The Earth Centre Swellendam

Posted on Tue July 18, 2023.

We thought we’d take a moment during our quieter winter period to show some gratitude to our suppliers, the people that create the beautiful produce that we serve with pride. We very seriously support local. It’s very close to our heart. It’s a way of paying our guests’ generosity forward and helping to sustain our local country community. This month, we focus on The Earth Centre Swellendam, our corner ethically-sourced veggie, fruit, earth-friendly ingredients shop situated in The Drostdy museum complex.

The Earth Centre Swellendam started off as the Veggie Box more or less 11 years ago. At the time, Shantal, the owner/founder was staying on a small-holding herself. She was growing veggies and taking care of animals.

She had surplus veggies, so started making salads and bunching leeks and drove into town to look for people that may be interested in purchasing from her. She still remembers her very first customer calling her as soon as she got home and unpacked her box. ‘Shantal!’ she said, ‘the leeks have dirt on them’. Shantal began apologising profusely and the customer cut her short. ‘No’, she said, ‘I love them with dirt, it means that they were freshly harvested!’

Down the road from her small-holidng, there was a lady making cheese from her cow’s milk, another lady further on made preserves and another one, rusks… Shantal harvested and prepared her salads and leeks for her orders and then collected her neighbours’ produce on the way into town for deliveries.

I realised then that we are surrounded by so much food growing in and around our town of Swellendam, but a massive portion of it gets trucked off to central markets and sits in cold storage only to land back on our supermarket shelves again. I thought I’ll rather collect what I can from interested farmers and include their produce in our veggie box.

As we were also organic farmers, I have always looked out a bit more for organic farmers. We always list our produce as organic, biologically grown or regular so that customers can make an informed decision for themselves, but in all fairness, I’ve come to love all of my farmers. They are all making an incredible effort to grow food, it’s not an easy task, so we work with them all. We do draw the line at super harmful chemicals though.

We do all of our own farm visits for The Earth Centre and it always takes so much longer than expected. Farmers are very warm and inviting. Most of the time you are encouraged to join them for a heartfelt meal accompanied by a heartfelt story on how much they love what they do, their love for the land and their love for nourishing people.

There are a few farmers who have offered land to their farmworkers to grow for themselves. There is one guy in particular who has become an excellent producer. He now grows, not only for his family, but for neighbours, members of his community and even the farm owner himself and still has leftovers to sell. His veggies are so beautiful, the smell and the taste. Amazing!

We also have people coming in to trade with us, our backyard farmers. They don’t have much, a kg of lemons, a handful of kumquats, a few bunches of spinach or kale. Whatever they have, they bring and trade for what they need in the shop. These traders warm my heart.

We have the best egg farmers! Those hens have the best life ever. It is the biggest treat when the egg farmers come to deliver our eggs as we get warm hugs and lots of love.

The majority of our produce is grown/made by local hands. We always look for local to Swellendam first and then slightly further afield into the Overberg, if not available here. We have found some growers and others have found us. This is always a wonderful feeling, both ways.

There’re dairy farmers that try their hand at veggies and realise that they’re actually quite good at it. I do a little happy dance when that happens as it means they’ll continue for next season. More veg for Swellendam!

There’s our naartjie and watermelon farmer. They are such humble people, constantly serving their community. We’ve been receiving fruit from them for almost a year and today was the first day that he delivered the naartjies himself. It was so heartwarming to see him at our shop in person.

Our olive farmers are a little family living in the Karoo. They have a bunch of dogs and a sheep who thinks it’s a dog, his name is Wagter. They grow the most amazing olives, preserve them by hand and come to visit along with their own homegrown nuts as a snack.

When I first opened The Earth Centre Swellendam, I thought that we would be completely vegan, but then so many customers asked for earth-friendlier meat. We now have a wide range of free-range, organic, antibiotic and growth hormone free meats. It is such a pleasure working with these farmers. The respect, love and care for their wellbeing that they hold for these animals, is beautiful to behold.

We also have a family making beef, veggie & chicken broths for us, using the bones & veggies from our shop. They ensure that they are collagen rich and made with mountain spring water. (We actually use these broths as the base for our sauces at Schoone).

We now have a clothing room… I have been dreaming of a natural fibre range for a while and all of a sudden, the vibrant people that make these vibrantly coloured clothes arrived. For weeks the smell of freshly made clothes lingered in the shop.

I asked Wilbur & Gary what their favourite part of the shop is and they both said they love the busy-ness of Wednesdays and Thursdays, when farmers deliver and customers collect. We all connect, share our passion and chat about the joys or hardships of the week. It feels like two days of ‘kuiering’ in our little shoppie. I am so overwhelmed by the support that we receive from our producers and our customers alike. To everyone who has walked through our doors, whether you have come to work, shop, deliver, browse or just catch up, thank you! Thank you to Wilbur & Gary too, it is a pleasure serving with you.

We have sadly said goodbye to Elana, our usual fabulous photographer, as she’s just too busy with a new baba and lots of weddings. We very excitedly welcome Carlo Jorge as content creator though and very much look forward to working with him. Carlo did this lovely photoshoot with The Earth Centre! Uber talented, don’t you agree?