[singlepic id=43 w=320 h=240 float=left]Have you ever looked across from the M5 highway (or even the N2, where it intersects with the M5), facing away from the mountain, and seen a little oasis of grassland, on the other side of the Black River?  An oasis with horses, to boot?

I’d always wondered what it was, but had never taken the pro-active step of going to find out.  But then Linda Malone of Millstone Cafe contacted me, and invited me to come and have a look around.

It’s the Oude Molen Eco-Village, of course, and anyone who’s visited will know that there’s something very special about the place… a sense of community, and a feeling of care – though you wouldn’t know it if you judged it by the rather run-down entrance.  

Organic vegetable gardens abound, lovingly tended, and beautiful horses frolic happily in their paddocks, waiting to be ridden.  I spent a good few hours exploring the place, with Linda as my guide, and these are some of the highlights:

[singlepic id=45 w=187 h=280 float=right]Millstone Cafe

Central to the Eco Village is this lovely little cafe with outdoor tables where you can sit and have a hearty breakfast or lunch, shooting the breeze whilst kids amble about in the enclosed garden.  

I love the rustic decor – plenty of hand-made reed ‘walls’ and tables and chairs made from old cable spindles and wooden crates.  Some of the murals were apparently made by the inmates of nearby Valkenberg (a form of art therapy).

From the cafe there’s an impressive view (through the trees) of Devil’s peak, and across the sweeping N2/M5 highway interchange – and you can marvel at the frantic pace of life below, from a bit of a distance (there’s something cathartic about that). 

Inside the cafe is a lovely organic shop, where you can buy fresh vegetables grown right next door,  as well as jams, pickles, preserves, a variety of honeys, fresh baked bread, biscuits and other treats.  Most of the produce is made either in the Village, or brought in from very nearby – and most of it is organic!

Organic vegetable gardens and bee hives

I said oasis, and I meant it.  There are vegetable gardens just about everywhere you turn out there… some are more organised than others, and possibly better looked after, but there is definitely an abundance of organic produce, which is always something I love to see.

[singlepic id=69 w=280 h=187 float=left]Some is sold at Millstone, and the rest is loaded up on horse and cart and sold around the neighbourhood.  

It’s wonderful to see such industry, and of course it provides not only a source of income for the people who tend the gardens, but also a healthy organic diet.

One garden in particular is a community project, specifically aimed at teaching young folk how to grow food, and giving them a sense of belonging (in the hopes that they won’t turn to a life of crime and drugs instead).  

And, alongside the gardens, the pollinators: a series of bee hives tended and harvested by locals.

[singlepic id=76 w=280 h=187 float=right]Horse paddocks

A herd of happy looking horses is kept in paddocks adjacent to the Millstone Cafe.  They are well looked after, and you can go for rides on the grounds – something I’d definitely like to try some time.

And, of course, having horses means a ready supply of manure for the gardens and various compost heaps!

Michael McDonald’s Survival Garden

Now this is something that deserves its own article, if ever I have the time (took me long enough to write this overview!).  Michael McDonald is a man with a plan.  Living very humbly in a tiny little dwelling on the fringes of the eco-village, with little or no income, Michael decided to plant a ‘survival garden’ containing only things he could eat.  

[singlepic id=85 w=187 h=280 float=left]Little by little, he brought the pips of discarded vegetables back to his home and started planting them.  There was, he told me, almost no decent soil in which to plant them, so he started carrying some back in packets from across the way, to help things get started.

And out of nothing grew one of the most fascinating gardens I have ever seen.  Every single plant is edible – from amaranth, to spinach, to fantastical bean plants (huge!), to higgledy piggledy sweet potato vines, a guava tree and so much more.  Nothing is wasted, and not one cent was spent in creating it, either – everything was either brought in from nearby, or a gift from a visitor.

All of it is protected from pests organically with the use of marigold chopped up into insect-repelling ‘tea’ and handsomely fed by the produce of Michael’s thriving worm farm.  

It’s wild and completely untamed, because making it look neat would mean it would also look edible, and Michael’s harvest would soon be plundered by the kind of two-legged pests undeterred by mere marigolds.

I took photo after photo – and if you’re a garden enthusiast, it’s worth taking a good look, because this is a garden unlike any other I’ve ever encountered.

Michael is available to help you set up your own survival garden, or teach you a little bit about successful worm farming – you can get hold of him through Linda Malone at Millstone (details below).

Micro enterprises

The village is home to a variety of small industries, from art studios to creators of rustic wood furniture, to metal workshops and more.  

“Oude Molen is a micro-enterprise village comprised of approximately 70 tenants representing a diverse range of businesses such as artists, woodworkers, music studios, photographers, a training centre and a frail-care centre.  All together, the tenants provide employment for approximately 300 people.

The aim of the village is to demonstrate how under-utilised public assets can be used in an integrated way to provide business and employment opportunities, thereby addressing poverty.  Hence, the village has been developed with the synergies between small businesses in mind.  For example, some of the wood from a tree-felling business is used by another business to make garden furniture.”   (via)

Unfortunately, though, Linda tells me, all of this is at risk of being removed.  The tenants are apparently being squeezed out, one by one, to make way for a mass housing project that is likely to have a rather negative impact not only on the environment, but on the lives of all the community members currently sustained by the eco-village.

[singlepic id=60 w=280 h=187 float=right]I understand that people need houses, obviously, but to put and end to something that is fostering small industry and giving a community the opportunity to earn income through activities that are kind to the earth seems crazy to me.  

My hope is that they can come to some kind of compromise, wherein what is already there is utilised better than it currently is (many of the buildings are completely empty, and beginning to get very run down), and that new residents become part of the eco-community.

What we all can do to help, though, is to give the village our support by visiting as often as possible, bringing revenue to the people who do work there, whether it’s by buying organic produce from the farmstall, having breakfast there from time to time, or supporting the small industries working so hard to make ends meet.

So, next time you’re wondering where to go for a breakfast or a cup of tea, why not try Oude Molen.  I’ll certainly be going far more often from now on.

[singlepic id=50 w=280 h=187 float=left]How to get there:  Oude Molen Village is on Alexandra Street, Pinelands, Cape Town.  There’s a map here.

Coming on the N2 heading out of town, you’ll pass the M5 and turn left into Pinelands (onto Forest Drive). Turn directly left at the Oude Molen Eco-Village sign and travel past Vincent Palotti Hospital and along the train tracks until you reach another sign. Turn left and at the booms (normally up), turn left again, following the road until you reach Millstone Cafe.

It may look a little delapidated on the outer edges, but keep going to the cafe, and you won’t be disappointed.

More information about the village (including history) here, here and here.

Millstone Cafe:  Open Tuesday-Sunday from 9am to 5pm.  More info here.  Contact Linda on 021 447 8226/082 407 8910 or email millstone@polka.co.za.




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