Long Valley Permaculture Farm
Just outside of Robertson there’s a place in a valley between the mountains.
A place that looks like it stepped out of a fantasy novel - rolling green hills, a sparkling stream that leads you all the way to a secret waterfall and, best of all, an organic food garden and food forest with a dazzling array of young fruit and nut trees.
It’s called Long Valley Permaculture Farm and it was one of our planned stops on the Western Cape part of our scooter safari. After days of rain, just getting there was a test of endurance.
The gravel road was as slippery as an eel, so we skidded down in first gear doing our best to keep our balance. Riding a fully-loaded scooter in these-less-than-ideal conditions - it was a rural farm road after all and probably best suited for a tractor - kept us in a state of high-focus.
We barely looked around us we were so focused on the road, more of an obstacle course, complete with natural speed bumps made out of rammed earth (used to divert floodwater and a clear sign we were heading to place that practiced permaculture).
But on arrival - the only adjective that sprung to mind was wow. The farmhouse is dwarfed by the majestic Arangieskop, one of the tallest mountains in the Western Cape and a beautiful hike.
The property adjoins the Dassieshoek Nature Reserve of which Arangieskop is a part. Long Valley Permaculture Farm is 92 hectares, 30 of which are arable, while the remaining land is home to wild, mountain fynbos.
Here, a group of like-minded souls has got together to establish an eco-village trust. The shareholders bring together talents as diverse as art, woodwork and biology, healing, yoga, natural foods, coaching, publishing and engineering.
Paul Barker, the then farm manager took us on a tour of the farm. It was clear to see the work that he’d been putting in to establish extensive permaculture systems - planting hundreds of trees and managing alien invasion, developing irrigation and greywater systems, working with the animals and creating food gardens.
Paul was first introduced to permaculture through his mom, quite the pioneer in South African permaculture. She not only had a copy of the Permaculture Designer’s Manual, but also started a food forest way back in the 80s.
Growing up on a food forest proved to have been the foundation for Paul’s future career - he’s now a Permaculture Facilitator who works for Food & Trees for Africa, among other clients. As one of the longest-standing permaculturists in South Africa, he’s got a fascinating story and a lot of words for the wise (story coming soon).
We trudged through mud in our waterproof gear, envious of Paul’s gumboots, taking in the terraced slopes that lend themselves so well to organic cultivation, the extensive windbreaks, and the food forest (with a wide selection of figs, grapes, Brazilian cherry trees, avocados, plums, oranges, lemons, grapefruit, naartjies, limes, indigenous trees and various nuts).
Old advertising billboards smothered kikuyu, an effective technique against this incredibly invasive grass, bane of permaculturists throughout the country.
Four cows and three horses provided manure, used for compost and soil regeneration, while a bunch of (presumably happier) chickens work the chicken tractors. The farm is vegetarian, which means none of the animals need fear being butchered for their meat.
In terms of accommodation there’s a rustic campsite next to the stream with a simple shower (heated by donkey boiler) and the old farmhouse with three en-suite bathrooms, lounge and large office/library.
There is also a laundry where everyone has use of the industrial washing machine, and a flat attached to the house which is occupied by one of the shareholders.
Though the farmhouse is still on the grid for now (they’re hoping to convert over time) new buildings will be natural ones; they’re looking at white, gray and black-water management and establishing a centre for education, yoga and healing, guest accommodation and added value home industries.
Ultimately, they plan to host retreats, yoga teacher trainings, youth camps, hands-on natural building workshops, gardening classes, woodworking workshops and healing holidays.
Unfortunately, at the time of our visit chief shareholders, Pritam and Har Bhajan Khalsa, were away and we merely spent the night there - spoiled with a hot vegetarian meal and a place to setup our tent indoors as it was raining non-stop.
So I’m going to leave it to my permaculture guru mother, who spent a month at the farm volunteering to add her experiences and photos.
Last but not least, like-minded souls who wish to volunteer and be a part of what they’re doing are warmly invited to visit (3-weeks minimum), while investors are equally welcome to get in touch.
Contact Pritam Khalsa
+27 23 6266836
A Volunteer Experience at Long Valley Permaculture Farm
My journey to volunteer on the Long Valley Farm started when I emailed a few permaculture farms. Pritam Khalsa emailed me back immediately and, as I am a great believer in going for the first thing that comes my way, I decided to go there to volunteer my services for three weeks.
The farm lay surrounded by beautifuI mountains. At the base of the mountain runs a perennial stream with majestic trees growing along the edge. I arrived on a very warm Saturday afternoon and began setting up my tent with Pritam very kindly helping me.
I had been told that there was no available accommodation in the farmhouse so had brought a tent and was quite happy to stay in the campsite right next to the stream which supplies constant fresh water to the farm and is used for the farm's extensive irrigation system.
I spent a good hour setting up tent and sweating profusely, after which Pritam showed me the rest of the campsite.
There was a donkey shower which is a pipe with a small ‘pot’ at the bottom which, when filled with bits of wood and lit, then heats the water in the pipe for the shower. As it holds only enough water to rinse, one soaps oneself first and then puts on the tap to shower. However, it works very well and the water gets lovely and warm.
There was also a small storeroom with a covered area with a sink and which served as the ‘kitchen’ - which turned out to be quite serviceable. Nearby was a compost toilet. This campsite was my ‘home’ for the next three weeks.
I spent the evening and the following day getting to know the occupants living in the main farmhouse. Pritam and Har Bhajan were friendly and accommodating and ensured that I felt comfortable.
Throughout my stay there I enjoyed meals with them and Pritam’s friend, Hari Bhajan Simran, from Germany, who was also visiting there. I also enjoyed many mornings doing yoga with Pritam and Hari Bhajan Simran who are both accomplished yoga teachers.
I met Alison, a Shareholder, who stayed in the flat attached to the main farmhouse. Alison also loved gardening so she was always available for a chat and a bit of advice.
The other couple, Eve and Terence (also Shareholders) were living in a temporary wooden house while building the first natural house on the premises.
I started work in earnest the following Monday. The first problem I noticed was the kikuyu growing in the kitchen gardens, which were in rows and had plenty of spinach, lettuce, beans, tomatoes, onions and various herbs.
I managed to find a supply of cardboard boxes in town, which I then used to cover the kikuyu and over this, laid down plenty of straw. The surrounding trees, peach, fig, avocado, guava and grapevines also needed this treatment.
As there was plenty of compost, this was also used to enrich the soil around the trees. Due to the fact that there were hundreds of trees, both indigenous and fruit, this became quite a mammoth task.
Other than the trees, I prepared beds, removing kikuyu, and planting many other little plants like onions, spinach, lettuce, broccoli and herbs which I had sourced locally in Robertson. I then ensured that straw covered all the exposed earth.
In the nursery, there were numerous young trees being planted in pots, getting ready to be transplanted on the farm in the early spring. Here I planted many seedlings to ensure that there would be plenty of plants growing to fill any open spaces on the farm. The very effective irrigation system ensured that everything was kept well watered.
The main garden was laid out by Paul, the previous manager. All that has been done on the farm has been done using permaculture principles and, as the farm was practically a stony wasteland, enormous improvements have been made.
As the farm is terraced, the gardens are situated on the terraces. Filled with tomatoes, peppers, artichokes, sweet potatoes, butternut, beans, onions, garlic (which were growing everywhere and which I also transplanted), and the numerous fruit and nut trees, there was and remains an endless call for attention.
The usual comfrey was in abundance but much was still needed, so breaking off pieces and transplanting these was another task in order to help fight off the constantly encroaching kikuyu.
All produce was used by the permanent inhabitants of the farm at the time I was there. As the farm has only been running for approximately three years, the work already done, has been invaluable.
However, in future it is probable that there will be plenty of excess which can be sold locally. A portion of the farm is still unused and another is being rented by a farmer.
In all, three weeks' voluntary work was the minimum I could give there, but it was wholly enjoyable and a wonderful experience. I enjoyed many interactions with all the shareholders, who are mainly vegetarian and, as I am vegan, this was a welcome experience.
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