Midlands Food Hero – Mary Mlambo


Mary Mlambo at work. Article and pic: Nikki Brighton

“Oh, I have such happy memories of living at Rietvlei”, Mary Mlambo tells me, “I had a garden full of mielies, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, goats, chickens, dogs and a cow”. When Mary moved to Karkloof in 1993 she had to give her livestock away and reduce her garden to suit the new accommodation. For a food hero farmer, this is heart breaking, but Mary lives in hope that she will one day have a place of her own.

In the meanwhile she is doing wonderful things in the gardens at Dovehouse – teaching others all that she knows about organic farming and permaculture, inspiring people to start their own gardens and of course, growing lots of food too. She is planting out red cabbage today and moving a chicken tractor onto a bed of recently harvested greens. “It is important to have chickens in a garden – to scratch, leave manure, eat nunus and make the soil soft” she says. Chickens can cause havoc with newly planted seedlings, so, roosters, hens and chicks live in a lovely, spacious, straw filled enclosure and take turns to spend time in the tractor working the soil. “When their work is done, it is best to prepare the bed right away, but if you have no time, you must mulch – that is very important.”

Mary is terribly proud of her son, Lucas, who is as passionate about farming as she is, and her daughter, Mbali, who creates delicious, nutritious meals from simple ingredients.
“Many young people don’t understand how important growing good food is. They want to be pilots and doctors, but you can’t get food from a plane or hospital” she says sadly.

Mary loves green food in particular – broccoli, green beans and green peppers. “I like to eat salads and raw food.” She says, “I make a salad with cauliflower and just a little bit of mayonnaise (for the kids) which is very good.” Mary is particular about the way her imifino (greens) is prepared “Just a couple of minutes cooking and then mixed with onion leaves and a little salt. It must still have its green colour.” she explains.

Still dreaming about a patch of ground to call her own, she tells me “even if we don’t have much money, we have good food, we are healthy, we work hard and we tell each other don’t give up.”