from Louis in Johannesburg, South Africa: Small holder organic farming, bartering and trading within suburbia. Thanks Covid19!

August 30. I have been awestruck by the rapid digitally enabled transformation of learning. Rachel is not looking forward to returning to class based schooling which is scheduled to resume soon. She is dreading the exam season which does not suite her learning style and persona. 

Thanks, David for your helpful observations about the shortcomings of exams as they are now structured. The links you provided have also proved insightful and rich, thank you. The beneficial application of Artificial Intelligence (AI) will be welcomed by Rachel. Hopefully it arrives within the next four years. Klaus Shwab, founder of the WEF, reminds us that 4IR is not value free. There are constructive as well as destructive applications of the disruptive technologies contained in the so-called Fourth Industrial revolution (4IR). The application of AI in examination of knowledge would be constructive application. Smart cities which are rapidly evolving in The People’s Republic of China (PRC) seem to be reinforcing coercion and control by intruding into the private space of its citizens. In due course I expect 4IR technologies will also be used to enhance informed economic choices thus catalysing wealth-creation and democratic processes.

COVID19 has compelled me to stay out of its path – by all accounts I am in its kill zone. That has been a mixed blessing as it has enabled me to not only self-isolate but also turn inward to writing and gardening/farming. A recent visitor commented, once he had seen the various facets of self-isolation on our small holding, that we had prepared for the apocalyptic moment where SA as we know it has collapsed.

In the meantime, back on the ranch (on our self-isolated small holding) in our agriculturally oriented suburb life is changing for the better COVID19 notwithstanding. It is returning to life as I imagine it once existed. This lifestyle is becoming the new normal on our suburb of more than 400 families. Yes, it’s a gated suburb. Ow else could it be crime-free in the current version of SA?

Small businesses developed out of necessity are truly the mother of invention. COVID19 has all but wiped out small businesses. Most restaurant chains have closed many outlets and some franchises have been declared bankrupt. Giant synfuel corporations SASOL reported a R90bn loss last week.  In the meantime Sean, just up the road we live in, has become a supplier of packaged meat products and supplies our needs. He delivers to our front gate, complete with face masks and sanitised bags, thinly sliced smoked bacon, smoked pork-neck, rump and T-bone steaks and topside mince and more.

Other suppliers add Salmon and other fish delicacies to their offerings. All of it at prices well below what the retail chains ask. We have redirected all our purchases to support these businesses. Sarah, also close by, supplies us with fresh farm eggs by the dozen, untouched and virus-free delivered weekly from a farm more than 400 kilometres away. The farmer now has sufficient business from the surrounding suburbs obviating the need to subject herself to the vagaries of the large chains and their unethical manipulation of quality and price of the little supplier. I expect if these initiatives survive beyond COVID19 they will become the new normal.

A WhatsApp group has sprung up amongst the 400 families to put buyers in touch with local suppliers. Adam Smith’s ‘invisible hand’ at work! Sarah our egg supplier also supplied us with Spekboom cuttings. The Spekboom, an indigenous succulent from the Eastern Cape, is interesting as it grows easily from slips. It is a very good carbon dioxide sink. It is edible to both browsers as staple feed and humans as a delicious salad ingredient. I have planted a row of these useful plants and intend supplying our kitchen from the growing hedge it will form in our dry garden. More about the broader Midrand context and churches in a future entry.

This morning at dawn, I received a tour of the crops that are growing in the cultivated area of our property by Malawian gardener, Victor Magonja. Onions, Radishes, Spinach, Cabbages, Hubbard Squash thriving as the season turns to spring and summer. Gem Squash planting from seeds harvested selectively from last season’s crop to follow as staggered planting limits the feast and famine cycle of glut and shortage. We tithe our crops with anyone who participates in their cultivation. Spinach is a great favourite, for making traditional African Morogo, amongst our friends and colleagues.

We also make Morogo as a dinner staple in season and freeze surplus for out of season consumption. I can see in my mind’s eye the welcoming, broad smiles from friends and colleagues which greet an armful gift of freshly picked Spinach.

Delani Mthembu, Myelani Holeni and Alex Mabunda and neighbours are the primary beneficiaries. Our pecan nut trees are also harvested delivering 30-40 kgs of nuts per fully grown tree. All crops are organically cultivated, with nutritional compost also from our garden.  

Thanks to Monsanto and others which practice shareholder capitalism (which is in decline and probably failing) seed harvesting is not possible as the GM crops have been modified so that seeds are sterile and cannot be replanted. We found this out with the corn we planted. Unethical capitalists compelled us to buy new seeds instead of harvesting and replanting. We are finding out by trail and error which seeds can be replanted and which can not. We avoid buying GM seeds where we can. Historically, Monsanto registered seed banks in the USA as their intellectual property. One of these seed banks contained 11,000 seeds! Access to these seeds now carry a royalty to Monsanto.(‘Future of Food’ documentary available on DVD made by Garcia’s widow). In Holland we were able to attend public activist citizen gatherings including the Dutch Minister of Agriculture to talk about these matters.

Winter evenings are spent in front of a roaring fire fuelled by recycled invasive Eucalyptus hardwood. Namibian charcoal, made from invasive species, fuels our outdoor cooking when Eskom fails to meet demand and we experience blackouts. Rolling blackouts are now quite common.

from David Vincent in Shrewsbury, UK: Fish!

May 15.  My household will not go hungry in this crisis.  We have sorted out the supermarket home delivery system.  The shelves of Sainsbury’s are open to us.  But food lacks surprise.  No meals out.  No entertaining at home.  No takeaways in the countryside (we are two miles outside the delivery radius of the enterprising restaurant in Shrewsbury which is sending out prepared meals). 

One of the benefits of living for many years in the same place is that you get to know the local sources of good things.  The best meat comes from Churncote Farm Shop.  The best vegetables from Pomona at the foot of Castle Hill.  The best fish from Barkworth’s stand in the covered market.  The fish in fact is no better than fresh.  The variety is limited.  It is an abiding mystery to me why markets in France, often hundreds of miles from the sea, are so much better stocked than in those in a country where nowhere is more than fifty miles from water.  All these shops are shut at the moment and were they to open I remain ‘shielded’ from the rest of humanity and unable to go out on a Saturday morning to see what I can find.

So, with food, as with travel and many other pleasures, there is nothing to do but read about it.  This week I have been going through, for a history project, Henry Mayhew’s London Labour and the London Poor of 1861.  Mayhew was an ethnographer avant la lettre, fascinated by the rituals and behaviours of the common people.  He also loved to count where he could.  At one point he turns his attention to Billingsgate, the London wholesale fish market on the banks of the Thames.  Its business had recently expanded as the new railway network brought in fresh supplies from the coast.  Mayhew set out to calculate, for the first time, the annual turnover of the market:

Table, Showing the Quantity … of the Following kinds of Fish sold in Billingsgate Market in the Course of the Year

Salmon and Salmon Trout                                  406,000

Live Cod                                                                    400,000

Soles                                                                     97,520,000

Whiting                                                               17,920,000

Haddock                                                               2,740,000

Plaice                                                                   33,600,000

Mackerel                                                            23,520,000

Fresh Herrings                                            1,225,000,000

            [Sprats                                                                    4,000,000 (by measure)]

Eels                                                                          9,797,760

Flounders                                                                 259,200

Dabs                                                                          270,000

Barrelled Cod                                                          750,000

Dried Salt Cod                                                      1,600,000

Smoked Haddock                                             19,500,000

Bloaters                                                           147,000,000

Red Herrings                                                      50,000,000

Dried Sprats                                                             288,000

Oysters                                                            495,896,000

Lobsters                                                                 1,200,000

Crabs                                                                          600,000

Shrimps                                                           498,428,648

Whelks                                                                 4,943,200

Mussels                                                            50,400,000

Cockles                                                                 7,392,000

Periwinkles                                                   304,000,000

You read it correctly.  That’s over a billion fresh herrings consumed by Londoners in the middle of the nineteenth century (with a population of some 2.5m).  Almost five hundred million oysters and shrimps.

That’s fish!  Enjoy the sight.