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Diverse life on the small-scale farm

The complexity of life is showing itself on Vegkop Polyculture Farm. Species interact – at times as competitors, but more so as symbiotic communities – is incredible. In nature the web of life is held together by relationships. One species’ waste is a resource for another. Different species often work in cooperative enterprise for mutual benefit. For example, in a healthy soil system, microbes that have been fed by the carbohydrates that a plant produces and exudes through its roots, in turn supply the plant with essential minerals and, in some cases, can even mediate nutrients between two nearby plants if one has an excess of a certain mineral and another plant has a deficiency.

Life on earth is built on biodiversity and driven by the interaction of species and the collateral ecosystem services those relationships produce. On Vegkop Polyculture Farm we work very hard to mimic nature’s organizing principles and apply them to farming systems by building biodiversity as the foundation for a healthy ecosystem that results in higher productivity.

It’s become the job of farmer Hafeez, trained in biodiversity at UWC, to catalogue the many interesting and diverse species on the farm– plants, birds and insects: from fireflies, wasps, earthworms, Leopard toads, to grasses and mushrooms and lots, lots more!

Biodiversity is a cornerstone element of our work on the farm. We want to demonstrate that a small farm can be a dignified livelihood, a successful small business, and that we can also be good stewards of the land by supporting a wide diversity of life. We want to dramatically increase the diversity of life on the farm, as we increase the capacity of our learner farmers.

We maximize our small scale farm by striving to farm intensively to make best use of the little land we have, planting many sequential crops per year on each bed and in some cases two different crops inter-planted in the same bed. We want to grow as many different plants as possible. Growing a diversity of food crops enables us to offer a wide variety to our customers. That diversity is also a benefit to the soil, as a variety of plants feed the soil microbes a wider spectrum of nutrients when they break down and decompose. As a result of that and other Waterman farming practises, we have increased our soil organic matter from 0.5% to 2% in two active farming years, on the road to meet our target of 7% by 2024. Soil organic matter [SOM] is an indicator of soil carbon and soil health and a measure of our learner farmers!

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