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  • Greyton Transition Town

    It’s easy to get caught up the swirl of negative news that is circulated by major broadcasters and publications daily in our country. However, we are increasingly hearing of exciting new projects and initiatives that are creating positive change! One such community is the town of Greyton which has set out an ambitious goal: to become the first zero waste city in South Africa. We were fortunate enough to get in touch with Nicola Vernon, chairperson of the Greyton Transition Town board, who also agreed to share information with us on the organisation’s work. This is what Nicola had to say…

    Greyton Transition Town (GTT) is a community-based, non-profit organisation that seeks to inspire and empower the people of Greyton and neighbouring communities to work together to achieve sustainability and resilience in the face of rising energy and food costs, economic crisis and environmental degradation.  We are part of the worldwide Transition movement and the first official transition town in South Africa. Greyton has a bold vision for the future.  It’s ambitious and far-reaching and completely achievable.

    The village has committed to being able to say the following in the year 2030:

    We are a community which owns, generates and saves energy together for the benefit of a wider community.  Residents are personally responsible for litter.  Household and commercial waste is kept to the absolute minimum. The inevitable solid waste generated by the community is viewed as a form of income. All sanitation is processed ecologically.

    We set out our vision in 2012 so how are we doing so far?

    Our first step was to gain some credibility by working hard on the ground with projects that would have an immediate and visible impact.

    Greyton Transition Town

    Waste

    In the field of waste, we established South Africa’s first festival on a dumpsite to bring people to an area normally only visited quickly to dump waste, and keep them there, enjoying live music, healthy food, environmental workshops and children’s competitions.  Now in its third year, the Trash to Treasure Festival is gaining popularity and has done much to show our community that there is no ‘away’ and that every piece of litter dumped in Greyton in the past 150 years is still here.

    children drumming compressed

    A large part of the dumpsite has now been rehabilitated and fenced in to create a Green Park, providing a community space where the charity Greenpop has helped us to plant over 50 fruit trees (the start of the Greyton Fruit Forest) and where we have built South Africa’s first ecobrick construction, an outdoor classroom.  Garden waste is removed from the waste stream where it had hitherto been bulking up the landfill, and is processed into wood chips, biochar and compost and sold back into the community to support the work of the two men employed at the Green Park.

    Ecobricks are plastic bottles stuffed with non-recyclable waste.  They can be used as building blocks when sequestered in clay where they will last for hundreds if not thousands of years, ingeniously turning the indestructible nature of plastic waste into a positive.  There is scarcely a household in Greyton that does not feature an Ecobrick on its kitchen windowsill and we are on our way to having sufficient to build a small youth centre for the Red Cross.

    Eco Bricks

    Eco brick house

    Our after school environmental awareness programme brings eco-activities to nearly 150 local children who are becoming firm activists, participating in community clean-up days where they show, by example, that they are no longer prepared to tolerate careless littering by the community.  They enjoy the facilities at the Green Park and are now so disgusted by the sight of the landfill that they are influencing their families to reduce, reuse, and recycle.

    river cleanup

    In June 2014 Greyton declared its intention to become the first community in South Africa to phase out the single use plastic shopping bag.  The amount of plastic bags being used weekly in the village has diminished by tens of thousands and we are about to enter the second phase of the campaign to remove them altogether.  In this we are being assisted by Environmental Campaigner Hayley McLellan of the Two Oceans Aquarium in Cape Town. who is running the national Rethink the Bag campaign which aims to ban the single use plastic shopping bag from South Africa.  Such an initiative would prevent 38,336,000 kg of carbon dioxide emissions per year.

    GTT runs four swop shops.  Adults and children in need bring their recyclable waste to a depot where they get vouchers for each bag brought in which they can exchange in an on-site swop shop for essentials such as clothing, blankets, stationery and food.  High end waste is provided by local retailers.  The swop shops are in Genadendal, Caledon, Riviersonderend and Villiersdorp.

    Children Recycling

    Swop shop

    Energy

    There is a long road to travel before South Africa can take advantage of its position as the third country in the world with the most hours of sunshine.  Our winds and sunshine provide us with the ideal opportunity to invest in renewable energies and the wheels of progress are beginning to turn - slowly.

    Pioneers in this field are having a particularly challenging time and Greyton Transition Town is no exception.  Our first step towards our ambition is to install solar panels on the roofs of public buildings, particularly schools, thereby reducing their electricity bills dramatically and allowing them to spend more funds on teachers and resources.

    We have been fortunate to attract some input from top consultants in this field and are moving towards our first installation, a solar array on the roof of the Emil Weder High School in Genadendal.  At present there’s little provision for feed-in tariffs that would allow the school to sell electricity to the grid and it’s hard to attract investors, but not impossible.  We are working hard towards implementation and expect significant progress to be made over the next twelve months.

    A Model Community

    Community buy-in is essential and GTT has been gathering support and enthusiasm as its programmes continue to touch on each and every resident in one way or the other.  Central to buy-in is to convince the community that change is possible.  GTT has recently acquired the lease on a sixty bed former school hostel and backpackers which is being transformed into a centre of environmental education and learning.

    The Greyton EcoLodge will continue to offer affordable accommodation in the heart of the village but will focus on attracting schools and groups with an interest in learning about and contributing to the care of our planet.  The EcoLodge itself will be a model of sustainability with biomass digesters, renewable energy, biodynamic vegetable gardens and environmentally friendly practices.  It will soon become in microcosm what is aimed for Greyton by 2030.

    Perhaps the most telling evidence that GTT is on the right track is the fact that no less than fourteen people have moved to Greyton because it is a Transition Town.

  • Waterkloof Wine Estate: Sustainable Farming

    Waterkloof Wine Estate is tucked away in the hills of Somerset West in the Western Cape. Known for its beautiful wines and award winning restaurant, their lesser known feature is the extent of their sustainable farming program. Every aspect of production is included in their sustainability programme from their bio-dynamic vineyards to their ‘restaurant in the sky’, which also contributes to environmental protection.

    So how does a farm that uses absolutely no municipal water run? Apart from farming in strict accordance with moon rhythms and the lunar calendar, Waterkloof also focuses on the following areas:

    WATER

    Water: Waterkloof has it’s own spring that supplies the farm with water. The spring water is purified and used in the wine making process, for drinking, in the restaurant and for drip irrigation in the vineyards.

    ANIMALS

    Horses: Waterkloof uses numerous animals within its farming methods to help conserve the environment including Percheron horses. Well known for their “horse power”, each of the farm’s Percheron horses are able to cover up to 8 hectares (approximately 11 soccer fields) of the farm to plough, carry compost and containers of grapes. Six-strong horses plough, compost, spray and harvest the farm instead of tractors. The Percheron horses are also used to remove weeds from underneath the vines, keeping Waterkloof chemical free without damaging the root or soil systems.

    Sheep: The farm is home to a flock of Dorper sheep who are excellent weed controllers! Their droppings are also a rich source of nitrogen which feeds the soil. They are moved around every day and thus enrich the farm evenly.

    Cows: Waterkloof is home to numerous Jersey cattle. Their manure is used in biodynamic preparations.

    Birds: The farm’s chickens enjoy a life in chicken mobiles – moveable chicken houses – where they lay their organic eggs in the straw-filled nests. They are also free to run throughout the vines keeping the weevil population under control. Perches for birds of prey have also been installed in order to control the rodent population.

    Earthworms: Waterkloof created its own earthworm farm from old wine barrels and uses the earthworm tea in the vegetable and herb gardens.

    SYSTEMS

    Permaculture: Companion planting is employed in the Waterkloof vegetable garden. The plant beds are rotated every planting season. The veggies are used directly in the restaurant kitchen.

    Composting: The compost produced on the farm is vital in putting life back into the soil at Waterkloof. Bacterial and fungal orientated compost assists the vines with absorption of nutrients and helps with water retention in the soil.

    Waste: Even the organic waste products in the cellar and restaurant kitchen are composted.

    Clearing Foreign Plants: Approximately 45 hectares of Waterkloof have been cleared of alien invader species allowing indigenous plants to grown and thrive.

    Waterkloof took their eco efforts even further when they registered their conservation areas with Cape Nature as part of their voluntary Conservation Stewardship project. This allows the estate to measure the benefits associated with sustainable farming, energy and water ‘avoided costs’ and the impact of healthy soils, good water infiltration, enhanced productivity and pest control.

    In 2008 Waterkloof was one of ten estates to be awarded a BMI Champion status due to their proven track record of environmental responsibility.

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    WIN

    If you’d like to visit Waterkloof Wine Estate to experience the Biodynamic vineyard tour followed by a Healey cheese and Waterkloof Wine tasting, then either comment on the Waterkloof blog post picture, on the Sustainable.co.za Facebook page, about how sustainability interests you, or follow Sustainable.co.za on Twitter and retweet this post.

    Waterkloof Estate is located outside Somerset West on the M9 Sir Lowry’s Pass Village Road.

    Competition runs from Monday 30th of June to Wednesday 9th of July 2014. The winner will be announced by Friday the 11th of July.

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