Jaci van Niekerk and Loubie Rusch reflect on their field trip to the Cederberg.

The Co-create Wild Food Livelihoods team set off in mid-May to partake in one of a planned series of activities in the Cederberg. Team members – Prof John Parkington, Loubie Rusch, Dr Katharine Kyriacou, Elzanne Singels, Jaci van Niekerk, and Vuyiswa Lupuwana – met up with 11 local participants from Vleiplaas farm situated just over the Pakhuis Pass, north east of Clanwilliam. The meeting and dining space was provided by Tracy and JP du Plessis, at their farm, The Storytellers.

As this was the first official research-based activity of the project, time was taken to introduce how we hoped to work together in gathering and sharing our joint expertise about the wild foods of the area. A consent process was followed, in which each participant was given the choice to either join in the study, to refuse to participate, or to withdraw at any stage of the research. By the end of this process, all those present indicated their willingness to become involved, and so the first 2-day co-create session unfolded. The activities were filmed by Vuyiswa, with a view to the possible production of a documentary about the project.

On the first day, a delicious lunch prepared by two of the participants was followed by a participatory mapping exercise. At first hesitant to put pen to paper, participants were soon actively sketching their immediate environment, locating mountains, rivers, bridges, schools and other local landmarks on an A1 sheet of paper. Some of the older generation, for instance Willem Oktober, now retired, helped the artists with the local names for every twist and turn along the major road crossing the valley. The next step was to discuss and fill in the locations of wild edible plants. Ranging from Goenagam (Diospyros australis-africana), knopbossies (Leucadendron spp) to waterblommetjies (Aponogeton distachyos), the plants’ locations were indicated in relation to local landmarks such as Tracy and JP’s homestead, or distant rooibos tea fields where some of the participants perform seasonal work.

On the second day, we all set off for a walk in the veld with three menfolk mostly leading the way. Jerome Jantijes from a neighbouring farm shared his vast knowledge of local medicinal plants as we encountered them along the way. The extreme and uncharacteristic aridity of the veld lead us to believe that there could not possibly be anything edible in the landscape. This was soon proven quite wrong as we slowly moved between edible shrubs, trees and low growing shoots. Despite the prolonged drought, we still managed to find suitable specimens with flowers, buds or berries for the edibles herbarium collection we intend to accumulate.

Returning to Tracy and JP’s home for yet another very tasty lunch, the mapping exercise was continued. Relying on memories jogged by the walk in the veld, and with guidance from field guides, close-up sketches of the wild edibles seen that morning were made. Those not sketching were given a demonstration by Elzanne on how to press the plants we had collected, and record their details, with the hope that participants would continue to add more specimens in the coming weeks.

The team left the Cederberg, satisfied with the first steps taken towards the co-creation process, and looking forward to returning to the Vleiplaas farm community in July, hopefully to find that good rains have fallen.

Photo of participatory mapping by Jaci van Niekerk (from left to right: Anna Hein, Elzaan Hein, Maryna Oktober, Siena van der Ross, Katharine Kyriacou, Elzanne Singels, Vuyiswa Lupuwana)