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Breeding conscious consumers at the Spier Secret Festival Conference

It's no 'secret' that organic, free range and sustainable have been foodie buzzwords for some time now; however with a local and global infrastructure that still very much supports the continuation of unhealthy, unethical and mass-produced food these words need to be drummed into our consciousness now more than ever. The bottom line, it is we, the consumers, who drive the markets and have the power to steer the direction of the food industry into a more ethical era.

This was very much the sentiment and underlying theme at the third annual Spier Secret Festival Conference, held at the beautiful Spier Wine Farm last Friday, 24 October, 2014. We need to breed conscious consumers who care where their food comes from, how it is made and who it effects in the process.

Spier definitely put their money with their mouth is or rather their organic food where their table is. Attendees of the conference were treated to many fine delicious treats throughout the day. The most important meal of the day, breakfast - a filling and healthy affair, including amazing varieties of ethically made bread from Schoon De Companje, free-range bacon and pasture-reared eggs, tasty preserves, raw honey, fruit and yogurt - did well to prepare those attending for the busy day ahead. While lunch consisted of slow-smoked pulled pork on buns by Southern Smoke and artisan ice cream (grapefruit curd in a cinnamon cone, anyone?) courtesy of Schoon De Companje.

Breeding conscious consumers at the Spier Secret Festival Conference

The Grain Divide

Shoon De Companje not only fed us but also educated us. The second speaker of the day, Fritz Schoon, founder and baker of the Schoon De Companje, a gourmet emporium in Stellenbosch, spoke about his journey to organic wheat farming. Noticing the bread-free and carb-curbing trend a few years back he began investigating why so many people had an aversion to the simple loaf of bread. The problem was that, on closer inspection, that simple loaf of bread wasn't that simple. A product that should really only have four ingredients in it: flour, water, yeast and salt was now being created with a range of nasty sounding chemicals including azodicarbonamide, a property also used in the manufacturing of yoga mats! The root of the problem, pardon the pun, starts with the farming of the wheat. For mass production and a greater yield chemical mono-cropping farming takes place while in the manufacturing process roller mills refine the wheat so much that pretty much all nutrients are removed, and then, if that is not bad enough, it is bleached with harmful chemicals to acquire it's pure-as-snow colour. This all ensures that your everyday long-shelf-life white sandwich bread is packed with chemicals and has no nutritional value, essentially a 'dead product'.

Fritz Schoon
Fritz Schoon

No wonder we're all banting/paleo crazy; who in their right mind would want to put that sort of product in their bodies? However if the wheat is organically farmed, the whole grain is included and bread naturally fermented you have a nutrient rich and healthy product that is darn delicious, as Schoon discovered. Working with two local farmers he now only uses organic wheat in the creation of his bread and strives to create an organic and sustainable local grain farming culture.

For more watch the The Grain Divide Documentary Preview from UnbrokenFilms on Vimeo.

Sparking conversations

Another speaker of the day who reiterated green practices and ingredient integrity was the inspiring Eat Out Award winner Vanessa Marx, executive chef of Cape Town restaurants Dear Me and The White Room. She only uses seasonable and organically farmed fruit and vegetables, free-range meats and SASSI-approved seafood. Through her ever-changing and descriptive menus she tries to coach diners to be more aware of where their food is sourced and how it is produced, opening up conversations with her customers about conscious consumption. "Behind every plate of food is a story," she says.

Vanessa Marx
Vanessa Marx

The following speakers on the line-up were Sheryl Ozinsky and Kurt Ackerman founding members of the Oranjezicht City Farm, a farm from which Vanessa Marx sources most of her fresh fruit and vegetable produce. "The OZCF is a non-profit project celebrating local food, culture and community through urban farming in Cape Town." Formerly an unused bowling green and originally part of the, Oranjezicht Farmstead established in 1709, the farm is open to the public from Monday to Saturday with a market at the Homestead Park adjacent to the farm every Saturday. OZCF strives to offer a sustainable organic food source to the community.

Sheryl Ozinsky - Oranjezicht City Farm
Sheryl Ozinsky - Oranjezicht City Farm

The Carrot Revolution

Kurt Ackerman then spoke about OZCF's Food Dialogue Programme, an initiative with the goal of continuing the discussion on developing a healthy and sustainable local food market. The 10-part series hosted a wide range of speakers involved in shaping the food system; these discussions were recorded and edited into The Food Dialogues Report, which aims to "reshape the food system, providing an opportunity for food growers, academics, activists, writers, nutritionists, food lovers and anyone interested in a sustainable approach to engage in key issues intimately connected to the food we eat and the future of food in Cape Town". Download the full report here. Kurt ended by stating that these initiatives are there to start a food revolution: "Not a revolution with blood on the streets, but with carrot juice on our lips!"

Thanks to the all the speakers and to Spier for organising such an educational, inspiring and well-managed festival and conference.

Viva la carrot revolution!

The setting for this year's Spier Secret Festival was at the Werf (farmyard), historically the heart of the farm. Spier is in the process of reconnecting with the farm's rich heritage, rediscovering the Werf so that it once more becomes a hub of activity, where ethical farming, artisan food and creativity find expression.

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