“There is no such thing as a bio-dynamic farm – only a bio-dynamic farmer. The farm is just a holistic, living organism,” says Aletta Venter over a cup of tea in the farmhouse kitchen. The 38.5 hectare farm we’re visiting near Wolseley was bought by the Venter’s in 1995, and for the first four years it was managed as a small scale commercial dairy farm. But Aletta grew disillusioned with this type of farming, and in 1999 shut the farm down and went travelling through Ireland and New Zealand in search of inspiration. Her aim was to find people “who actually enjoyed dairy farming” and discover what made them tick.
A series of coincidental events along her journey introduced her to the concept of bio-dynamic farming, and towards the end of the trip she ended up on a ‘sustainable farm’ in Shelley Beach near Auckland, New Zealand. “When we arrived, the energy we felt was amazing, and I thought ‘that’s it’. Turns out it was a bio-dynamic farm”. It was the first time she had encountered Rudolph Steiner’s philosophy (which biodynamic farming is based on), and she felt a connection to it based on her own understandings of astrology and planting calendars. Her own experiences thereafter of the “vibrance” of biodynamic vegetables consolidated that connection for her. Aletta believes that plants have a vital force and intelligence, and should be nurtured with this in mind. The result is that Hoekiesdam is now a bio-dynamically run mixed-produce farm.
The farm that grows communities
But Hoekiesdam is more than a biodynamic farm. Hoekiesdam is focussed on sustaining communities from the land. It is a co-operative – known as Afrikara – legally registered through the Co-operatives Act (that enables communities to be a legal body). Under this act, communities are free to decide how to function, but all members have an equal vote and 5% of all profits must go into savings. There are different categories of co-ops, and Afrikara falls under primary agriculture. There are also different levels of membership, such as “activity rights members” who undertake an activity on the farm, and “supportive members” who purchase products.
The farm has cows, sheep, bees and chickens, and these give rise to activities such as:
Dairy production, Dairy processing (soft cheese, yoghurt, cream, butter), Meat, Wool, Honey and Eggs
One of the members has also started a thriving vegetable garden. The co-operative aims to link all the activities on the farm so that it becomes a closed system.
Afrikara is open to member applications and the constitution and conditions are available on the website. There is an annual fee of R1200 which grants members rights such as privileged access to the products, rights to visit the farm, help on the farm, and so on. Members are also able to analyse the financials and make suggestions.
The farm’s aim is to promote food security and community resilience by “ensuring access to food that nourishes body, soul and spirit” in a very sustainable and holistic way. This is one step up from ‘meeting the farmer’ – and if you really want to get involved in creating your own food story, it’s the way to go.