We recently received this story about community farms from one of our South African distillers and would love to share it with you!
We have a very poor community in Bela Bela, who have quite a lot of land available to them because of the size of their tribal boundaries. (Bela Bela is about fours hours drive from Johannesburg, where our offices are.)
About one year ago, the community, represented by Mr. Lelaka, decided to allocate some of the land to growing essential oil crops. Mr. Lelaka contacted us last year to ask for funding and education on farming essential oils.
They received a small donation from a private bank investment which allowed them to build a small nursery, clear natural land, and put basic irrigation on the land from a river which flows through it. We were able to fund organic geranium plants to help them get started.
We also have joined with them to try to find more funding to expand. We have met with them on numerous occasions (at our offices and on their land) to give advice and educate them on how to grow geraniums successfully. We prepared a 21-page presentation for them, to allow them to use the presentation as a marketing tool to try get funding.
They were wanting to expand to alternate crops and to clear more land.
Last week, out of the blue, I got a call from a lady named Desiree who was in a panic. Her story was that she had been growing wild lemongrass in her little farm in Bela Bela for a while and cultivating it. The lemongrass plants were healthy and covered almost three-quarters of a hectare.
Desiree had recently sold her farm and had just heard that the new owner was going to pull out all her lemongrass to plant strawberries--that same week!
This upset Desiree, because she felt that all her effort and time had gone into growing each lemongrass plant, and now they were going to be thrown out for compost. Desiree contacted me at the last minute in desperation to try to find out if we could do something with the lemongrass plants (even distill them to at least get some oil from her hard work).
So I contacted Mr. Lelaka, who had been waiting for funding since October last year, and asked him if he had a way to move the plants. Unfortunately, a large truck would be needed to collect all the plants and there was no one who could help out immediately.
I spoke to Mr. Lelaka to explain that if he could collect the lemongrass, it could be used as a natural insect repellent for the geranium crop. We discussed planting the lemongrass among the geranium or around it, and also the yield which lemongrass has for the amount of oil it can produce (a very high yield). Mr. Lelaka found a friend in the area who had a small pick-up and a trailer. They immediately drove to the lemongrass farm (while the strawberry tractors were waiting to plough the ground) and pulled out as many plants as possible and packed the pick-up and trailer as full as possible.
It turned out that the lemongrass were sufficient to be planted on the perimeter of the geranium field and will act as an insect repellent for the geranium crops. The lemongrass will also yield oil which we can purchase from Mr. Lelaka.
So all in all, it was a great success: Most of Desiree’s plants were saved, and Mr. Lelaka and the community received many lemongrass plants at no cost. We are now going to wait for the new crop to settle down in its new environment and then we will harvest and distill the lemongrass to see the quality of the oil. Then we can plan how much should be propagated for future oil sales.