Monthly archives "February 2009"

Of fires, soap nuts, green shops and a life in balance

Fire Season

It’s fire season again in the Cape. It’s just over a year since Kirstin, who sources our dry and dairy, was packing her bags and preparing to evacuate her house in Kommetjie as a fire raged down the mountains. This week it was the turn of Eduardo, our fresh buyer, packing his bags ready to evacuate his new house in Somerset West.

Fortunately in both cases the fire never made it through the front door, but not everyone has been so lucky. The fires devastated Jannie Nieuwoudt’s farm. We’ve offered products from Jannie before, and he plays a vital role in the organic supply chain in the Western cape. In true community spirit, his neighbours, many in financial difficulty themselves, have rallied round and helped him with new irrigation systems, pipes, fertilizer, mulch and so on.

Another farm affected was Honeywood, where 300 bee hives were destroyed. This, coming after the spring weather severely impacted their production means we won’t have any of their popular honey available for a while, but you can still buy Bloublommetjies and limited stock from Cedarfruits.

Our thoughts again are with the animals and plants destroyed by these latest fires, the firefighters battling the blazes, and everyone affected.

Life in Balance diary and newsletter

Next week we’ll be giving away copies of the 2009 Life in Balance diary.

Printed on recycled Reviva paper and with a cover made from recycled board, it contains a collection of quotes from leading architects of ecological change, reference charts and a resource guide.

With the recommended retail price R188, 270 lucky randomly selected customers who place an order will be getting it free. We can’t guarantee that everyone will get one, but your chances are better than winning something on the lotto!

If you were ordering last year, you may remember receiving the Life in Balance newsletter in your box. The good news is that they’ll be back again, also starting from next week’s delivery.

Soap Nuts

A colleague recently told me that when he first got involved in the organic industry everyone would be looking out for each other, working together for the greater good. Unfortunately that’s not the case, and greed, ego and misinformation and are as prevalent as elsewhere.

Soap nuts have recently been getting bad press from a particular so-called ‘green washing product’, recently-launched in South Africa, and which unfortunately, in good faith, we also offered for a short while. This product claims in their marketing literature that soap nuts cause “massive deforestation” in Nepal and India.

Luckily this is not the case, and the soappod tree, from which the soap nut comes, lives up to 90 years, and is widely and sustainably grown in Asia. They also, unlike some other products, actually enhance the natural washing effects of water and clothes in a washing machine, as they contain saponin, a natural detergent.

We still get requests for the other product, and it seems to be selling well and in demand, but our goal is to offer the most ethical products we can find. One that badmouths rivals and claims to clean laundry by ’emitting powerful infrared rays’, in other words heat, the same as a plastic coathanger, is not it.

But on to positive things. Soap nuts are completely natural and biodegradeable. Put between between three and five in a bag or an old sock and add to the washing load. They can be re-used up to four times, and then composted thereafter. They don’t add a scent, but you can add a few drops of essential oil if you want your washing to have a fragrance.

You can also use them for general household cleaning. Click on the product name on our site for more information, or do some searching on the internet – they have quite a few uses!

Besides certified organic soap nuts, we’re also offering certified biodynamic and organic soapwort laundry liquid from Bloublommetjies, and a laundry liquid from Enchantrix.

Green Shop

We’ve also been selling a range of solar and windup lanterns, chargers and toys from Green Shop. They sell consistently, but in small quantities. We’ve decided to cut our time burning up fuel on the road for only a few toys, by offering these only once a month. We’ll be offering them for delivery and collection in the last week of the month.

So, if you want a solar lantern, a windup shaver or the like, take a look at our offerings from Green Shop. They won’t be available again until the end of March.

Remember you can click on any of our products for more information.

And to order, head on over to

Have a great, and hopefully cool and fire-free week,
the Co-op team

Related posts:

GM crops spreading, as well as awareness of their effects.

GM crops continue to spread

According to a recent worldwatch report, genetically-modified crops continue to spread. By the end of 2007, 114.3 million hectares of the world’s cropland was being used to grow genetically-modified crops, a 12% increase over the previous year.

At the same time, evidence continues to mount of the negative effects of GM crops.

A recent study from the University of Caen observed the effect of Roundup residues in crops on human cells. Roundup is a herbicide used in conjunction with GM crops that have been developed to be resistant to Roundup applications, encouraging its widespread use.

The researchers noted “DNA fragmentation, nuclear shrinkage (pyknosis), and nuclear fragmentation (karyorrhexis)” and general “membrane and DNA damage”. They further noted that the “authorizations for using these Roundup herbicides must now clearly be revised, since their toxic effects depend on, and are multiplied by, other compounds used in the mixtures placed on the market; and glyphosate is only one of them.”

It’s long been suspected that many of the chemicals present in our foods, tested in isolation and deemed to be ‘safe’, act differently when they combine with other chemicals. This study has observed the interactions of some of these chemicals present in certain GM foods, and the results are devastating.

Expect a biotech-funded study out soon that ‘proves’ no such effect exists.


A common genetically-modified trait is for a crop to contain resistance to a particular herbicide. The theory is that a farmer can then spray herbicides, killing all the ‘weeds’, but not affecting the primary crop. But, fight‌ing nature never seems to work. There are now 15 species of so-called ‘superweeds’, covering hundreds of thousands of hectares, that are also glyphosate-resistant. As a result, chemical farmers have to use more herbicides, and a variety of different herbicides, to achieve the same effect.

The decline of the honeybee

Another recent study demonstrates that are affected by a toxin in a GM maize. It’s almost certain that there are multiple, perhaps complementary causes to the decline of the honeybees, but now it seems possible that genetically-modified crops are a contributing factor.

Is GM Obsolete?

While the evidence mounts and the controversy rages, biotech companies are already moving on from genetic modification as a technology. By using gene mapping, for example, the knowledge could be applied to support conventional breeding techniques, rather than the invasive and fraught technique that is GM. We need to be vigilant though that these new, probably more benign, technologies, are not also abused for the enrichment of the few.

Our role

When we buy chemically-grown products, it’s this warlike system we’re supporting. It’s safely out of mind, but farming communities are being devastated.
There’s a much better technology, which is at the heart of organic farming. It’s a virtuous system whereby, by being smart and working with the land, farmers can achieve a much better result, and where everyone benefits – the farmer, the worker, you and your family.

The bright side

It’s easy to become despondent by all this gloom and doom news. But we don’t have to look at it that way. We’re becoming more and more aware, and the time when these kind of destructive activities sneak into our lives, unnoticed, is passing. It may be unpleasant, but it’s an important part of clearing them away, and making space for better, healthier and more ethical alternatives.

To order, go to

Have a great week,
the Co-op team

Related articles:

rBGH gets a spanking

rBGH suffers another setback in the US

I mentioned last year that Monsanto was giving up on its genetically-modified recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH) business after a number of setbacks in the US, its primary market, and had sold out to Eli Lilly. rBGH is a hormone injected to cows to make them produce more milk, but also makes them prone to mastitis, treated with antibiotics, which end up in our bodies, affecting our immune and digestive systems. Cows given rBGH also produce milk with a higher level of IGF-1, associated with various cancers. Eli Lilly has even more incentive to make rBGH more widespread in their quest to help us ‘live longer, healthier and more active lives’. rBGH is also associated with diabetes, and Eli Lilly is a pharmaceutical company offering highly profitable diabetes drugs.

Yoplait, the 19th largest dairy in the US, has announced it will no longer buy milk from dairies using rBGH, bowing to consumer pressure that has led to companies such as Wal-Mart, Starbucks and Subway going rBGH-free.

rBGH is banned in most of the world due to health reasons, but widely used in South Africa. If you buy dairy products from a store, do you know if it is from an rBGH-administering dairy?

Other articles about rBGH:

Refined sugar

Of course, much more closely associated with diabetes, and a host of other ailments, is refined sugar, which shouldn’t play a part in anyone’s diet. Healthier alternatives include honey, dates, stevia, xylitol and jaggery. Unfortunately we’re suffering from widespread stock shortages at the moment, and are offering few of those as alternatives. We do however have honey from Bloublommetjies biodynamic farm, as well as a fynbos and an orange blossom honey from Cedarfruits, and jaggery from Earth Products.

CSA Boxes

Apologies to all CSA customers last week who may have received confusing emails. Our standing orders feature, used to book your CSA box in advance each week, has just launched, and suffered a few glitches!

In spite of the confusing emails, we’re glad to hear that most of you have been very happy with the bags, and the value they represent. This week’s bag will most likely contain the same as last week – butternut, green beans, cucumbers, baby onions, mixed fancy lettuces, zucchini and gem squash. Feel free to add to your order from our website – we promise it’s less confusing than the emails! Remember you can make a change to your order anytime up until just before Monday 2pm.

Thanks to everyone’s upfront support, Eric has managed to procure six oxen, and is no longer affected by the price of fuel. His soil is also grateful, free of excess compacting from heavy mechanical machines.

Valentine’s Day

It seems that every month of the year has a “consumer day”, with us being exhorted to spend on chocolate eggs, presents for everyone, for our mothers, our fathers, and February is no exception, with Valentine’s Day.

Older customers may remember reading about the legend of Valentine, the Roman soldier put to death by Emperor Claudius II ignoring the law against soldiers marrying.

Another ritual, unlikely to make a a comeback, is related to the Roman festival on February 14 to honour Juno – the queen of Roman gods and goddesses, and the goddess of women and marriage. The following day, a priest would sacrifice a goat and a dog, and boys would slice the hide into strips, dipping them in sacrificial blood. They’d then roam the streets gently slapping women with the animal hides. Being slapped was a great honour, and believed to confer fertility. Later, all the young maidens in the city would place their name in a big urn. Bachelors in the city would each then take a name out of the urn, and became paired with the girl for the rest of the year.

While I won’t wish you a spanking with an animal hide, I do wish you a day filled with love for all you encounter.

To order, head on over to

Have a great week,
the Co-op team

Who own’s nature?

It may seem a silly question, but in our patent and paper obsessed world, it’s not. Up until the first half of the 20th Century, seeds were almost entirely in the hands of farmers and public-sector plant breeders. Since then, farmers rights have been systematically exterminated in the name of intellectual property, so that 82% of the global seed market is now proprietary.

The name Monsanto is probably familiar to most – the giant multinational biotech, responsible for many of the genetically-modified foods available here. But Monsanto are not the world’s largest biotech company. They’re the world’s largest seed company. Their strategy for selling their products has been to buy up seed companies, cutting out alternatives. They produce the product, and they sell it. And in many areas, there’s nowhere else to go.

Monsanto accounts for almost a quarter of the proprietary seed market worldwide, very often through local subsidiaries. In 2000, Monsanto bought up all of Sensako, a South African seed company. At the time, Sensako controlled 45% of the maize seed market and almost all of the wheat market. In one swoop Monsanto controlled much of South African agriculture’s seed supply.

Monsanto seeds alone accounted for 87% of the area devoted for genetically-modified seeds. As a seed cartel, they have unprecedented power, shown by their decision to raise maize seed prices by 35% in July last year.

But it’s not only seed prices that are increasing. The price of chemical fertilizers, a similar market controlled by very few, jumped from $245 per ton at the beginning of 2007 to $1600 per ton in August 2008.

Is it any wonder that the prices of chemical crops are rocketing, and hunger spreading as small farmers, unable to afford the chemical inputs, are put out of business? We’ve sat back and handed over the control of our natural heritage to a few large cartels. But there’s still time to take it back.

Read the etc group’s full report, entitled Who owns Nature? Corporate Power and the Commodification of Life.

But there are green shoots everywhere. We’re lucky enough to have two seed producers keeping the organic flame going. Camphill and Sandveld both produce excellent seeds that thrive in our local conditions. Find them in our garden section.


As you may be able to guess from the name, tatsoi is a salad green from Asia. Also called spinach mustard, spoon mustard, or rosette bok choy (for a start), it’s now grown worldwide. Mostly eaten raw in salads, it’s sometimes added to soups just before serving.

Highly perishable, and best eaten immediately, it’s a beautiful looking plant able to withstand very cold conditions, and, like most darker greens, highly nutritious. Greens are high in folates, which, amongst others, reduce the risk of breast cancer, alzheimers and heart disease, as well as being particularly important for pregnant women to ensure the baby’s good health.

Get back up

Our video this week is a slightly unusual one, and has nothing to do with food. But perhaps, if you feel 2009 is all too much, it’ll help you get back up. View it here.

Thanks to everyone for their kale recipes last week – there’s no excuse for being off your kail now!

Have a great week,
the Co-op team

Get Back Up

Thanks to and Tim Ferris’s (of the Four Hour Work Week blog) mother for this video.

Everyone has days where it all just seems too much. Perhaps this video will help you get back up.