Food prices in South Africa

Food prices in South Africa trend ever upwards cry the headlines.

“So my mind was filled with wonder, when the evening headlines read, Richard Cory went home last night, and put a bullet through his head.” Simon and Garfunkel wrote some profound and disturbing lyrics. We need no further reminder of the deceit of riches. How could the banker’s only son commit suicide?

Oh, the orgies on his yacht; and the great blessings of a solid job, even if it is poorly paid in one of Richard Cory’s factories. YouTube the lyric.

More recently the evening headlines have been screaming that food prices are heading ever upwards. The price of diesel and electricity are soaring, and now to add to the pain the world is at war. A quarter of the global wheat export harvest is grown in the Ukraine and Russia; jointly they were expected to export 16 million tonnes of wheat in the next four months, a significant slice of it to SA.

And Canada experienced drought last summer, normally supplying 12% of the global export harvest; their wheat crop dropped by 39%. We can expect a sharp rise in the price of flour, and all baked goods in the not too distant future.

Storing wheat in buckets.

So, what should we make of the oft heard cry, “I just can’t afford to eat healthily; it is too expensive?” Does it hold water? Many of us must be wondering just how we are going to feed the family, especially if we are one of the 50% of South Africans without a formal job.

We own what I suppose might be called an “urban farm.” Truth be told though, the mountain of food grown in our green garden comes from perhaps a little over half an acre; about 2000m2. Trending amongst greenies is to dig out some of the lawn. That’s a double win; less grass to mow and more space for veggies.

Would it break your heart whilst sipping tea on the verandah to look out on a sea of food?

It would be impossible to measure accurately the value of the food from our green garden. Every day we pick a few lettuce leaves here, a handful of beans there and a basketful of granadillas; a few lemons too and climb a ladder for yet more avos.

Add to that a green mealie a day for three months, and a continuous supply of fruit through the year. We have oranges, naartjes and many kinds of berries; cherry guavas and tree tomatoes too, for example.

We almost never buy fruit; perhaps a watermelon and a few mangoes for a treat, yet have plenty all year round. The gooseberry bushes are a wonder.

Green fava beans in their shells.

So what do we buy? All of our dairy products and perhaps once a month organic meat from Reko Hilton. Olive oil is quite a large expense, and onions. Whole grains in 50kg bags from ‘berg farmers and raw olives straight from the Karoo are ridiculously inexpensive; compared to flour and mealiemeal from the supermarket we eat like royalty. A few vegetables that we cannot easily grow in our misty, cool climate, like tomatoes and brinjals are more difficult.

Orange juice squeezer.

And what do we grow? 650 bottles of premium honey, at least 1,000 avocados and hundreds of green mealies are produced every year; more than enough berries in season, and plentiful greens of every description.

Over 500 granadillas, four different kinds of beans flourish year-round,  and many pockets of potatoes; and citrus, cucumbers and different types of squash. Then there are pumpkins and butternut; far more than we can eat.

Beehives in autumn.

What I can promise you is the retail value of this mountain of food is substantial; well in excess of R100,000 per annum probably. Add to that wonderful sourdough bread made with 100% flour at R6 a loaf, and our own mead and wheat beer for booze.

Bread machine loaf.

A question mark remains over our chickens; they provide a huge amount of organic fertiliser for our garden and provide us with eggs and meat. But I am a bad chicken farmer. I can and do lop off their heads but with great difficulty.

We have many aged hens that are long past their lop-time, but I don’t have the heart. And they can do a lot of damage to your seedlings and greens especially. The free-range eggs and meat at Reko are becoming ever more attractive.

Where should you start? Where your heart is I always say, but my suggestion is an avocado tree. We planted a new Hass three years ago, and I’ve just counted 75 fruit on it; you do the arithmetic.

Then I would certainly have kale, spinach and several kinds of lettuce, chives are easy and various  legumes; peas and broad beans in March, regular climbers and limas in spring.

Pinkerton avocado at three years.

Oh, how could I forget the peppadews just beginning to turn bright red? Bucketfuls of them. And other peppers too.

Remember too these are top notch organic foods, fresh from your own garden, very difficult to buy, grown with no inorganic fertiliser or toxic sprays; the only meaningful input cost is the sweat off your brow, and that’s unaffected by inflation and wars.

Bucketful of peppadews.

The biggest cost undoubtedly is water; I’ve written many times of the virtues of an underground reservoir to harvest the rain. Without that much of this would not be possible; it took two weeks to dig the hole, lay a slab and brick it up, plaster and roof. Hassle-free water year round. And yes obviously we do spend some money on seeds; mostly we save our own.

Brick reservoir.

I have said it many times before; the real value of our green garden is our wonderful health. You probably have read the frightening report that within just 8 years, one third of all adults in SA will be obese; those who eat these kinds of foods will never be fat. Neither hunger, nor malnutrition will touch them.

Do I make it sound so easy? It’s not; we are two very committed gardeners who just love being healthy, take no medication and consult doctors very infrequently, mostly for skin lesions from too much time in the African sun! It is hard work digging out mealiestalks at the moment, building compost heaps and getting all the winter veg planted.

I would guess we spend at least three hours most days between us, though much of the good wife’s efforts also goes to flowers. I know of no other man in the world who gets fresh roses every day in his office!

It’s exercise, time out in the fresh air and a mountain of the best food in the world. I confess I have little time for those who say they cannot afford to eat healthily. They are ignorant, or lazy, or both; there are obviously exceptions.

Johanna Ralston, CEO of the World Obesity Federation has recently chided leaders in politics, public health and yes, the media too. She says it’s shocking how inadequate our response to the obesity pandemic has been. By and large we have chosen rather to look the other way, or shoot the messenger, accusing them of fat-shaming.

Double-vaxxed I’ve just recovered from Covid. Three days in bed with a high temperature and little else. Those who enjoy this lifestyle having nothing to fear. 

Food prices in South Africa

Food prices in South Africa are soaring but it's not rocket-science to grow a mountain of food in a well organised garden.

Zulu cockerel.

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  • Mill your own flour
  • Bake your own sourdough bread
  • Microplastics from our water
  • Alternative types of water storage
  • Wear your clothes out
  • Comfort foods
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  • Go to bed slightly hungry
  • Keep bees
  • Blue zone folk are religious
  • Reduce plastic waste
  • Family is important
  • What can go in compost?
  • Grow broad beans for longevity
  • Harvest and store sunshine
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