This letter had to be re-written four times!
I had started it from the old store and just never finished it with the push to open the new one and each time I returned to it the news was stale. At the relentless pace of life here at the moment, anything not updated in 48 hours is basically old news.
Change is indeed our constant and it’ll continue right up until December (it’ll never end when you let passion shape your road) so these times I take to grab a chance to chat to you about what’s happening in our world are rare like treasure.
It is important though that I continue to write to you this way because I’m the person choosing your food for you in this store so knowing where I come from is always how I let you know what to expect from Organic Emporium. As always, a real disclaimer, that I’m not here to be agreeable, I’m here to challenge the status quo in food retail, work I have dedicated my life towards because I find it that important.
As we grow it’s my way of letting you know that I’m still here and still guiding this with a tight philosophy, a philosophy that will always have organic at the heart of its soul whichever way I express it.
For today, the farm focus piece is about the goat farm behind Die Melkbos milk & dairy, my visit there and why I want you to try their incredible cheese range. It is a beautiful philosophy of maternal care that cradles this farm.
Since the passing of Barry Sergeant, we stopped doing goat dairy and had nowhere to go that compared. For us it has to be from a farm that has a meaningful free roaming set-up with the goats getting the majority of their calories off the land and not from pellets. I found that and something extra on this farm, their grazing terrain took me by surprise and I think explains that ‘x’ factor I found in their milk, cheese and yoghurt. See the link to the article on Die Melkbos Farm – here.
They’re all raw (think probiotics) French style as it should be, with the French having the longest history with goat cheese making. They’re very particular, I won’t be able to relate them to anything you know, so I’ll make sure samples are out for you over the week-end.
The packaging needs some work to identify what they are, so we are re-looking at that but the most important part of it is there, how the goats are raised, what they’re fed and how they’re treated.
Once our liquor license is ready, I’ll be able to give you wine to have with it too. Touch wood, that should be ready shortly. I might be counting the sleeps frankly.
I have some very special organic & biodynamic wine farms I just can’t wait to introduce you to but we’ll get into more fun with that in Spring.
Store hours are the same except that we have extended Sunday trading hours until 3pm.
We are commencing build on the cafe and the outside area, hoping to have it ready by Spring, so please excuse another round of build disruption but we’ve ensured the new store is separated for as long as possible.
Whilst the café won’t be open until then, we are going to put out some tables in the passage-way in the meantime.
We don’t have a kitchen to offer you anything plated or served yet and our production kitchen is too far a walk to make that work, so until Spring the tables are only out for those of you who want somewhere to sit with a take-away.
We saw so many people just wanting to languish in the space over the week-end that it makes sense to do.
We’ve increased grab and go options for those of you who want to grab something healthy on the run with their coffee. You’ll find those on the front table with the bread as you walk in. The focus on more convenient organic options is part and parcel of our vision to meet people where they’re at.
Organic can’t only be a whole foods option for people who have the time to cook. To make it accessible to more people, we need to be realistic about where people in Jozi are at and time poverty is a real pressure.
Taking the work, heaviness and politics out of the organic conversation is important so a huge focus on this side to bring organic food into a more contemporary light as well as to make it African relevant.
The organic certification route is to my mind another form of colonisation on African indigenous wisdom. I’m going to be talking about this more as I move along, I’m clear on this.
Returning to the inherent wisdom of the African indigenous diet and small-scale farmers is our route – commercial European models of the commercialisation – and to be more controversial – ‘Europeanisation’ of the word – organic is yet another assault on Africa.
If we want to be eating an organic diet that is good for you – turn to the marginalised – they hold the key. Possibly don’t show up with a clipboard and fee to make them pay a European body to call them ‘organic’, Africa has had enough of this kind of injurious insult, these farmers were never a part of creating the food problem to start with. It’s time to show up with respect and reverence for their wisdom and to listen.
You’ll see these focuses reflected on the front table as you walk in as well as in the new Grab & Go Healthy Convenience Fridge.
The bread for our sandwiches is made with only Bertie Coetzee’s Lowerlands’ organic heritage wheat flour by baking genius Pauli Coetsee from The Bread Gypsy, the fillings only using ingredients from our store and with the focus being on giving you healthy organic versions of firm favourites.
We haven’t stopped doing our own in-house 36-hour sourdough farmhouse loaf but we’re leaving the others to her. For coeliacs or people who are coming back to bread, I recommend the 36-hour ferment in-house farm loaf first, as the gluten is almost entirely pre-digested.
That’s why it’s not a tall loaf and not spongey – there’s practically no gluten left in it! I have found it amazing to note that the heritage wheat grains grown organically by Bertie have some kind of alchemy – some ancient relationship with wild yeast – the longer the ferment the more potent the starter becomes. We’ve had problems with this loaf in that the starter goes berserk on the Lowerlands flour – BERSERK – to the point where it digests all the gluten. It goes berserk because the flour is so nutritious.
I’ll never forget Anoeschka Lesch commenting on this when we were having particular problems with our bread and she has such experience and remarked – ‘I’ve never seen anything like this, your starter is so powerful it’s digesting ALL the gluten’.
Which pretty much explained the height of the loaves and why they are so different. I was clear that these ancient grains and wild microbes were happy with each other. So we’re keeping that loaf. For those of you not as reactive to gluten, Pauli’s Bread Gypsy loaves are a good option. Her bread is incredulous.
Pauli is a gem, we share the same passion for the Lowerlands’ organic flour and she has been so accommodating with us about only using that flour for anything made for our store, even the croissants. The flour stocks are low so it can cause a lot of running around getting flour between us and them but she is prepared to so without fuss and that means much to me.
It does mean there will be variations on the breads depending on which flours are available. If we are out of one wheat variety, we’ll only use another from Bertie’s farm but won’t ever compromise by using a non-organic one even if its stone-ground.
I’d rather be out of stock while we wait for more supply and accept variations than compromise on that so please don’t ask us to. If I compromise on that, where does it end?
From that magical table at the front – you could even have a slice of amaranth cake – considering its basically a well disguised superfood cake really made with organic amaranth flour, marula nuts, raw cacao and honey, anything on that table is nutrient-dense and will keep you satisfied for hours. The baobab cheese-cake is also becoming a firm favourite.
Loaded with the vitamin c both from organic baobab as well as our seasonal organic oranges which Dr Tracy from Modern Traditions, adds to the yoghurt raw so as to not destroy the vitamin c, this is a fun way to eat your probiotics. The base made with marula-nut flour, blackjack flour and cassava.
As the fruit available changes with the season, Tracy will change this cake so orange will end with the end of Winter as oranges come to an end.
The gelatine in it she makes herself from clean chicken (only foraging original breeds) protein so as to make every bite full as loaded with nutrition as possible which is her philosophy.
I can’t wait to introduce Dr Tracy from Modern Traditions (possibly one of my favourite souls at the moment – she walks in and my soul lifts and happiness levels shoot full throttle, I adore her) to you once the cafe is open, she has added vital dimension to an organic conversation that is relevant to Africa – and her food is made with a philosophy of organic (she’s a keen and accomplished organic farmer as well as a medical Dr and a functional nutritionist) and nutrient-density.
In the Grab and Go Healthy Convenience fridge you’ll see new lines growing each day. We’ve started a breakfast bowl with Emma’s (another gem who has no compunction changing ingredients on her range to our organic ones) grain-free granola and the Camelot raw yoghurt.
I’ll start chia bowls from next week as well. Excited actually about a recipe brewing in my head to do chia with Tracy’s marula nut butter. The soup range changes everyday depending on what organic seasonal produce is abundant for the week.
Then there are the slow cooked just good old-fashioned stews and bolognaises, ever comforting staples – just with organic ingredients like the lamb meat balls in ragu, slow cooked shin on bone, heritage chicken bolognaise (changes life really) and slow cooked beef bolognaises.
Shortly another great addition to our biltong and charcuterie bar will be the Jewel & Co salamis and hams. There will be tasters out and we’ll cut fresh from it for you, silly excited about that, it has pained us including Neil to have to sell such a superior product in plastic so getting to the end of that because we can now with the charcuterie counter, happy days.
We’ll cut them there for you, let you taste them and they’ll be as special as the new venison dry wors lines we’re doing with Brenaissance venison.
To have Tom’s Boran biltong and his venison dry wors hanging right next to Neil Jewel’s charcuterie from Charlie Crowthers – Glen Oakes pork – is very special to me. They’re neighbours in that special valley and when I’m there it’s always either to visit Glen Oakes or Neil or Tom – so consider that our connection to the Cape section. I have much heart invested in those relationships.
Reflections on The New Store, New Focus and the Food (R ) evolution
I did battle to write this newsletter initially, to work out how to talk about where on earth I’m at with it all.
I changed it so many times and hit a struggle with it. Never in a million years would I have ever believed I’d know what ‘writers block’ was. I’d never experienced it and then one day – I just did.
Whenever I’d write, I’d get stuck and it was quite terrifying, like suddenly waking up in a desert with no compass, facing a vast landscape that you can’t make meaning out of.
I’ve written hundreds of newsletters and articles, quite literally, over the course of 9 years on our journey and never battled to write like I did this week.
Words would just always flow from what feels like one of the most honest parts of myself.
All of a sudden there I was, at the keyboard wanting to talk to you from that same old place I always did – but the words weren’t there.
The only way I was able to move through the writer’s block was to do this. To find the courage to talk from a shaky new place and give it a voice.
The only way out as always – through.
This year has been bewildering and it wasn’t really until the new store was open that I had to come to terms with my own evolution and had to meet it with the same wonder and trepidation as our lampshades made of herbs.
The stress of that build was suddenly over and after one long night when I’d decided enough was enough I want it finished, what had taken years to get right, just was there and it was open. Two cases of organic prosecco, music cranked and that incredulous team of mine and I just worked through the night amidst subcontractors still plastering and painting to get it done.
In the first few weeks of being in our new store – I arrived at a destination of my own creation – that felt too large for me and that I felt unequipped for.
I didn’t quite have the skill to deal with the new type of consumer that walked through those new doors and realized that I’d need to expand my internal landscape as much as I had done the store, to move into the space I’d intended – a place where the organic conversation can continue in a fresher and more contemporary way.
Thank heavens for the sacred timing of all things, if this store had happened with the first drawings years ago, it wouldn’t have been right.
When I did this, I realized that I was meeting a new side to myself that I hadn’t yet met here when I was clear that I didn’t want pallets, red brick or any stereotypical ‘organic’ décor anywhere near it.
I wanted to land a new vision, I want to move on and I wanted it clean, elegant, transparent and timeless, which is what organic food is meant to be. Organic food is not trendy, it’s an ancient natural wisdom that has been around for eons that we need to return to, to restore health to the whole.
I obviously wanted the connection to farm still to be upfront, why the pictures of the bulkheads are from 9 years of farm visits and represent what is in the store, but I wanted the store clean, classic, elegant and fresh and to stand for the longevity of organic food in a retail context.
I didn’t want any association with ‘craft’ or ‘artisan’ or anything that has become trendy because organic food is not a trend, it is the future. I want to talk about farms and farmers – nature’s human artisans. There is very little future if we don’t’ stop maiming nature with the way we produce it.
I must have been told half a dozen times that I couldn’t have glossy white floors in the store or kitchen because ‘it shows up the dirt’, which is exactly what I wanted. I want to see the dirt so we can clean it. I want transparency right down to the floors.
I also wanted to move away from wood (as much as I love it) to natural materials that are transparent. We are selling clarity and transparency here and it’s important to me that this philosophy carries through everywhere right through to the kitchen which will be open so you can see your food being cooked and the ingredients we’re using. I love wood deeply but it’s not what I want around food.
It was also important to me that we used creativity to do this elegantly without spending unnecessary costs on expensive fittings. I had a lean budget so being creative was necessary and an exquisite joy actually. That has been fun, working with the incredible Dominique from Matter Design was a God-send. She just really got it and she really got me.
I was quite surprised with some comments that we received in the first week reflecting a fear that our prices would go up because of the ‘fancier’ store. We have lamp fittings made of wine bottles, lamp shades made of herbs, the store came out elegantly because of creativity – not unnecessary expense. I wonder about cynical eyes that didn’t notice that in the detail.
Where it was spent, for good reason – there is method to my madness in having quartz and crystal rock where I could. The clarity in the energy of those minerals deeply symbolic. They reflect the energy of ‘clarity’ as much as how radiant that energy is.
The paint we used was VOC free as well as the floor coating we found, after a hunt I found somebody who could give them the finish I wanted without VOC’s. I could go on, the point is I guess – is just sharing with you how much intent is in the small detail.
Love and intent are always in the detail.
Themba and I both have the same philosophy around resources, we run a lean and tight ship – so that we can put our largest investments – into people, not wasting money on glossy images to prop up either ego or illusion. We also employ people of deep quality and we won’t put people on minimum wage who aren’t looked after in front of you.
We look after our team before anything else. Our philosophy clear – people first. The human first.
I also wanted things from the farms we sell produce from, used as décor – because again that increases the authentic energy of the place. I want the energy of true connection carried through to the tiniest detail. I value things that are what they are and don’t pretend to be anything else. I have more respect for plastic being what it is than for something that is plastic pretending to be something else for example.
On that note, our war with plastic and finding solutions is an ongoing progress.
It’s not as easy as social media keyboard warrior-ship makes out.
We have learnt through our attempts to sell loose produce, that convenience for the most trumps environmental concerns. Not because Joburgers are horrendous people, but because there aren’t enough people who have the luxury of time to select produce and put it in a bag, weigh and wash.
Time poverty and stress do have an impact on how much conscious energy people have to work with and there’s no point in being judgemental about it, it is what it is.
I have much sympathy with it.
I’ve had to become ruthless about how I manage my energy and often it has made me aggressive and intolerant, not because I’m a natural bitch but because I have a limit to how much energy I have available. Personalities get cut and become strained under pressure, I understand that.
When I see people in the store under strain and clipped, I really get it. A Jozi life is strenuous and I make less judgement nowadays about how other people express their strain because I’ve watched myself become brutal when my energy is limited, at what I will or won’t tolerate.
Tell me you don’t have time to cook whole foods or select loose produce and you’re talking to someone who really understands. I haven’t had the luxury of being able to languish in my kitchen cooking for many months, let alone run around the shops. lf it wasn’t for Thabo’s meals, I don’t know where I’d be. You don’t need to show up pretending all is ok in our store, it probably isn’t really all ok, times are tough and Jozi is tough and we’re all having our souls compressed to some degree or another by pressure.
If we want to help people prioritise nourishment and improve their well-being, we have to make it easier and with insight into the lack of time too many people have. So it’s up to us to resolve the plastic problem bit by bit without making it more work for the majority of people that are spending their lives chasing to-do lists that never get smaller.
We’re trialling out different sorts of biodegradable packaging so the convenience is still there. The shelf life is a consideration because we aren’t a farm who can pick new produce every day and small farmers can’t afford to drive here every morning as much as neither of us can afford to throw food away each day because it wasn’t packaged optimally.
The good news is that we’re seeing results with some biodegradable packaging that is keeping the produce as protected as plastic without trouble. We’re also looking at importing where we see better solutions overseas, so it’s again a work in progress and we’re getting better bit by bit.
I know everybody says that they wish we could be like the Cape Town zero packaging store but after much experimentation, we don’t believe there are enough customers with that kind of time in Jozi.
People say it’s a wonderful idea on social media, yet roll their eyes and sigh at any idea of having grocery food shopping become work when they’re here. I get that, I really do.
Out of every 10 customers we serve, there is 1 that has the time to browse and languish, the other 9 are rushing between things. Making organic food more work and less accessible isn’t part of my vision, my hope is the opposite so those are the parameters we need to work within.
Meet people where they’re at. I’ve done the lecturing and the pushing and the activism – this store now is my focus place of activism and where my energy will be focused.
This store, ever a work in progress based on how we all show up.
The herb lampshades are living and will change all the time depending on what herb bunches our farmers have for us and what is seasonal. So you’ll see those change too as Spring approaches.
These first few weeks in the new store have been both bewildering and terribly amusing. So many new people walked in with no idea that they weren’t walking into any ordinary store. I think I may just have frightened some people out of their wits to the same extent they did me.
I knew that I wanted to create a new space and new energy to the organic landscape in Jozi and I knew that we need a larger customer base supporting these farmers to make this viable in the long run.
I knew that I needed to break out of the activist bubble I’ve been living in for years basically preaching to the converted, I knew that this was necessary and as I watched a larger group of people getting confused out there, I knew I needed to find a way to talk to them and to focus the conversation back onto what organic really means. We do have to make this food more accessible to a broader range of people.
That if I didn’t expand the sphere of my voice, then people were just going to be exploited by retailers who continue to push a paradigm that isn’t honest and whose lack of clarity around what healthy means was just going to make things worse. I knew all this – I also knew that I wasn’t doing our real organic farmers justice by staying where I was.
What I didn’t know was that when that new customer walked in the door – I’d find myself struggling to talk to them.
I haven’t been happy for some time with the way the organic world has been shaping around me and I’m fatigued blue with what has happened to it, the dialogue around it stuck and staid, I feel.
It seems to have become defined more around nettly gossip, than it is about the core conversation, the farmer and how the food is being grown. Health conversations seem to have become about lists of foods to avoid, arguments about dietary philosophies, who’s right, who’s wrong, who feels that they are ‘better than’ because of the way they choose to eat, haggling about the price of organic food and unloading a whole load of increased demands on independent stores and de-valuing them often, by definition.
In the first week of the new store opening, I felt like I had woken up into a landscape where it seemed that nobody was talking as much anymore about organic farming, organic farmers and why this to my mind – is the most critical topic in any conversation about health.
This new store is an invitation as much to myself as it is to others to re-think how we engage with the concept of good food connected to farmers who farm with an organic philosophy.
What came up on my blind side however in the new store that this is not what people new to our store necessarily want from me – that’s where it all got a bit Alice in Wonderland.
I have over the past 9 years had one of the most discerning, most demanding and most educated, awake customers in Jozi. I have never battled with them, they’ve been a blessing always reminding me why this work is valuable, I learnt from them as much as they from me, we were well matched, we wanted and valued the same things largely.
My customers asked all the hard questions, the ones I was there to answer and it worked.
My customers to me were for the most good people, awake and exceptionally – real.
Equally, for the most with the odd exception, my customers showed up with the same honesty that they valued in us.
In that bubble I remained but like the discomfort of a cocoon, I was pushing for a different context to grow into and to break out of where I’d been, to let something new emerge.
That bubble most certainly burst on our first day opening.
People new to the journey seem to be talking about food intolerances, nutritionists, foods they have to avoid, products they are asking for, disease – as well as how to build immune systems to survive the medications they have to take – they aren’t talking about the most important ‘health’ topic – the farmer and the way the food was produced. We have to go back to that conversation. We have to start talking again about what organic really means.
Having to say things last week in-store like ‘no we don’t have a hydroponic section, this is an organic store’, and ‘no we don’t have a conventional produce section, this is an organic store’, and ‘no we do not use sunflower oil in our kitchen, this is an organic store’ and no we will not be able to stock your favourite ‘x product’ from ‘y’ store because – ‘this is an organic store’ – was a rather startling place for me to be. I’ve never had to do that before! “Do we stock sucralose”, “hell no, this is an organic store” and so it went on.
Watching Themba actually get annoyance from a peculiar woman because we aren’t stocking food from her suppliers – none of which was organic, was queer to say the least.
I have my work cut out for me to bring more clarity to what organic food really is, to speak about the organic farmers in our midst and what Organic Emporium is at its core.
Until people speak about food and farmers in the same sentence, I don’t feel that my work is done.
When some poor lady asked ‘do you use canola or sunflower oil in your meals?’, and I replied back indignantly ‘of course not’, as if it was the most absurd thing I’d ever heard – I equally got a sense of my growth curve for the next year, I’m going to have to learn how to speak to people that really don’t understand what organic means or know how an honest relationship between us works.
I almost wanted to run after new people as they walked out the door and yell ‘you can’t leave, you didn’t even ask me where that chicken comes from, do you know there is no GM corn on that farm? Do you even know what a heritage chicken is? You shouldn’t buy the chicken if you don’t want to know who Farmer Jan is”!
The organic conversation is all it is about for me and if somebody is buying food without asking about the farmer or how it was produced, I still have much work to do.
I have to accept letting somebody leave with a heritage chicken & baobab sandwich that didn’t ask one single question of me and accept that they might not appreciate me telling them about how the chicken was raised and all about Farmer Jan, they just want a sandwich and find the fact that I want to tell them all about the chicken’s diet – slightly odd.
How about a new man at the coffee counter, I’m making him a cappuccino and then I say – so natural to me – ‘you don’t want this sweetened do you?’ Which is not a normal thing to say anywhere else but general in our store because most of my customers are hard core and hardly ever want their coffee sweetened.
He replies ‘yes please, do you have sugar’? Pause, I look up at him with a stern look, eyebrows raised as if he had just sworn at me. ‘Sugar’? “Yes, do you have any normal white sugar?’.
I stood there frozen, guppy mouth again and then I say another thing you just don’t say to a customer ‘look, the only sugar you are allowed in here is organic jaggery or organic coconut blossom sugar’!
“Jagga-what?’ he replies.
He then proceeded to get a lecture on jaggery and decided he really loved it and even brought some to use at home. Victory! I just added new minerals and vitamins into a man’s diet that didn’t expect nor want it.
I think he actually might come back.
Another poor new man was buying beef – we all know how passionate I am about Brenaissance beef and the Boran, and I approached the man and I think, frightened the living wits out of him. I do hope he comes back – but he may not.
I started telling him all about Brenaissance and why we believe indigenous breeds are the key to regenerative cattle farming and why the Boran is so special, how we look for longevity on veldt and the difference in the omega profile in the fat. Just as I was moving into how the Boran travelled down into South Africa from Kenya and was way stronger than the European breeds (I might have also started bringing in the colonisation of Africa, I was over tired and it’s all a bit fuzzy), it suddenly occurred to me as I registered a look of bewilderment on his face, that he didn’t want to hear all this.
He just wanted a steak!
That poor soul hadn’t even asked a question!
I may need to adapt my approach.
As I walked away I was up close and personal with terror that had been very real for me opening the new store, that I was going to utterly suck at being a shop-keeper and that I’m just not built for this.
I’m just too passionate and too honest and if it is required of me to become that veneered player of retail façade, I won’t be able to do this.
I will not do that.
I’m an activist to my core but not everyone wants to talk about whether or not the chicken that laid their egg was fed with any GM corn or soy or at what age it was slaughtered. Nor about how excited I am about the compost on the farm they just picked up some spinach from, and how many worms I saw and I’m not sure I’m ready for them. I’m not sure they’re ready for me.
Having to confront that kind of new customer interaction, was hilarious as much as terrifying and equally – exciting. I do want to make more people understand why organic farmers are critical and do need to come in the back door with some of them and gear down a touch on frightening new ones.
Also – I do need to let somebody buy a sandwich if they want to even if they don’t know what heritage chicken is and why Farmer Jan is important.
It has had its highlights too like selling more Soga organic orange lollies and buchu waters after 5pm on Friday when the store traffic filled with executives from The Landmark wanting juice to sober up before they headed home. It was one rather friendly man after another looking for ‘juice’, ‘I’ve got this Themba’ as I decided this was my hour of fun at the tills.
They are never going to subscribe to the newsletter nor perhaps ask what Farmer Jan’s chicken eat but whatever, meeting people where they’re at and all that has its lighter moments.
As for you, my loyalists.
You could only have resonated with who we are and valued the integrity and clarity we bring to that store – because you have your own clarity and integrity and in us you found a home.
You connect to the same resonance of the farmers and suppliers we carefully select to be represented in that store. We stand for farmers who farm with honesty, with a philosophy of value connected to a belief in organic agriculture – a form of agriculture which is informed by respecting nature’s integrity.
We will never forget that and it is you whose space we need to preserve our energy for.
I value the people who support us, who value what we value and who come into our space with heart and care and a rock-solid conscience and who are just real, accept our real.
I’ll say it again, I think we are blessed to have the greatest hearts and minds as customers and suppliers.
We will have boundaries up against anybody who threatens the soul in our space or who is disingenuous. I am here to protect the things that matter the most, please expect no less of me.
Time to love and leave you, I’ll see you in store. I might be harried again for a spell while back into build phase – but hopefully after Spring and into Summer, I can finally settle down this year and stop building and rest in what we created, with you.
Maybe even get back some form of personality back, that’d be a bonus.
This newsletter makes no ‘commercial sense’, it has taken days and hours and this is dinosaur now, real old-fashioned writing, I’d have made a far higher return on quick clips on social media.
This might not be an economically viable newsletter but I don’t care – I write for this kind of sense, for you, the person who reads to the end.
You’ve been a part of it all whether or not you’ve ever walked into the store. You make sense to me.