Monthly archives "May 2013"

Farming is cool

In South Africa, farming, especially among young urban communities, doesn’t always have a great appeal. Young people are a rare sight in many of the urban farms near our warehouse in Philippi, with older women predominating.

In Kenya at least, that’s starting to change. Urban farming is on the up, even amongst young and well-educated people. It’s seen as a great way to earn extra income. As people stream to the cities for greater opportunities, food is in great demand and urban farmers cannot produce enough, so conflict over scarce opportunities is rare.

The small scale of urban plots lend themselves to organic farming, with no temptation to mechanise, and no large monocultures at risk from single pests.

Hopefully a similar trend can take root here, and a new generation will bring their skills to farming, producing more and more of our food supply in the cities where it’s needed.

A huge amount of fresh food is wasted. In a shop, there’s a tendency for people to choose the best looking, the newest fruits, leaving perfectly good, but perhaps less pretty, specimens to spoil.

It’s estimated that a whopping half of all fresh fruit and vegetables grown in South Africa is wasted, mostly from spoilage before being sold.

Our model reduces wastage drastically, as we only order fresh produce from the farmer that’s already been ordered, and very little goes to waste. We get rightfully questioned on the packaging, as many people, including ourselves, would like to see less of it. Fresh produce, especially greens, lasts far longer in packaging though, and when we’ve tried offering it unpackaged, far more goes to waste. And, simply because of the volumes, our team can’t pack the produce loose. With the recent order sizes, we’re already battling to finish by 6am, just before the first delivery vehicles arrive!

Remember, if there’s ever anything wrong with your produce, please let us know about it, and we’ll give you a full refund. We try to ensure it leaves the warehouse in the best shape, and if your courier isn’t handling it lovingly all the way to your door, we want to hear about it!

Simplicity is good. Forgetting the 50c on the end of an invoice is quite a common mistake when paying, so we’re rounding everything to the nearest R1 instead to make things easier. That doesn’t mean we’re rounding up to squeeze out another 50c profit! Rather, we’re rounding to the nearest 50c. Gayleen’s Chocolates, for example, are now R14 instead of R14.50, and everything else will be repriced over time.

Bulging warehouse
Our warehouse is bulging with stock, and we may soon have to squeeze in some more shelving to fit it all in. We have a full range of tissue salts, and, unlike most varieties out there, all lactose and sugar-free. There’s lots else, from vegan caviar to decaf coffee, but it can’t all fit in the Featured and New section. Happy exploring!

Have a great week,
Ian and the Ethical team

Go to to to place your order before Tuesday 2pm, and remember that you can follow us on Facebook and on Twitter.

400 parts per million, pesticides and giant pumpkins

Our earth reached a milestone this week, with carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere reaching 400 parts per million. The last time carbon dioxide levels were this high, long before humans existed, there was no Arctic ice, the poles were about ten degrees warmer than today, and sea levels ranged from five to forty metres higher than they are currently.

Our children and grandchildren are certainly in for interesting times, one where it won’t just technology changing at breakneck speed, but our natural systems too. Adaptability and learning to work with the changing environment will be vital skills.

Pesticides and bees
It’s very likely that the recent drastic drop in the honeybee population, particularly in Europe and the US, has been due to neonicotinoid pesticides, a highly toxic pesticide commonly used around the world in conventional farming. The European Union has just banned neonicotinoids, in the face of a frenzied campaign to put the blame elsewhere by Bayer and Syngenta, the two main chemical companies producing the pesticides.

So, good news for European bees and farms, and in countries that have banned neonicotinoids for a while now, such as Italy, France, Germany and Slovenia, bee populations appear to already be recovering. However, in the US, where honeybee levels have reached a 50-year low, corporate control of food and farming policy gets ever stronger. Sulfoxaflor, which has a very similar mechanism to neonicotinoids and is acknowledged by the US Environmental Protection Agency to be highly toxic to bees, was given ’emergency approval’ for use on cotton until 2015, and is now being touted for widespread use.

Commercial beekeepers say that in heavily contaminated areas, such as California, they expect commercial beekeeping to be extinct in five years. Since some crops, such as almonds and broccoli, rely entirely on commercial beekeeping, these foods could also be disappearing along with the bees.

The madness is not restricted to the US. While parts of South America are showing interesting progress in restoring the balance, here in Africa, the same corporations are looking to extend their control, and we need to be vigilant to avoid falling down the same hole.

Too big to be true
We had a visitor to our warehouse in Philippi a few years ago, and he expressed doubt that some of the products, being so big, were actually organic. So I was pleased to read the story of the record-breaking South African pumpkin, grown recently in Worcester and weighing in at a sprightly 417kg. The farmer’s secret? “Look after them nicely” which he described as growing organically and looking after the soil.

If you’re looking to grow something similar, we don’t have the same Atlantic Giant seeds available, but if you’re happier with something slightly smaller, there are Hokkaido pumpkin, boerpampoen, Queensland Blue and Red Etampes varieties available for planting. And if, like me, you don’t whether it’s time to plant pumpkin or peas, peppers or parsley, we still have a few winter rainfall planting calendars available too!

Have a great week,
Ian and the Ethical team

Go to to to place your order before Tuesday 2pm, and remember that you can follow us on Facebook and on Twitter.