Are we really in November? A hazy sort of slowing down and almost startled stupor is creeping over Jozi souls as we take in the fact that we’re facing the end of another year and starting to wind down in energy – getting ready to come undone for December.

Unless you’re in the retail or restaurant trade in which case the opposite occurs and you need to elevate your energy for a spell to get everybody to Christmas Eve and through the frenetic last-minute explosion of activity that happens prior.

That’s where we’re at and so – timeous – to stop for a moment and do a catch -up chat on store news.

First up I guess is to address the great chicken dilemma we’ve had over the past two months.

As with everything, we are exceptionally particular about the chicken farms we support, always looking for the best of them that raise chickens outdoor with a meaningful pastured philosophy and who make effort to reduce or get GM maize and soy out of their diet considerably.

Antibiotics and growth promoters in any supplement feed is obviously an absolute no-no.

When I say ‘meaningful’, I mean farms that really have chickens running around outside – not the commercial interpretation of free range which for various reasons, I don’t find meaningful at all.

When I say ‘meaningful’, I also mean that we want a good portion of the chicken’s diet coming from outdoor grazing, pecking, scratching about and foraging in their natural way. I don’t find it meaningful if chickens do have outdoor grazing but it is insufficient and means they end up just eating feed in a dusty outdoor barren space. To do pastured chickens meaningfully, it can only come from farmers who have enough space to be constantly rotating chicken grazing areas. Chickens will demolish green under foot. While they’re at it, their manure is being stomped into the ground and fertilizes the soil which is perfect for re-growth once they’re done with it. The ground then needs to be rested and the chickens moved to a recovered camp of lush green grazing.

There is no good pastured chicken farmer who isn’t a regenerative grass farmer in my opinion.

Chickens need a broad diet as omnivores, so there needs to be a good mix of grains, greens and insects. Maize and soy are great complements to a chicken’s diet but we aren’t able to entertain feeds that contain GM maize or soy so are always looking for that elusive farm that is able to get by on non-GM input altogether. Either farms who are growing their own maize from their own non-GM seed sans glyphosate or farmers making effort to source those inputs from non-GM sources.

Much like what Eddie Ferreira is doing for his feed – making it up himself with Bertie’s organic maize and non-GM soy from Zambia. Others like Jan our heritage chicken farmer, are growing all their own feeds and crops like maize, rye, oats and barley and lucerne.

Jans Heritage Chickens

Pic by Dan Colpo @Frozentime

The large Haversham chickens, generally around 3kg’s are also from a farmer who makes up his own feed. Once a farmer has to buy in commercial feed, we generally have feeds full of antibiotics, additional clusters of antibiotics that function as growth promoters and that are predominantly made up of genetically modified maize or soy – feed anybody serious about the food revolution wants to steer clear of.

It’s really only farmers who are in control of their own feed inputs, growing it themselves or sourcing carefully that can do it as well as farms who have enough space to move chickens around in camps to regenerate grazing or should I say ‘fervent pecking’ terrain. They are rare and I believe we have found the best of them.

Standing for farms like this has certain occupational hazards however. If anything goes wrong on those farms, we can’t source you anything other to fill the gap.

If there is a problem, we have to hold our breaths and get through it. We can’t bring you something inferior to keep everybody happy. The whole store is based around bringing you food that I find connected to a meaningful organic philosophy so we take hard knocks when there are issues that lie outside of our control.

Like Asian bird flu and its outbreak in South Africa.

The bird flu that hit this country hard meant that for a good three-month period from Junethousands of chicks across the country needed to be culled. The only farmers who wouldn’t have been hurt by this are farmers who breed their own chicks and these are rare as it’s an altogether different type of farming business to be involved in fertilizing eggs into chickens.

So there was a lack of chicks available country-wide for two months. Whilst it has resolved now, our farmers who have far longer growing cycles are going to take much longer to recover. In commercial chicken operations, chickens are slaughtered at 5 weeks. Not the same for our farmers. The heritage chickens are raised to between 18 – 22 weeks, the Haversham chickens 12 weeks – the time it will take them to recover from this is far longer. We simply won’t have the same amounts back until early December and then January which happen to be the time when Jozi is at its quietest and when we’re taking well needed time-off preparing for the New Year.

It has been a tricky time with limited amounts of your favorite chickens being available in store. It got particularly challenging when we had to actually make a tough call to restrict pre-orders to two per customer as people were block booking chickens which caused a great deal of tension. With some wanting to pre-book 10 -20 at a time, we weren’t popular with others, juggling between everybody’s needs at this time wasn’t charming.

Never has there been more tension than now around the now infamousCassandra’s black book for pre-orders’. I shall never quite forget the look of incomprehension and bewilderment on Themba’s face when we finally got chicken in and he realized we couldn’t un-pack it as it was all pre-booked – in fact over booked – and this happening for several weeks in succession. I think he said “I’ve never seen anything like this happen in all my years of retail, waiting lists so long all our stock is sold before we’ve even bar-coded!” Nothing that happens at this crazy store can be considered ‘normal’.

Jan’s chickens are recovering in numbers but slowly so those are still limited for now.

The opportunity that presented though while we had this challenge – challenges and opportunities just always seem to go hand in hand – was that Jan started up a new project for us with broilers.

The heritage breed isn’t for everyone and has an exceptionally long growing cycle so doing a broiler project on the same farm with the same philosophy makes sense. Particularly while we have to work with our farmers to gear up for our growth next year. I’ve always been adamant that we will never grow the size of the store at the expense of integrity, so taking the risk on larger spaces can only happen once our farmers have the capacity to supply us without changing the way they farm. This is an all-consuming focus of our ‘behind the scenes’ planning at the moment for the new store.

On that note – the other opportunity the crisis presented was to finalize a conversation to represent the Boschendal farm produce at Organic Emporium. I had been wanting to sort that out for a while but the chicken crisis forced it to top priority which had the first Boschendal chickens from Farmer Rico arriving in-store on Friday.

Farmer Rico (2)

A while back I spent some time at Boschendal visiting their Black Angus project and the organic gardens while being treated to an incredible meal by Chef Christiaan there and was taken by their commitment to sustainable farming projects and their long-term approach to it.

Farmer Rico (1) More recently news came to me that Farmer Rico Vergotine who was working with Farmer Angus at Spier on their Joel Salatin mobile chicken pastured project had moved to Boschendal to start up the same project there. Introduced to it by Neil Jewells, one of my other favorite food (r )evolution heroes who fervently supports Charlie Crowther’s pastured pork, I got to chat to Rico and get this in for the store.

The Boschendal chickens are run outdoors in the mobile tractors getting a large amount of their diet off outdoor pasture. Rico is passionate about doing chickens differently and bringing what he learnt at Spier to Boschendal which gives us another great chicken option for you. Boschendal is an exciting farm to watch, they are endlessly looking for new ways to do things more sustainably. The supplement feed there isn’t entirely non-GM yet – but Rico speaks passionately about how they are looking at fly larvae projects and other inputs to replace them and get to a 100% non-GM status. The largest part of their diet though comes from pasturing outdoors, the mobile chicken tractor method a great way to continuously move chickens to new grazing while having their manure fertilize concentrated patches for regeneration.

Boschendal whole chickens and chicken portion packs in-store now.

New stock of the heritage chicken arrives as usual on Thursday but it isn’t something we can much advertise anymore as the supply is still limited for a while. Please bear with us and this special farmer, we aren’t able to take pre-bookings for 10 chickens at a time for now and have to restrict it to two per customer, it’s just fair until the numbers are back and it’s all back to normal which will be in the next 4 weeks.

The new chicken from the same farm – non-heritage – will be coming in next week so look out for that – our chicken crisis slowly but surely coming to an end.

While Jan’s chicken is limited we are racking our brains on how to make his lamb more affordable. He obviously needs to justify the transport by filling his van and the limited chicken hurts his figures. So we had to come up with a way to encourage you to eat more of his lamb at a time when lamb is extremely expensive and seen as a luxury purchase in our rather uncertain economic time when everybody is being careful.

We’ve done some number crunching and shuffling to find a way to bring down the price of the lamb for the next couple of weeks before he is back on track with the chicken. We can’t keep this special going indefinitely as it wouldn’t make sense of us going forward or be a sustainable solution as we obviously have tight margins ourselves to work within but it’s worth doing to help Jan and help you afford to put more lamb in your diet while the price of it is sky high. We will run a special until the heritage chicken recovers on the Bethlehem pastured lamb chops at R 145 per kg. This applies across all the cuts even the most popular like rib and chump. We’re hoping it will encourage you to see lamb as more in reach.

You can also now order half or whole lamb boxes from Jan. His cuts and packaging are done so well – for the last customer who ordered a whole lamb – she was delighted to even find that he had made her his special sausages in the box. You’ll get a box of chops, roasts, sausages, stewing cuts as well as off-cuts – a far more affordable way to purchase lamb, just pop the cuts in the freezer and take them out as you need them. The price if you order a whole lamb is R 125 per kg VAT incl. Weights will vary between 9kg for a half lamb to around 18kg for a whole. If you would like to order – please send a mail to debbie@organicemporium.co.za.

Alright, that about wraps up the chicken issue chatter.

The other thing I wanted to chat about here is our coffee bar. It is taking longer to get ready because I’m impossible, basically. I went nuts about the Ugandan Sipi Falls Arabica and was ruined by an experience that had me tasting it at its best character, and that’s what I wanted to serve in-store.

Which has had Themba pulling his hair out with me. He has watched me become a woman possessed trying to get the grind ratio right and rejecting a trillion cups of coffee because I wasn’t happy that it was perfect. All he wanted was a coffee machine and to get it up and running quickly and the next minute had to face the wrath of my abhorrent monster wanting perfection.

organic coffee bar

The coffee is great and that’s why Themba is going moggy at me – people are loving it and saying it’s great coffee – but it isn’t perfect and so I’ve been trying to get a better grinder and running around trying to figure out why it isn’t the character of taste I know that bean can produce while saying to a bewildered Themba – ‘this bean has a particular character and if we can’t show case it right then we may as well use any organic bean but while it’s this bean it must be exactly perfect.’

Bewildered big eyes stare back at me while I see the brain ticking ‘how do I deal with this coffee monster, all I want to do is start selling coffee already’ – 😊. It’s been quite a hilarious introduction to the differences between us that make us work – an impossible perfectionist and the more pragmatic – ‘can we just get on with it’ retail focus of his. Anyhow – I wasn’t happy with the grinder – got to the bottom of why so that’s resolved. Once the grind is just right – then I’m back to experimenting with the best grind ratio for that machine.

Then there is getting the full menu up on the board. Themba, who just wanted to get coffee going, then faced the organic reality of our store – what nut milk do we serve? I’m going to have to make it myself. I can’t have non-organic non-dairy options with all the junk they contain. That had me off to see if I could make a nut milk from marula nuts. Which is now done and dusted.

Then there was the issue of how do I make a really good organic coconut milk cappuccino – that had me trying to source organic coconut cream – sorted. Then it was practicing all the recipes and now I need everyone trained on this rather intimidating menu but one I want to give you. The mochaccino had to be pure – just good real chocolate (Afrikoa) with our milk and thick cream, tested and re-tested until we had it right.

So we’re nearly ready! Themba, Sam and Cassandra are already serving coffees impatient silly with my pursuit of perfection and giving me very particular (I told you so) looks when customers are served coffee and say it’s great😊

Meantime, I’ve been promised a new bean to experience from Burundi that is next on my play list, the story is another that makes my heart beat faster – direct relationship trade – limited quantities of organic coffee beans brought from specific communities and I’ve been told by the legends from Cube Tasting Kitchen – that they will roast something incredibly special for us. So our coffee journey has just begun and we’re on our way now. I just might be able to bring you a retail Cube special roast too for the shelves – will yell when we have something for you.

I will possibly be infinitely painful and dissatisfied – but my team are there to temper that gap – they know well how to work around my quirks and keep the worst sides of me away from customers -and keep you happy while I’m fussing behind the scenes that I want it better.

I want the best for you and until that coffee is the best I can find anywhere I won’t be happy.

On that note for those of you endlessly searching for almonds and bemoaning the price to make nut milks, please try marula nuts. They are African, they are important for small scale rural farmer development, for biodiversity and food security and they are utter treasure.

Marula-Nut-Milk

Pic by Dan Colpo @Frozentime

Infinitely creamier and more affordable than almonds and the milk is delightfully delicious.

Nut milks don’t have to be complicated. Marula nuts don’t seem to need soaking being such an oily nut. I didn’t pre-soak these and still got a delectably creamy milk.

Simply take a packet of marula nuts – 250g – pop them into a blender with a liter of filtered water – blend, done. I add vanilla seeds and a tsp of honey to sweeten. If you want a vegan milk you can sweeten with a date or coconut blossom sugar or nectar. If you don’t want the taste of fine nut pieces in it, simply strain through a small sieve or muslin cloth then just bottle and chill and you have a delicious nut milk in your fridge.

So enchanted apart from it being our nut milk choice on the coffee bar, I’m going to start doing ready made fresh marula nut milks to buy off the shelves shortly – will shout out on Instagram and Facebook when they’re ready.

Last but not least – I thought I’d share one of my eatery test recipes with you.

Chocolate-Mousse-with-Amhlahla-Compote-2

Pic by Dan Colpo @Frozentime

This is for chocolate mousse lovers who want a real version untainted with industrial eggs or commercial chocolate which is little more than sugar and vegetable oil with overly processed cocoa in it and a host of preservatives. That’s unnecessary – you can make a gorgeous nutrient dense chocolate mousse that doesn’t have junk in it, just good eggs from pasture reared hens and cream from grass-fed cows and a good chocolate.

I have played around with many different versions of this and this one I’m happy to pass on. The Afrikoa chocolate chips have given us a chocolate to use for cooking of exceptional caliber.

Pic by Dan Colpo @Frozentime

Pic by Dan Colpo @Frozentime

The 55%, 70% and 80% are dairy free and free from soy lecithin. They all only contain 4 ingredients as proper chocolate should – cocoa powder, cocoa butter, sugar (little sugar depending on the %, 70% is very low sugar to cocoa ratio, the 80% sweetened with xylitol) and in this case sunflower lecithin. The Afrikoa range is a beautiful example of the power of direct relationship trade with Tanzanian growers getting 300% more from Antonino than they get selling to co-operatives and the extraction value at least remaining in Africa.

Ceramics hand made by the incredible Lauren Samakosky Ceramics – my first choice for exquisite clay ceramic bespoke pieces – Instagram @lauren.samakosky.ceramics and Facebook – Lauren Samakosky Ceramics.

Chocolate-Mousse-with-Amhlahla-Compote-4

Try it out and let me know. Honestly, I’m confident that anybody can get this recipe right, I want you to be able to make things your family enjoys without having to subject them to an immune system dip and inflammatory ills that they’d get from the commercial equivalent they’re used to. You can eat a good chocolate mousse using organic ingredients and it’s going to be infinitely tastier than one made with industrial equivalent ingredients.

Organic food should be normal food for everyone, it doesn’t have to a self-righteous pursuit of neurosis – this is just about eating good food – grown with respect to natural farming and that comes from good farmers who are responsible custodians of the natural world they shape around them. It doesn’t need to be any more than that and it belongs to everyone.

So the next time you tell somebody that you eat organic food and they turn their noses up at you imagining that you drink green juice and chomp on kale all day, you can shut them up with something ‘normal’ that they will love just using clean, good base ingredients.

Try this and do post pictures if you do tagging us, it’ll make me heart smile.

Thank you to those who signed up for the broadcast lists getting notifications of new produce as it arrives in-store – that will start up next week. If you would like to be added to that list – send me your mobile number or add your name and number to the form at the till.

Time to love and leave you, see you in-store, thank you for listening to it all – raw, real and un-edited…