By Garth Johnstone
A fun and funky food forest is the latest project for Nottingham Road’s Kim Wiggett, noted veggie gardener and owner of Happy Heart Foods.
While Kim has branched out to create a well-known local brand of wholesome, tasty, easy-to-consume vegetarian meals, gardening remains her passion.
I asked her where it all began.
“For gardening, my grandmother and my mother were a big influence. I remember when I was small going to my grandmother’s house in Queenstown (Eastern Cape) and she was always in the garden. And I remember one day she made pumpkin for lunch and it was the most amazing pumpkin, which she’d grown herself, and I thought that was really cool.
“And I think I just sort of have a natural ability with it, which makes it easier. You can be quite arty with it, which I like.
“My mom has always had a vegetable garden and it’s always nice to get fresh stuff from the garden.”
Kim, who grew up in Port Elizabeth, has had plenty of training and experience in the food sector.
“When I finished school I wasn’t sure what I was going to do and I ended up studying catering. I always had a passion for it, but am the kind of person who doesn’t want to follow the norm. If you give me a recipe I don’t want to follow it, I want to do it differently.
“From there I have worked in hospitality and restaurants for my whole career. I later went into HR for hospitality. But eventually, while we were living in Durban (moved there in 2015), I reached a point where I was exhausted, just thinking, ‘I don’t want to do this anymore’. Stressful job, stressful life, my health was suffering.”
It was time to look for something else.
“One day I saw a property on Property24 and I said, ‘Look at this house and look at the price’. When we were up in the Midlands, we drove past and had a look, and just kind of fell in love with it. There was so much potential and space.”
Kim and husband Duncan moved to Nottingham Road at the end of 2017 and have gradually turned the gardens and buildings into their own.
Kim has dug numerous large beds, planted fruit trees and they have established tunnels. “I like physical work and gardening is a passion, it’s what I like to do.”
Anyone who has dug beds in the Midlands knows that getting through the clay can be back-breaking work, but she said, “fortunately on one side of the property, the soil is quite soft”.
“About four months after we moved up I started selling veggies. At first I was just trying to figure out how to do it. I was really enjoying it, not making much money. I went to work at Bramleigh Farm for the weekend to manage their guest house and got chatting to Andre Kauerauf. We discovered that we had the same sort of philosophies on food production and what we wanted to do (Bramleigh focuses on raising animals and also grows veggies, while Kim’s food is vegetarian).
“We started working together and then the Reko concept came about and we found our market as small producers (Reko is a system where food producers connect with consumers through Facebook).”
Kim said she had been a vegetarian since 2016. “I was inspired to make easy-to-use meals because so much of what was available was processed. I am growing quality organic veggies and need to use it, so it made sense.”
Her main products are smokey black bean burgers; beetroot chickpea burgers; nutty vegetable spring rolls; and three wraps: beetroot and lindseed; spinach, apple and sesame; and pumpkin and cumin. If you want to have a healthy meal it’s a good alternative, with subtle flavours and no preservatives.
Kim supplies Notties Spar; Flamme Rouge Café in Nottingham Road; Nutting But Goodness and Dovehouse Organics, both in Main Street, Howick; and Hilton and Howick Rekos, both held on Thursdays.
And getting back to that food forest. “I like luscious stuff growing everywhere. The idea is to have different plants growing and thriving at different levels, and they are all providing you with something nourishing to eat.”
Kim has finished planting and seeding, and is waiting for some solid rains, after which she expects things will take off.
“It is meant to eventually become a self-sustaining system. You hope to let it do its own thing.”
Some of the plants that have gone in are plums, apples, pomegranates, nectarines, crab apples, strawberries, artichokes, comfrey, Jerusalem artichokes, sunflowers, blueberries and grapes.
I ask her to label or categorise her approach to growing food, something I can see she’s not that comfortable with.
“It’s difficult. I’d say influenced by principals of permaculture, which includes mulching to retain water, which is not always practical when you’re growing vegetable for commercial purposes.
“I follow no-dig and crop-rotation approaches (see video below), and when practical, I follow the principles of permaculture. I try not to disturb the soil too much. Sometimes you have to dig, to a point. Also it’s a must to put good stuff back in.”