on effect enormous.

4. Leave Your Geyser Alone

Concentrate your power savings elsewhere. Geysers seem to come in for an awful lot of attention when it comes to power-saving ideas. Unfortunately, most geyser management plans are either geared towards shifting power demand away from peak periods, which doesn’t necessarily save you anything, or decreasing the effectiveness of the thing by turning down the thermostat. If you’re a showering household (and you should be) then lowering the temperature of the water will likely save you money as you will simply use less cold water to compensate. But if you bath, you’ll simply empty the geyser with the first draw, leaving no hot water for the second bath. As far as insulation is concerned, your geyser should already be well insulated, and there is some evidence that during our hot summer, insulation may land up increasing your electricity demand because you aren’t taking advantage of the hot roof space in which your geyser sits. One thing you can do is to switch it off when you go away for a few days but apart from that, you’re probably better off spending your time and money making savings elsewhere.

COP21: Shows The End Of Fossil Fuels Is Near

The wheel of climate action turns slowly, but in Paris it has turned. There’s much in this deal that frustrates and disappoints me, but it still puts the fossil fuel industry squarely on the wrong side of history.

Parts of this deal have been diluted and polluted by the people who despoil our planet, but it contains a new temperature limit of 1.5 degrees. That single number, and the new goal of net zero emissions by the second half of this century, will cause consternation in the boardrooms of coal companies and the palaces of oil-exporting states and that is a very good thing. The transition away from fossil fuels is inevitable.

Now comes our great task of this century. How do we meet this new goal? The measures outlined simply do not get us there. When it comes to forcing real, meaningful action, Paris fails to meet the moment. We have a 1.5 degree wall to climb, but the ladder isn’t long enough. The emissions targets outlined in this agreement are simply not big enough to get us to where we need to be.

There is also not enough in this deal for the nations and people on the frontlines of climate change. It contains an inherent, ingrained injustice. The nations which caused this problem have promised too little to help the people on the frontlines of this crisis who are already losing their lives and livelihoods for problems they did not create.

This deal won’t dig us out the hole we’re in, but it makes the sides less steep. To pull us free of fossil fuels we are going to need to mobilise in ever greater numbers. This year the climate movement beat the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, we kicked coal into terminal decline and put coal into terminal decline. We stand for a future powered by renewable energy, and it is a future we will win.

This is why our efforts have never been confined to these conference halls. Just as we've carried our messages of justice, equity, and environmental protection into the venues of the climate negotiations, and echoed the collective demand to speed the end of fossil fuels to the faces of our leaders, we will continue to raise our voices long after these talks are over.

We came to the COP with hope. Not a hope based on the commitments we wished our leaders would make, but a hope built on a movements that we have built together with many others. Together we are challenging the fossil fuel oligarchy, we are ushering in the era of solutions, and we are moving the political benchmark of what is possible.


While our political leaders walk, our movements run, and we must keep running.


From the High Arctic to Brazil, from the Alberta tar sands to Indonesia’s peatlands, from the Gulf of Mexico to the Mediterranean we will stand against those faceless corporations and regressive governments that would risk our childrens' future.

We will push our beautifully simple solution to climate change - 100% renewable energy for all - and make sure it is heard and embraced. From schoolyards in Greece, to the streetlights of India, to small Arctic communities like Clyde River in Canada, we will showcase the clean, renewable solutions that are already here, and pressure our governments to make them available for everyone, fast.

Finally, we will stand with those communities on the front lines of this struggle. They are the leaders of this movement. They are the ones facing the rising seas, the superstorms, and the direct effects of our governments’ collective inaction. We will amplify their voices so the world is forced to hear our call for change.

In 2016 we - the entire climate movement - will escalate the fight. Together we will show the world that if our governments won’t act to stop the carbon bullies, then we will.

History is waiting in the wings, and we’re standing on the right side of it.

Are We Doing Enough To Protect Our Water Sources?

South Africa is currently facing a serious drought and the threat of water shortages in major centres. Although this is a scary notion for city dwellers who are currently dealing with water restrictions, largely as a result of failing infrastructure, we should give some thought to the farmers and communities in far flung rural areas whose very livelihoods are at immediate risk. In the city, we are so far removed from the source of our water that it is inconceivable to turn on your tap and have nothing come out. But for people who rely on water directly out of a river, they understand the true value of the precious water source areas that feed our rivers.

So where do our freshwater resources come from? Certainly not from a tap! In South Africa we have a number of key ‘water factories’ that feed the rivers that supply the dams that fill the reservoirs that pump water to your tap. These water source areas can be mountain catchment areas, such as the Drakensberg; grassland ‘sponges’ like the Steenkampsberg; and dolomitic aquifers like the Marico Eye. These water factories contribute significantly to the overall water supply of the country (as well as beyond our borders) and they support economic development right from their origin to where their rivers meet the ocean.

But many of these water factories are under threat. Some have already been severely degraded – such as the headwaters of the Olifants River (Emalahleni, Ogies) which features a hub of opencast coal mining activity. Polluted water from this area flows through the communal areas of Bushbuckridge and eventually into the Kruger National Park. The source of the Orange-Senqu River is the Lesotho highlands and much of this water is being dammed and transferred into other rivers, often at the expense of local communities’ access to water. The Waterberg complex – another high water yield area – has been earmarked as the next Industrial Development Node and water is being traded off for coal energy. In the Karoo – a highly water scarce ecosystem - fracking may pose a serious risk by contaminating vast groundwater aquifers. In addition, the headwaters of the Mzimvubu River is now facing the threat of fracking by a foreign consortium that is putting both the water source and rural livelihoods that depend on it at risk.

The question that we should be asking is: how important is freshwater, really? Do we need to sacrifice our key water factories in the name of unsustainable short-term economic development? The Endangered Wildlife Trust believes that there are smart solutions to both the water and development challenges that we, as citizens of this country, face and it is imperative to address these challenges in a far more strategic and sustainable way. Collective action and strong partnerships are key to effecting real change and we have seen the impact this has had on issues such as university fees and e-Tolls. We would like to see civil society working together with government and industry more frequently and effectively to plan sustainable economic activities; ensure equitable access to water; and implement water-smart solutions at the catchment level. Furthermore, a loud and unified voice, speaking out against the destruction of water source areas is the basis of ensuring a supply of clean water for every South African.

South Africa has developed the National Water Resource Strategy 2 (NWRS 2) and we have identified our National Freshwater Ecosystem Priority Areas (NFEPAs). We know what needs to be done. The NWRS 2 sets out key strategic actions under Water Resource Protection, with the following objectives:

  • Manage for sustainability by using Resource Directed Measures (RDM) to set and approve a management class, and associated reserve and resource quality objectives, for every significant water resource in the country.
  • Invest in strategic water resource areas by increasing their protection status.
  • Maintain National Freshwater Ecosystem Priority Areas (NFEPAs) in good condition and include them in protected area network expansion plans, where appropriate.
  • Protect riparian and wetland buffer zones and critical groundwater recharge areas.
  • Invest in the strategic rehabilitation of key catchments to improve water quality and water quantity through Natural Resource Management Programmes (NRM).
  • Minimise pollution from wastewater treatment works into surface and groundwater resources.

But knowing and doing are not the same thing. If we are serious about protecting our precious water resources, we cannot allow unsustainable and destructive activities to proceed in key water source areas and we need to plan economic development at the catchment level, with a clear strategy for maximizing benefit-sharing to all who share the catchment.

The Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) works in partnership with the Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa (WESSA) and Conservation South Africa (CSA) through the Healthy Catchment Alliance (HCA). This Alliance provides a platform to share experiences, provide a diverse set of skills and expertise to a range of projects, and to create a loud and unified voice when it comes to protecting our water resources. The work we do includes; securing water source areas under Biodiversity Stewardship, rehabilitating mountain and grassland catchment areas, diversifying and greening local economies and empowering communities to monitor, value and protect their rivers. We are currently working with local partners, such as Environmental and Rural Solutions (ERS) and the South African Institute of Aquatic Biodiversity (SAIAB) in uMzimvubu, uMzimkhulu and Amathole catchments in the Eastern Cape and southern KwaZuluNatal, with plans to expand into other priority catchments over the next few years. The Healthy Catchment Alliance was selected as a finalist in the Biodiversity category of the EcoLogic Awards for our collaborative approach to solving environmental challenges in the region.

It is critical that we protect our water source areas and maintain their natural functionality if we are to ease the effects of water scarcity. Climate change predictions do not bode well for water availability and we need to disrupt the current status quo of water management if we are to build climate resilient communities that value water above all else.

Nedbank Green Wine Awards – Honouring Producers Who Conserve The Winelands

A substantial number of Cape producers continue to lead the way globally, actively conserving part of their land and minimising their agricultural footprint while making enjoyable – and often impressive wines. The organic route is part of this choice and forms a category in the Nedbank Green Wine Awards. Other categories include the Integrated Production of Wine (IPW) guidelines and the Best Farming Practices which assesses and rewards those who are responding to environmental challenges in meaningful and successful ways.

Since its inception in 2009, the main thrust of the Nedbank Green Wine Awards has been to reward and elevate the quality of wines made from organically grown grapes, honouring those wine producers that put our wellbeing and the wellbeing of the planet first. A total of 150 wines were judged across two categories (Best wines made from Organically Grown Grapes and Best Wines from Integrated Production of Wine category), the panel led by internationally renowned wine judge Fiona McDonald.

Aside from the wines, the Best Farming Practice category remains a key part of the competition and continues to promote sustainable farming and conservation of the Cape winelands.This year saw a change to the award of Best Farming Practice to a nominated award. The award for Best Farming Practice was bestowed upon a farm that has been voted as the winner by their fellow peers, through a nomination and motivation process.




Fifteen top achievers were announced at this year’s awards function held on the 15th October in Cape Town (*see winners list below). Org De Rac La Verne MCC 2012 took top honours in the Best Wine Overall in the Made from Organically Grown Grapes category (the wine was also the Bloggers’ Choice Award). Sijnn White 2013 scooped the Best Integrated Production of Wine Overall (the wine was also the IPW Best White). Wildekrans was named the Best Farming Practices Overall Winner.

The full results and a competition overview are available in South Africa’s Green Wine Guide 2015, bagged with the November issue of Getaway, which is on sale from 19 October. Results are also available at

Wine enthusiasts were be able to sample the winning wines from the 2015 Nedbank Green Wine Awards in Cape Town and Johannesburg in November. More information on these tasting events can be found at

Twitter: @GreenWineAwards


2015 Winners

Best Wines Made From Organically Grown Grapes

  • Best Wine Overall – Org De Rac La Verne MCC 2012
  • Best Red – Reyneke Cornerstone 2013
  • Best White – Laibach Woolworths Ladybird Chardonnay 2014
  • Bloggers’ Choice – Org De Rac La Verne MCC 2012
  • Best Value – Stellar Organics Running Duck Sauvignon Blanc 2015

Best Integrated Production of Wine

  • Best Wine Overall – Sijnn White 2013
  • Best Red – Waverley Hills Grenache 2014
  • Best White – Sijnn White 2013
  • Bloggers’ Choice – The FMC 2013
  • Best Value – Wildekrans Wine Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2015

Best Farming Practice Winners

  • Overall Winner – Wildekrans
  • Leader in Energy Conservation – Lourensford
  • Leader in Water Conservation – Spier
  • Leader in Eco-tourism – Villiera
  • Leader in Community Development – Wildekrans


For tips on how you can save energy and costs every day,



Going Green: Tips For A Green Holiday Season

With the holiday season quickly approaching, here are a few tips from Simon Gear on making your holiday season a little bit greener.

Buy Simple Presents

Too many of us allow the whole holiday gift-giving thing to become far too much of a strain and we invariably land up buying gifts for the sake of it, rather than finding things that are actually going to be used and appreciated. The best possible piece of advice I can give here is to make a list of everyone you will be gifting and then take yourself off to your local organic market. In about half an hour you can fill up with the most fantastic range of sweets and preserves, all of which will be appreciated and all of which will cost neither you nor the planet much at all.

Give Green Year-End Gifts To Your Workforce

The opportunities to change people’s lives with fairly simple gifts are boundless, particularly if you employ people who live well outside the big city centres. Start by chatting to your workers and getting a sense of what sort of lives they lead back home. You may well find that a simple gift like a basic solar-powered LED lighting system or a hot box cooker could make a huge difference. Other opportunities include a seed set for a trench garden (plus a company training day to teach people how to plant it); ceiling boards for RDP houses; or water barrels to keep veggie gardens hydrated. Expand the footprint of your business out into the lives of the people who work with you.

Reuse Wrapping - Buy Gift Packets/Bags

Words cannot express the joy I felt when, about a decade ago, the fashion arose of no longer wrapping gifts but rather just plunking them in one of those gift packets. I’ve never been able to wrap any package without it coming out looking like a parcel bomb post-explosion, so to spend a little extra and just pop it in the packet right there in the shop, felt like a personal blessing from the Ghost of Christmas Present. And then it got even better. Because you don’t really do anything with the bag but carry it straight over to your girlfriend’s house and hand it to her, everyone now has a collection of these packets in near mint condition. We should never have to buy wrapping paper again.

Buy Gifts Online At Charity Sites

You never think of it until it’s too late so I’m suggesting it now. Probably the best way to give great gifts that also have a sustainable aspect to them is to start doing your gift shopping online at charity websites. These days almost all of the large charities have some form of online shop. The merchandise available ranges from stuff very specific to the work of that organisation to pretty comprehensive collections of guide books, organic products and clothing. If you're in South Africa, browse around, but and are good places to start.

Paperless Christmas

If you celebrate Christmas, is great fun. It is a virtual advent calendar with video clips and so on behind each door. The site is run by BRF, a British church-based charity, and the site is a good example of crossing the boundary between tradition and technology. The clips are very kiddie friendly and the whole site is slick and well managed. The thinking behind it is partially to set up paperless alternatives to traditional Christmas favourites, such as advent calendars and cards. Of course, I found that it served to remind my son of his chocolate-filled real word calendar, rather than to distract him from it. But it still proved a fun way to start the day together throughout the Christmas period.

Get A Real Tree...But Not A Whole One

I’m not a huge fan of pine trees. They are completely wrong for the South African landscape; always looking somehow dirty and bedraggled, and their habit of poisoning the soil at their base makes them an appalling choice for a garden. But when compared to a plastic tree, they sneak in above bottom. The thing about Christmas trees is that there is no reason to have a whole one. Assuming you want to go traditional and have something pine-like in the first place, simply finding a pine tree and sawing off a lower branch provides you with a perfectly sized tree for the living room. Otherwise, finding an interesting piece of drift wood or just bringing in an entire pot plant is likely to work just as well. The nice thing about fetching a likely pine branch is it rapidly becomes one of those annual Christmas memories for dads to share with their kids.

Useful Tips For Greening Your Home This Summer

As part of its commitment to being a sustainable bank, Nedbank supports its clients as they take steps to reduce their impact on the environment.

In following this philosophy, Nedbank has released the Carbon Footprinting Guide and the Nedbank Green Living Guide, to enable both businesses and individuals to participate in reducing carbon emissions and committing to sustainable living. Even the smallest change can make a difference, when enough people make that change and greening the home is an effective place to start.


How Do I Green My Home?

Did you know that around 29% of the average energy consumption by middle-to-upper-income households is used to heat water in an electric geyser? There are several solutions to this, which will see electricity savings and, of course, more money in your pocket. Start by looking at water heating options that offer immediate savings:

  • Solar Heating – Solar water heaters can save you between 25% and 40% of the electricity used by conventional geysers. There are various options for homeowners to choose from to take advantage of Africa’s abundant sunshine.
  • Heat Pumps – These use between 50% and 70% less energy than a traditional electric geyser, and do not require roof space of direct sunlight.
  • Geyser Settings, Timers and Insulation – For homes with geysers, reducing the temperature at which the geyser is set can save you around 10% for every 1℃ you reduce -. Installing a geyser timer means you won’t have to pay the costs of your geyser maintaining a high temperature all day, but will enjoy hot water when it’s needed. You could also turn your geyser off manually and back on again an hour before you need it. Whichever method you choose to save on electricity, a geyser blanket is an ideal way to save electricity and cash, as the insulation keeps the geyser hotter longer.



Space Heating And Cooling

With temperatures dropping drastically during winter nights and rising considerably in summertime, using electric heaters and air conditioners is commonplace – and costly. There are ways of heating and cooling living spaces without overdoing electricity usage. Here are some of them:

  • Ceiling insulation – In 2011 it became compulsory for new homes to have ceiling insulation, but adding insulation to older homes is a simple job and can save you a lot of money. Call in a reputable company for a quote and ensure they offer you sustainable options.
  • Draft proofing – Gaps in your doorways and windows allow cold air in and heat inside to escape. Sealing tape is easy to use, inexpensive and effective at keeping drafts out.
  • Window dressings – Thicker curtains in winter can help to keep the cold out and leaving them open for the sunlight to enter during the day warms up a home – providing you close them as soon as the sun goes down to retain the heat.
  • Air conditioners – Electric air conditioners are massive electricity hogs and should be used sparingly, if at all. Use a floor fan when necessary – they use about 100 watts on the highest speed, where an air conditioner can use up to 1 500 watts. If you must use an air conditioner, set it to no more than 10℃ lower than the outside air temperature.
  • Use the breeze it’s free – Open windows and doors at night to let hot air out and make sure they’re open on both sides of your home to encourage a good through-draft. During the hot summer days, blinds and shutters can help to keep direct sunlight out of your living space; and light coloured curtains won’t absorb as much heat as dark ones.

There are many simple ways to use less electricity – which means a cost saving to you while also lessening your impact on the environment. Share these easy-to-implement tips with your family, and have all family members play their part.



For more tips on how you can save energy and costs every day,




Carbon Disclosure Encouraging Better Business Practices

Globally, various environmental disclosure mechanisms have evolved in recent years. One of these disclosure mechanisms is the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP). The CDP is a global not-for-profit initiative that requests companies to disclose on matters like greenhouse gas pollution and water impacts. It is one of the premium disclosure mechanisms as it provides an overview of 81% of the world’s largest public companies and how these companies are seeking ways to reduce their environmental impact.

Winner of the 2014 South African Energy Efficiency Association Patron Award and Nedbank Carbon Specialist, Dr Marco Lotz, says that disclosure initiatives, including the CDP, have helped move energy efficiency and sustainably reporting into mainstream business thinking.

“Electricity constraints and rising electricity tariffs have motivated companies to reduce their energy consumption.

“Also, investors and shareholders are placing increasing demand on companies to disclose more information around their impact on the environment,” Marco explains.




The United Nations (UN) forecasts that by 2030 nearly 50% of the world population will live in areas facing water scarcity. Less than 1% of the world’s water is easily accessible fresh water and South Africa is a water scarce country ranking in the top 30 driest in the world. Moreover, even with water being available South Africa is facing water distribution efficiency and infrastructure limitations.

Analysts therefore see water disclosure projects as a vital tool for investors and businesses to be able to evaluate companies’ ability to operate successfully in a water-constrained world.

“The proposed carbon tax, increased water scarcity, and possible climate change impacts are all factors that companies need to be cognisant of when quantifying their operational impact, investigating capital expansion projects and the overarching strategic market positioning.” says Marco.

It is imperative for any disclosure mechanism to evolve as the sustainability space is ever-evolving. This will ensure that the correct measures are disclosed and compared between different disclosing periods.

Currently, there is limited legislative obligation for organisations to disclose environmental impacts beyond legal compliance. This could change in the near future if the proposed domestic carbon tax requires increased disclosure. It is then in the best interest of organisations to start to do internal environmental impact monitoring before it becomes a requirement. 


For more detail and other topics,



Gardening During The Drought

South Africa has been going through a bad drought and there are huge water shortages in Phokeng in the North West province where I live. A lot of articles in the media talk about the water crisis, its impact on farmers and communities and what government is doing to help alleviate the problem.

Sometimes I find myself laughing hard at what people say, not because it’s funny, but because I want to cry and laughing stops the tears. On the one hand we are encouraged to grow as much of our own food as we can to help reduce the spiraling food costs, yet the water shortages make it extremely hard to do so. How do I grow my own food when drinking water is limited?

I’ve tried to be as prepared as I can for the extreme heat and semi-arid climate of Phokeng (located just outside Rustenburg), where every year mid-summer temperatures skate close to 40 degrees Celcius and the water shortages are becoming a norm, even when nationally nobody talks about drought.

The odd advantage I have is that I inherited my home from my parents who invested heavily in self-sufficient practices during the apartheid years, as they had no access to municipal water. They dug a borehole, which supplies a 5000 litre tank linked to my household supply. When I started to grow my food year-round, I also invested in a 10 000 litre tank, which provides for the garden solely. You’d think with all that storage drought wouldn’t be one of my biggest issues right now, would you?

The problem is that access to water in my community is a sporadic thing. So those of us who have stored water or boreholes end up sharing what we have until municipal water starts running again.

I’m never sure when the water will come back, so I ration to the water from the 10 000 litre tank very carefully, with every household allowed 40 litres daily, where there are no children, and 80 litres for households that have children. So far, the system sort of works for all of us – my gate is always open, and everyone knows how much they can take.

Water Tank

But, back to food gardening, my conundrum is this: how can I water my food garden, which is supposed to provide up to 80% of our vegetables and 100% of our herbs, when my neighbours don’t even have water to drink, cook, bath or flush their toilets? I’m afraid it would feel like a slap in their faces to watch me “throw water onto the ground,” when they need it to drink. So for now, I don’t water my garden. Much.

My poor garden is still standing though. And it’s still productive, though not as much as I would like. Here are some of the strategies I’ve employed /plan to employ to aid my food garden’s survival:

Plant Early

Phokeng is always hot in late Spring and Summer and rain remains sporadic due to the climate. So right from the beginning, I’ve had to learn optimal times to plant so that by the time the daily heat is high, my plants have a strong hold on the ground.

Choose Plants That Do Well With Limited Water

I’m still struggling with my plant selection, trying to find vegetables that can survive prolonged droughts and heat year after year, but which my family will enjoy eating. It’s no use growing cactus-based plants if my family won’t eat it!

So far, I’ve found that root vegetables like carrots, beetroot and onion do OK but not wonderfully, in drought periods. I also struggle with cabbage, though kale and rape do well enough. For now, my garden is restricted to very basic crops: greens like spinach, chard, kale and rape; a variety of beans, zucchini (summer squash) and artichokes. My onion and leeks are struggling. It is my hope they’ll survive the dry spell.

Mulching Is Necessary

Irrigation is not only about watering the garden; it’s about retaining whatever moisture the soil may already have. Unfortunately, I learned that the hard way.

Reduce Competition For Water In The Soil

When there are big amounts of rain, I’m happy to let my garden to grow wild and for seeds from previous seasons to unexpectedly sprout and surprise me. Unfortunately, when there is a water shortage I don’t have that luxury. All the weeds and unplanned seedlings have to go, so that the crops that I’m nursing through the process can have as much water as the soil can retain.

Grey Water Adds Much-Needed Moisture

So far we water with grey water when we remember to carry it out of the house with buckets. It’s hard work. But it’s worth it, because I can water my garden without any feelings of guilt. So next time I have two cents to rub together, I’m going to invest in a piping system from the house, so the water automatically goes to the garden.

Collect Rain Water (When It Comes)

When I was growing up, my grandfather had several tanks collecting rainwater from the roof gutters. We used some of the water for the garden, and the rest for laundry and cleaning in order to save money on the petrol we required to run the generator for the borehole. When we began to get municipal water, we relaxed on that, thinking we didn’t need to collect rainwater anymore. That was a mistake. It’s better to collect as much rainwater as we can, when we can, so that we have some stored for dry periods such as this one.

Cover And Shade

My garden is a busy mix of fruits, vegetables, and herbs, all interspersed. Long-term, the fruit trees will provide shade for plants that are sensitive to the sun, so that they can grow midsummer without going crispy. Big leafy plants such as artichokes also provide shade for smaller plants like chives, spring onions and “cut and come again” lettuce.

Mostly, I find myself constantly re-evaluating my gardening practices to check if they can help me keep my family fed while also using as little water as possible. What can I change without compromising my crops? What can I do in terms of planning for the medium-term because clearly, this drought is not a once-off thing? Chances are, next year and the year after will also be dry, and as a result, food prices will keep climbing and my garden will become a critical part of my regular food supply.

I hope that other gardeners will also start exploring this topic and proposing possible solutions that can help those of us who rely on our gardens for most of our meals.

Going Green: 4 Appliance Tips

Washing Machine:

Set your washing machine to 30°. Go and have a look at your washing machine. No rush, I’ll wait … Any idea what all those dials and settings mean? No, me neither. If you’re anyone other than an R&D specialist for one of the big washing machine companies, I’m prepared to bet that apart from some early fiddling when you first got the thing, you just leave your machine on one setting and be done with it. So if you’re going to leave it on one setting, it may as well be a green one. Modern washing powders are such that you can get away with washing clothes at much lower temperatures than was needed in the past. A whole movement has sprung up in Europe encouraging people to set their machines to wash at 30°. This simple act should save around 40% of the energy used to wash your clothes.


Only run dishwashers when full. Your dishwasher is actually an energy- and water-saving device provided you only run it when it’s full. Then you’re deriving maximum benefit as it uses the same amount of water and energy whether you’re cleaning the detritus from a debauched dinner party or just one tea cup. And limit the amount of rinsing you do before you pack the dishwasher (you can see a husband is writing this, huh?). I’ve seen plenty of very sweet, well-meaning little old ladies who insist on just about polishing plates until they glow before popping them in the washer. If you’re going to do that, you may as well cut the washer out entirely and do your dishes by hand. Dishwashers are actually pretty good at what they do, provided you pack the stuff properly. Let them do their work.


Don’t overload your fridge The more stuff in your fridge, the harder it has to work at keeping everything cold. Don’t pack your fridge with bottles and jars that haven’t been opened yet or scraps of food and leftovers that you know you aren’t going to eat. Rather than waste the energy required to keep it cold, be honest with yourself about the stuff that you know is going to land up as compost and direct it straight to the earthwormery without storing it lovingly for four days first. On that note, allow food to have cooled naturally first before refrigerating it. All you’re achieving by putting warm food into the fridge is forcing it to work a bit harder and running the risk of cracking any glass panels, as the shelves try to expand from the heat and contract from the cold at the same time. Also, leave space between items in your fridge to allow efficient cooling. The more spread out everything in your fridge is, the more efficiently it’s cooled, thus saving you power. This is also true of leftovers. Rather than keeping food in a narrow pot that will be difficult to cool, decant food into a thinner flatter Tupperware, which will retain less heat and probably be easier to store too.

Small Appliances vs. Your Stove

Use small appliances rather than your stove whenever possible. If your recipe calls for boiling water, it is much more efficient to boil the water in your kettle and then transfer it into your pot on the stove rather than to boil water from scratch on the hot plate. Using smaller appliances rather than larger ones will save you energy. Boiling using a kettle, reheating small amounts in the microwave and blending or liquidising using a hand-held mixer are all better than using large appliances for the same functions.

CERA To Tackle 50 Shades Of Food Illusion

CERA – The Conscious and Ethical Retailer, Consumers and Producers Alliance

This is a coming together of some of the greatest leaders in the SA Food Revolution to address 50 Shades of Food Illusion. As things now stand we have some of the greatest leaders, activists, journalists, conscious consumers, farmers, and related businesses attending the launch workshops. Everybody is very excited about this initiative and despite feeling a little daunted (understatement) at the undertaking of this, every day I am reminded of why it is such a critical mission.

We need incorruptible and determined contributors to The SA Food Revolution to all come together into a focused alliance with consumers to shape this space. Without this, green-washing which is becoming so ridiculous my mind boggles and my patience snaps – is only going to get worse. Every week, I have samples put on my desk of things that do not belong in a store like this – yet because there are other ‘health and related’ stores like ours, there is an expectation that we will.

There are small, sometimes great artisans doing amazing things that have their products up in other stores, but we can’t take it on because the labelling is not in alignment with the labelling laws or the Consumer Protection Act. As a solution, we have started coaching artisans on how to get their products and labels retail fit.

Incorrectly labelled products, most especially in the green, ‘health’ and sustainable food space is currently the most mislabelled area of our food system. This isn’t good for the whole sector.

CERA will be the solution to this. It will bring us all together to work on vetting and checking new farmers and producers in the sustainable food space, quickly identify the charlatans, and misleading claims and stop them from tainting the whole revolution space with green-washing, bringing down the same illusion that characterised conventional food to this space.

If you are a conscious consumer and want to participate in this movement, consider joining the launch workshops, more information here. You will get to meet and interact with some of South Africa's greatest food activists, ethical retailers, farmers and food activists. Invitation is open to any person, organisation, ethical retailer, chef, food artisan, producer, NGO, or business interested in shaping the SA Food Revolution by contributing towards the creation of an alternate food system.

An Example Of Why SA Labelling Is Important: Coconut Water 

That said, I need to chat quickly about the coconut water in-store, Raw C Coconut Water, endorsed by Chef Pete Evans. This product, though I think is the best I can find on the market right now, is an example of where labelling can get misleading and evidence that this happens in other countries as much as ours.

I like this coconut water because it answers questions I haven’t been able to have answered adequately enough before: Where are the coconuts coming from? Can this be verified and traced? Is it single source origin or using coconuts from multiple sources? Is there any added sugar? Is it made from concentrate or not? Does it contain preservatives or additives? Is there somebody to back the information?

So whilst Raw C Coconut Water answers those questions, the packaging is actually not in line with South African labelling law and is further evidence to me of the superiority of our Labelling Act. We have some great legislation in this country, truly, where we fall flat is on government enforcement, resources and expertise.

The fact is that the wording and the company name ‘Raw C’ and ‘raw hydration’ create a misleading impression that the contents are raw when actually the water – like any coconut water you will find that isn’t frozen – has to be. This is a great example of what our Consumer Protection Act means to do – to protect the consumer from misleading claims.

The company name is ‘Raw C’ – the coconut water is not. It is one of the least pasteurised we’ve found – flash pasteurised for only 2 seconds – but in terms of the law, it isn't ‘Natural’ or ‘Raw.' According to our ACT R146 which legislates through the Consumer Protection Act – how things are labelled – you cannot use the word ‘Natural’ on anything that has been altered from it’s whole, natural state. In this country you would not be allowed to use the word ‘Natural’ on a coconut water that has been flash pasteurised, even if only for 2 seconds. So the Johannesburg agent will be covering up the words ‘Natural’ on the packaging.


This is what we are on high alert for and what CERA will monitor and check in the food revolution space. Start looking at labels and look out for deceiving words. Educating yourself, so that you are empowered out there, is a critical part of the food revolution. If the wool can’t be pulled over your eyes – it’ll be more difficult for green-washers to target you.

Despite scrutinising green-washers, I have also had some great experiences with new artisans where I have coached them into proper and better labelling, and in the process discovered new and exciting things.

For example, there was a lady making kefir that we couldn't put on the shelf because the labelling wasn't sound, and I didn't know anything about the farm she was sourcing the dairy from. Then we chatted about the labels and I asked where the milk was coming from, and then she started describing a farm that got my blood pumping (in a good way)! A small, family run farm where the cows are only eating grass and oats! This led me to inform her that she was absolutely under-selling her product and that she needed to get me to this farm ASAP, because if that was really true there is no way her dairy should be marked as just ‘kefir’ on the shelf. We need to know about this farm and I want to get there and check it out, because a farm like that is gold-dust.

Then there was a sweet man who came in all excited with his 2 new coconut nut butter spreads that are so delicious, I wanted to weep – but the packaging is all wrong. You can’t say ‘home-made’ on a product without inviting all sorts of trouble so that will come off, but as we work with him we can ensure that small artisans do themselves and this revolution space, justice by just getting things right from the start. We all deserve that because we all deserve an alternative real food offering to the conventional one that dominates and harms.

You will also notice that CERA will be making any product with health claims on their labels, change. It is illegal in terms of the Consumer Protection Act to make any kind of health claims on packaging. There is very good reason for this: even though health benefits on many of the products I’ve seen are often true, there are just as many that aren’t.

For example, a new sprouts product came in yesterday, the farmer had put information on the packs to tell you about the different properties of the sprouts. That unfortunately stands as a ‘health claim’ and it has to come off.

Warning: Kombucha

Another recent labelling incident occurred with a Kombucha agent selling a product with a terribly illegal label in terms of our labelling law. When she had this pointed out to her, she replied ‘never mind, we’ve got it in another store and we are only the distributors – we do not need to know how it is made nor are we responsible for the labels.' Actually, it is an illegal offense for anybody in the chain to sell mislabelled products not in line with the Consumer Protection Act.

Also, if you are going to sell me on a product that has live bacteria in it that has resulted in deaths when not brewed properly, you better not tell me that you know nothing about where it comes from and that you don’t have to because you only distribute it. I cannot begin to tell you how dangerous this is and yet this Kombucha is everywhere.

If you are seeing a product everywhere else but not here, the reason for it is CERA. That’s where I take my anger and transmute it into the equal and opposite of this green-washing – we will create something powerful enough to ensure that this nonsense in the food place doesn’t happen. The SA Food Revolution needs an army of educated customers to drive it and shape it and that’s why CERA will be making every effort to get you information that allows you to shop more discerningly.

All that said – just keep it simple – eat Real Food from Real Farmers who farm sustainably and all will be well. Onwards and Upwards with The Jozi Real Food Revolution - standing for your right to access food from South Africa’s most sustainable farmers.

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