Alpha Farm Ladybrand

 

Alpha Farm Ladybrand

Alpha Farm Ladybrand


This weekend saw us paying a trip to a new farm in Ladybrand that we are hoping to get fruit from for you into the future. I was particularly excited about this farm because the fruit orchards have been left to go wild and are laying in unspoilt soil and unpolluted terrain. Prior, they were certified organic trees supplying a large retailer. After making repeat losses in this arrangement, a sad tale I hear far too often, he let the certification lapse, left the fruit trees to stand along with some shattered ideals and focused on his vegetable section. As we are indeed the right kind of business and you, the right kind of customer to truly appreciate the value of wild fruit like this, we decided to take a trip up there and invest some time in finding out about this farm for you. I left enchanted by another world, I left with my hopes about a future in real food restored, I left with a full heart, spirit and belly and I left deeply nourished. Here is my story of this very special farm, the very special family behind it and where your sugar prunes this week are coming from. There is also a picture of the actual tree too with the ripe sugar prunes on it so you can get a great previews of what you will be getting this week.
Alpha Estate is a 3rd generation family working farm situated 15 km’s outside Ladybrand, a Free-State town that sits on the Lesotho border.
It is run by the Van Der Linde Family and Lisa’s father ‘Bernard Amm’ who has been farming for all of his life. Alpha Estate was the first farm in the Ladybrand district and was named as such. The farm next to Alpha is Omega and that is the last farm in the Clocolan district.

Wild Orchards..

Mine and Lisa's Daughter In The Orchards

Mine and Lisa’s Daughter In The Orchards


 
This farm used to be a predominantly certified organic farm but dropped their certification after making a repeat loss on the organic line. The fruit orchards though have been left to go wild and now are left un-spoilt with untainted soil that we are very excited to supply you fruit from.
I spent a gorgeous afternoon with my family and Lisa’s last week-end picking and eating fresh fruit from the orchards while we toured their farm. Later on that day, Lisa’s daughter Claire, an incredible young 17 year old woma,  as at home in the world of literature as she is embedded in the knowledge of farming, whipped up an apple cake with a short-crust pastry that was heavenly.  We picked, peaches and apples that are just ripening and rhubarb and the most delectable sort of plums, but way, way nicer and sweeter than plums, called sugar prunes.
I watched everybody including myself literally gorge on them, they are small and sweet and just an absolute pleasure to eat. They literally only have a season of a week or 2 which is why you won’t find them in mainstream retail, but it makes at least 2 weeks of any year worth waiting for!Soon, they will have apples for us too.

What Real Farming  Has To Teach..

I left this farm in the same state I left Keith Harvey’s farm (Kalahari 100% Grass Fed Beef), feeling a deep sense of being re-connected to purpose and to the great cycle of life. I’m in love with farms. I believe it is because real farmers are still connected to traditions, values and to the great elements of nature that determine the success or relative failure of any particular day for them. I literally spent 3 hours of the drive home trying to put into words the deep sense of understanding that I felt, a knowing about what we have lost in the modern western world. I’ve also learnt that it is only well run organic farms with an organic philosophy that have this to teach. A conventional farm doesn’t leave you with the same wonder because a conventional farm isn’t really a farm at all. I also learnt that an organic philosophy is an inherant humility towards the cycles of life. It isn’t a label, it isn’t about following the prescriptions for some certification agency, it isn’t about audits, it is actually a philosophy of understanding, respect and support towards nature and viewing the role of the human in it a little more humbly than the omnipotent symbol of independance that modernity liked to believe man was.
That is what keeps farmers and their families connected to the great seasons of life and that is where we get lost in modern day life and in cities I believe.Alpha Farm Cat
We become disconnected from daily reminders of the great divine intelligence that informs life. You cannot become divorced from that when a hail storm wipes out an entire season’s worth of labour and a crop, you don’t forget that there is a guiding intelligence that directs life, you aren’t easily able to forget that you are forever placed amidst a life process that pits you as a participant.
Farmers witness first- hand the effect of rainfall on the growing of food – too much rain and potatoes rot, too little rain and leaves burn and vegetables die. A farmer is permanently connected to the knowledge that something besides him is in control, he doesn’t get into the same illusionary space that we can fall in to in modern day life that independence is particularly powerful.
Maybe it’s the false promise of capitalism that seemed to have people believing that a single human being has the power to direct life.
The farmer knows this is a falsehood, he knows that outcomes are based on a series of collective efforts all linked to a process of creation. He is familiar with the multitude of factors and lives that make a plant grow. He is aware of the interdependence of life.
Modern day life in the western world does exactly the opposite, it makes life far too dependent on others and makes us value independence far too much. As we pour a non-food from a cardboard box linked to a factory and a fake logo, we connect to nothing more than a lie and illusion. The logo makes an attempt to connect us to a vision of something that isn’t real whether it’s the bee on the cereal box that contains no honey, or the red barn on the chicken nugget packet that has no real farm behind it, modern day consumerism has only ever linked us to falsehood as it attempts to put back through a logo the reality of what it has maimed in the factory.
The soil is not illusionary, it’s real life and well managed soil is a living ecosystem of life.  Farms connect us back to that sense and I think that’s why we love them, as modern day life erodes more and more of our joy away and the more lost we become, the more we respond to the call that the farmer offers – to return us to a connection to the past – so that we can connect to the circle of life and then a future that has meaning.

Breakfast with Lisa

Lisa's Cows

Lisa’s Cows


On Sunday morning I was talking to Lisa at the breakfast table while I delightfully watched my daughter drink down her 3rd glass of raw milk straight from the cow. I also must mention here that Kiara ordinarily doesn’t drink milk at all. I have never seen her do this, she drank 3 glasses one after the other. Since we have returned to Jozi, I gave her milk to drink that was pasteurised and not raw and she said ‘it’s not the same’ and won’t drink it!  Anyhow back to the point, I was talking to Lisa about how taken I have been with how much has been handed down in terms of culture, knowledge and tradition by her family and how I mourn the fact that our families didn’t have long histories of tradition and knowledge to hand down to us. We spoke about the disconnection and fraction that happens in modern day lives and about how much there is to mourn in a life that lacks a deep connection to solid family roots. We surmised that we then look to fill that void through consumerism. We watch movies and hope that somebody else will give us meaning, we hope to be inspired by the media and hope that they can sell us some illusion of meaning, somehow give us roots or something to strive for, the perfect body, the perfect house, the perfect job, the perfect partner and the perfect life. How many people have died chasing down that old illusion and what more does the modern rat race lifestyle really offer?
Everybody seems to be chasing something. Everybody seems to be competing and trying to fill more and more stuff and tasks and chores and noise into their lives as if it’s a long run every day to escape that sense of disillusionment about your life, that nagging sense of ‘something missing’.
If you follow the trail back to your senses through food and let that consciousness take you all the way back to the farm, then you just might find the magic button, the reconnection to your place in this world. That’s what I get from farms and through food and that’s why I do what I do. I care as much about supporting farmers who serve as custodians of the soil’s produce into our homes as I do about our ability to eat proper wholesome food, that is what places me in the perfect role here  – to connect the farmer to the consumer of his produce, to bring us closer together, something traditional supermarkets have failed to do. We need a new vision of the middle-me rather as efficient conduits between the consumer and the farmer. I couldn’t say who I care about more – the farmer who is producing this food or the consumer who deserves to eat it in their modern day townhouses, I feel an equal sense of responsibility in this role towards both.

Conventional Farmers Are Not Equal…

Alpha FarmsThis was something else that shifted for me while I was there. Whilst the fruit farms at Alpha Farms are still organic in the sense that they have been left to nature now and aren’t interfered with in any sense – they literally are wild orchards – the vegetable sections of the farm aren’t farmed strictly organic anymore. Yet the lengths this farmer goes to, to incur the least amount of damage and to still maintain soil fertility, were really encouraging. Regardless of the economic imperative he faced to stop the certified line of vegetables on his farm, he still is an organic farmer at heart and still does what he can to farm with minimal harm to the soil and the surrounding eco-system. So even though we aren’t buying vegetables from them and will only sell the fruit from the wild orchards, I was  incensed to see their produce being packaged under another retailer’s label with no farm identity or logo attached to the produce in my tour through their pack house on the Sunday morning,.
What irks me so is that if I had a choice of conventional baby marrows from farms, I would want to choose these from Alpha Farm over others because his baby marrows are not equal to other farm’s marrows. The picked marrow has no pesticide on it whatsoever, I found caterpillars and ladybirds crawling merrily around the marrows, delightfulevidence that what he is saying is true:)
This is a farmer who is organic at heart, and although he has given up on growing his vegetables wholly organically because he doesn’t have a large enough market to justify the cost and had to close that side of his life down, he still only uses minimal fertilizer because he is still looking after his soil by crop rotation to keep it fertile, he still ploughs back in mulch and old plant matter, he uses minimal tilling processes to keep this soil rich and there is still life in his soil. He still has labourers de-weeding close to the time that the plants bear fruit so that weed killer doesn’t come into contact with the food. That isn’t the same as farmer b who farms wholly conventional, makes little effort to restore the nutrition of his soil and just ploughs more and more fertilizer and pesticide onto his produce to prop up his tasteless produce and happily uses weed killer even when the plant has borne fruit. It’s not the same either as the farmer who doesn’t crop rotate or practise minimal tilling and just adds an increased amount of fertilizer because his soil is dead.
He uses a more expensive pesticide that breaks down and deactivates after 4 hours and that is only used to kill one specific pest. I’m not making a case for conventional farming, just attempting to show that conventional farming is not all equal and how difficult it is to discern the difference between produce if you don’t know the story and ethos of that farm.

Alpha Farm Marrows

Alpha Farm Marrows


I’d choose this marrow over a farmer that wasn’t going to the efforts that this farmer is to maintain the fertility of his soil and do minimal damage than one that isn’t.
Yet without farm labels and a connection between the farmer and us, I cannot identify the difference. The farm’s logo doesn’t appear anywhere on the packet. Traditional supermarkets make the farmer anonymous to us, keep him far from us and then try and make up for the loss by fooling us with some cheap and illusionary logo.

The Future of Conscious Food…

It’s for this reason that I believe moving forward that we have to forge a link between us the consumer and the farmer so that the consumer has access to information about the farm. That is why I have put so much into trying to capture this farm for you, and will, into the future be spending more and more time identifying the suppliers of your food for you and strengthening the communication channel through more efficient articles and portals that help you identify the farm. As we start getting more fruit from them, we will have their farm logo on the packs so that you know – this fruit is from the wild orchards, lovingly tended by this special family.

Claire and the peaches

Claire and the peaches


Alpha Farm has a story and a philosophy and a family culture of farming to share, and it’s made up of hopes and dreams and trials, success and tribulation and if I can share that with you, that bite of the sugar prune from that farm will be all the more sweeter because you’re investing in that farmer, you’re connecting to the farm. Asking questions about where your food comes from and connecting to where it comes from, will, if you embrace the journey, lead you back to a sense of connection about your place in the cycle of life. All proper food should come from soil. If you can’t link it back to soil, it isn’t food and it doesn’t represent life.

What the Farming Family Has To Teach..

So as the drive continued and the gap between Lisa’s farm and my city life narrowed, I reflected some more about the difference between our world and theirs.  It seems to me that in the modern day world, we came to believe that the individual was almighty, that we were superior to the cycle of life and the power of nature. It takes a natural disaster, a cyclone, a tsunami or an earthquake to humbly remind us that this is an illusion and even then the knowledge is short-lived only to return when we face the non-negotiable life circumstances of life and death. We momentarily remember our powerlessness. Through industrialisation and modernization the importance and power of the individual and particularly the individual’s capacity to become powerful at the expense of others, without the respect of collective sharing, became the model of what success was supposed to look like. It divorced us from the collective and all that came with it sadly and as a consequence we upset the balance of nature, we polluted the ground and water that feeds us and we handed over the power of nutrition and divine food to factories run by wealthy capitalists and everybody got poorer for it.
There is nothing that can make up for the lack of support and love you feel when you are sensibly connected to the whole, there is no amount of money and entertainment that can fill that deep internal sense of emptiness that comes from being divorced from meaning and from a sense of feeling that your life has value. How many more activities will we fill our lives with in an attempt to run from this soulless void we find ourselves in?
In the cities, we keep buying our children more things, hoping to keep them occupied and hoping to fill them up. A farm child goes out into the day and has a world of connecting experiences in nature that give his life purpose, that literally serve the purpose of rooting him into the world and giving his life meaning. Lisa’s sons, 6 and 8, were up and out early on Sunday morning to milk the cows. What does it feel like as a young child to wake up with that kind of purpose, to go outside to milk cows, to carry that pail of milk back into the house and watch a table full of your siblings have it with their breakfast?
When I juxtapose this image in my mind with a modern day child reaching for a cereal box and pouring out its nutrition-less contents of sugar, refined grain and colorants into a bowl and throwing in pasteurized milk full of antibiotics, growth steroids, pus cells and the milk from an animal that hasn’t lived properly, I literally cringe inside.

The Van Der Linde’s and Amm’s Life As A Creation…

Lisa picking rhubarb

Lisa picking rhubarb


I gained so much from the tiny glimpse I got into Lisa’s life through sharing a night with her and her family. Lisa’s life is an incredible tale of the value of creating a life that works for you, rather than selling your soul to live a life that is typical for society. Lisa has 6 home schooled children. I haven’t yet come across such confidant and grounded children with a rich wealth of general knowledge who spend their mornings in a rich and beautiful home school library with their siblings and mother all learning together. One wall of the whole room is filled with books – all part of the various syllabi that form part of each child’s year. I was fair fascinated by how rich an education they’re getting, each child is able to confidently express an intelligent and informed opinion on most subjects raised, a whole farm house full of rich and grounded thinkers, their way of life has so much to teach.
No area of their life is outsourced. They take full responsibility for their children’s education and the children are clearly the better for it. They’re doing languages, they’re doing music as well as full curriculums, some on the US sunlight system and one of the elder daughter’s on the Cambridge GCSE system. They all are in love with knowledge and lead such rich lives, amidst this farming backdrop where they live in daily communion with nature, milking cows, riding horses, feeding chickens, making bread, one of the younger sons had hand churned the cream for the day to turn it to butter, I was fascinated by this family. You should see their reading lists – they’re reading the greatest literature out there on top of all this.
Their water supply comes from their own spring, their milk from their own cows, meat from their own animals raised on their own pasture, vegetables and fruit from their own farm, they don’t have their fate intertwine with anything other than their faith in God, their determination to live in accordance with their beliefs, their relationship with nature and their craft. Their electricity seems to be the only part of their world outsourced.
Yet, what looks like a fairy tale to us, isn’t so. The reality of farming is that it is full of trials and tribulations and loss. The distance between farm and fork and the inequality of wealth that happens along the way is tough, they face weather issues, labour issues and when something breaks there isn’t a quick fix. Yet, despite the hardships of farms, my feeling is that it pales in comparison to what we end up losing in city living. A farmer keeps re-establishing his relationship to nature and his God, he’s in daily communion with God, not things and to-do-lists and machines. They come second, a good farmer is always linked to the soil.

Farm Cooking..

Claire's Apple Pie

Claire’s Apple Pie


Zucchini and Flowers in Batter

Zucchini and Flowers in Batter


 
I was in culinary heaven with this family. They eat in the way my dreams are made of. While I love the creativity behind inspired gourmet cooking with fresh ingredients and can happily languish in the best restaurants for fine dining, I am inclined that way – there is nothing that beats rustic home cooked food – nothing more comforting at all as far as food goes – except rustic home cooked farm fare made from food picked in the field in the day. Oh my goodness, that’s dream material for me. I treasured every meal I had with Lisa and her family.
We cooked courgette flowers in batter, that we picked in the afternoon. Claire whipped up a shortcrust pastry made with butter made from their own cream from their own wholly pastured cows and apples picked in the orchard that afternoon. We will be bringing you these apples too as soon as they’re more ripe – give another couple of weeks. This family eat the way we all dream of eating. Home cooked fantastic food, off the land, served at a massive old solid wood family table that clearly has served many a generation.  We ate quiches made with milk and eggs from the farm animals,  we ate fresh bread made with stoneground flour, we had thick yellow butter on top of this from and the apricot jam they make that we also sell at Organic Emporium, eating was blissful.  I mean it – blissful.
Every meal has to be made for 10 people minimum, as there are always the 6 children, Lisa and her husband and Lisa’s father Bernard and her mother. So they know how to cook and they know how to make do with what is on their land and seem to have a rich repertoire of recipes that they loving create, there are home-made rusks and biscuits and all sorts in their rambling farmhouse kitchen.

Carpentry..

Beautiful Craft

Beautiful Craft


After visiting the pack-house we visited the carpentry workshop on the farm. This is where wood from the farm is turned into beautiful furniture. Bernard showed us a massive block of solid blue gum that had come off the land waiting to be turned into some special piece of furniture. I’m fascinated at how this family’s way of life is an everyday celebration of life itself. It was like entering another world full of craft, value, tradition and honour.

True Green Living..

They re-use what they can, they live off the land, they take care of the land around them, all their waste gets composted, when they send a truck into town or to Joburg they ensure that it is full in order to make best use of the trip and the diesel, they turn fallen trees into furniture, they draw their water from a spring, they milk their own cows that live wholly off the grass and are lovingly tendered, they raise their own beef that too live wholly free-range on the surrounding farm land with no chemical additives or grain supplementation in their diet. They use the land to enrich their children’s education too. They make the most delicious seasonal food in their traditional bustling farm kitchen, filled with jam jars and home-made rusks and half empty children’s glasses of raw fresh milk. They have composting buckets for all waste. They make their own beer even. My husband was delighted to be offered a proper home-brew, I could see his brain thinking ‘I’ll do more farm visits with my nutty wife if this is on offer’.
On the Sunday morning before we left,  I had the pleasure of watching Lisa siphon off the top layer of cream from a pail of milk which she gave me to take home to churn for butter because I’m mental about pure raw butter from wholly grass-fed cows, I believe it’s a super food.
That night back at home,I churned that luscious cream into butter in my Jozi kitchen and thought back fondly over the week-end and about this precious family.  As the butter came together and the butter milk split, I was taken back to that warm kitchen and I smiled, my heart filled up and I  felt connected to life and its sense and the divinity of it. That’s what farmers do and that is where your food will take you, if you engage with it consciously. This is food that comes from faith, love and life and no conveyor belt product can do the same. Farmers like this are sacred and their work is sacred and it’s an honour to eat food from soil cherished by these types of hands.
This is the family and the philosophy and the care behind the fruit you’ll get, naturally grown in wild orchards at Alpha Farm in Ladybrand. These are the sugar prunes to expect this week.

Sugar Prunes

Sugar Prunes

Enjoy this week’s sugar prunes and welcome to Alpha Farm.

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