Conventionally produced food is irresponsibly or dishonestly priced

I had two sets of visitors to the farm today and the question of the pricing of organic goods came up again. Second to the great canard, organics cannot feed the world, it is the most common observation about our produce. That usually stops after tasting the quality and engaging on the subjects below.

As Joel Salatin so eloquently argues conventional food is mispriced. We can use any conventionally produced fruit, meat or vegetable for the purposes of this discussion but in this case lets look at feedlot or grain fed beef.

Here are the items that are not in the price that you pay for your steak (remember it is only ourselves and Greenfields who finish our beef on pasture/grass).

1. The environmental damage from the feedlot.

2. The antibiotic resistance in the human being from eating antibiotic meat.

3. The environmental damage from raising the GMO grains fed to these animals.

4. The humaneness or rather lack of it in having an animal stand in its own excrement for at least 110 days.

5. Contributing to global warming.


Before discussing in a little more detail have a look at the photo below of a feedlot in this country.

Now compare that with this picture taken last week whilst we were training our cattle to high density graze the vineyard cover crops. 200 cattle in a total of 2 hectares daily, moved twice a day versus an animal having 10 square metres to stand in for 110 days.

Spier vineyard grazing

1. The environmental damage from the feedlot.

The waste from the feedlot is uncompostable as the antibiotics kill the microbes that would be breaking down the compost.

2. The antibiotic resistance in the human being from eating antibiotic meat.

You can choose to read anywhere you want but this is becoming a major global health issue. Don’t expect our Department of Health or of Agriculture to take any notice of this.

3. The environmental damage from raising the GMO grains fed to these animals.

Your beef eats GMO grains. South Africa is the only country in Africa that allows GMO grains and that makes us the stupidist country in Africa. The only ones who benefit from GMO grains are the companies selling glyphosate. Here is a concise update and explanation of what the problems are with GMO’s. Words such as spontaneous abortion and resistant super weeds should get you to read this article.

4. The humaneness or lack of it in having an animal stand in its own excrement for at least 110 days.

Should there be a premium for beef eating what it is designed to eat and being moved to fresh pasture at least twice daily? Or does the treatment of animals not matter as a price factor? Is it being too green to worry about these things?

5. Contributing to global warming.

Grain fed beef contributes to global warming. Admittedly not as much here as in the Americas but think about the diesel spent on preparing, growing, planting and harvesting the maize and soya and the diesel spent getting it to the silo and then to the feedlot. Compare this to high density grazing where the pastures recover to be grazed every 6 weeks. 65% of the sugars produced by the plant are stored in complex carbon chains in the ground. Carbon is removed from the atmosphere by a growing plant.


PechaKucha Presentation


I spoke at the last PechaKucha event. It is an amazing opportunity to get your message across. You have to present 20 slides, each of them in 20 seconds. Below is the slide presentation with my comments below each slide.

Slide 1.

Just like starvation, obesity is a form of malnutrition. South Africa is now the third most obese country in the world. Deficiencies in the soil are expressed as deficiencies in the plant which manifest as disease in the plant or in the animal or human eating that plant. Healthy soil equals healthy plants equals healthy animals equals healthy humans.


Slide 2.

We are all farmers by proxy. Each one of us eats at least three times a day. With our fork we decide what agricultural system we support. My aim during this talk is to show you different agricultural systems. Agriculture uses over 70% of the world’s fresh water and is the greatest contributor to greenhouse gases.


Slide 3.


laying irrigation pipes on Spier

laying irrigation pipes on Spier

There are basically two types of agriculture. Destructive or regenerative. Here we are laying the irrigation pipes into land that was destructively farmed. Over 85% of the world’s food is produced using destructive chemical agricultural methods.


Slide 4.

This is the same pasture 19 months later. This has been achieved with high density grazing of cattle and the Biodynamic 500 Field Spray.


Slide 5.

Composting Spier Wines grape waste

Composting Spier Wines grape waste

In addition to the methods described above organic and biodynamic farmers use compost to fertilise their soils. Composting is a process where various forms of waste are combined and then break down to form a nutrient rich, stable substance which is excellent plant food. In picture is the composting operation of Spier Wines where their grape waste is being composted which will then be returned to the vineyard as food for the vines.


Slide 6.

Conventional farmers use artificial fertilisers. These are salt fertilisers that not only consume huge amounts of energy to produce they also make the plant very thirsty. In addition to damaging the soil microbes.


Slide 7.

Not only are chemical fertilisers used to “feed” plants they are also very good explosives. This is the bombing of the Norwegian Prime Minister’s office in July 2011 achieved with 6 tons of artificial fertiliser.


Slide 8.

There are more soil microbes in a handful of healthy soil than there are humans on earth. Chemical fertilisers kill most of these microbes. Compost and the Biodynamic field and compost preparations multiply these microbes and most importantly keep them in balance.


Slide 9.

This is the way 98% of the eggs in this country are produced. The birds are debeaked because of cannibalism and kept confined in cages up to 5 stories high. Lights come on and off every 8 hours to stimulate laying.


Slide 10.

Eggmobile on Spier Wine Farm

Eggmobile on Spier Wine Farm

Alternatively you can buy our eggs which come from hens that overnight and lay in these Eggmobiles. For the rest of the day they are free to range over the pastures where they please.


Slide 11.


This is grain fed beef. 99% of the beef sold in this country comes out of a feedlot. Animals stand in their own excrement, are fed foods they are not designed to eat, are given growth hormones as standard practice and accordingly have to have routine antibiotics.


Slide 12.


Below is the list of what is fed to cattle in a feedlot.

GMO grains 





Fruit pulp

Distillers wet grain


Slide 13.

These are our cows grazing grasses and legumes that they were designed to eat. This animal is a herbivore, not a chickenshitivore.


Slide 14.

High density grazing in action. Here are our oxen moving into the new pasture. The area to the right has been heavily grazed and manured upon over the past few hours. In about 6 weeks time it will look like the pasture to the left.


Slide 15.

This is the inside of the typical broiler chicken house. 98% of the chicken in this country is produced in this way where there are 23 chickens per square metre. Also fed GMO grains, same species meat as well as routine antibiotics.


Slide 16.

In comparison our chickens live in these houses that are moved to fresh pasture every day. We have a stocking density of just under 7 per square metre. In the foreground, in brown, is the chicken manure from the previous 24 hours.


Slide 17.

Farmer Angus showing the impact of chicken manure on pasture growth

Farmer Angus showing the impact of chicken manure on pasture growth

This chicken manure makes the grasses grow really well. In this photo you can see a dark green strip which is where the chickens have grazed and to the left where they have yet to graze. Of further significance in this photo is that in the background on the right is the house where the baby chickens are raised for the first three weeks and back left is the abattoir where they will be slaughtered.


Slide 18.

Plantain on left has grown where chickens have grazed I.e. chicken manure fertiliser. The plantain
on the right has not had that benefit. This is how we make the grass grow for the cattle and lambs.


Slide 19.

Respect for the animals and the process is encapsulated by this Kahlil Gibran quote at the entrance to the abattoir. We have complete control over the integrity of our product.




Ezibusisweni Straw Wine

How it started.

Back in 2005 whilst we were housebuilding (out of clay, the subject of an imminent blog) and starting to develop our garden along permaculture and biodynamic principles under the guidance of Avice Hindmarch, we also decided to learn Italian. In Stellenbosch there is only one Italian teacher worth having and that is Simonetta dalla Cia. We were soon befriended by her husband the genial connoisseur, Giorgio. At that time Avice decided to revive an abandoned 3 Hectare Chenin Blanc vineyard close to our building site. Giorgio determined that I learn about winemaking as he understood there was no money in growing grapes. He also said that it would be boring to produce just another organic Chenin Blanc and that I should make straw wine.


Ezibusisweni Chenin Blanc vineyard

Home of Ezibusisweni Straw Wine



What is straw wine exactly?

I have learnt to suppress a smile when asked how you make wine from straw. It is a wine made from grapes that have been dried to intensify the flavour and sweetness. Depending on which country you are in your Passito in Italy or Schilfwein in Austria or Strohwein in Germany or Slamove vino in Czech or Vin de Paille in France will be made from different grapes dried differently in each country. There are a handful of producers in this country and the few I have visited have dried their grapes on nylon bird netting and metal chicken wire!!! Our grapes are dried on racks covered with straw that we harvest on our farm. See below


Packing Chenin Blanc Grapes onto straw racks

Julian packing Chenin Blanc grapes onto straw racks


 History of the vineyard

Planted by the previous owner in 1983 and 1984 and then conventionally farmed for 20 years until abandonment. Heavily irrigated and fed all the cides (herbicides, larvacides, pesticides, fungicides, nematicides etc etc. Cide is the Latin word for killing), none of which are on the side of the farmer or the soil or the plant. It is fair to say that this was a tired vineyard. Through biodynamic management the vigour of the vines has improved and I think the wines are becoming more interesting every year.


Who helped me

If it was not for Avice Hindmarch, seen below driving the tractor at age 67 whilst the youngsters are off loading compost into the vineyard,

Avice Hindmarch driving the tractor at Ezibusisweni, age 67.

Avice Hindmarch driving the tractor at Ezibusisweni, age 67.

I would never have had the winemaking discussion with Giorgio dalla Cia. Fortunately for me I also knew Adi Badenhorst from university days and he along with Spier’s Cellar Master Frans Smit helped me tremendously. Finally Duimpie Baily did what he could with the wine authorities to make sure that I could get through all the legalities. Thanks again to you all.


Feeding and nurturing the vineyard.

Winemaking happens in the vineyard although most of today’s viticultural practices are so mutilating to the grape that the winemaker is burdened in the cellar to produce wine from these grapes.

Because we don’t irrigate (Surely irrigation is one of the factors negating terroir?) we have to make sure that first our soils absorb all the rain and that second the vines roots go as deep as they are capable of doing. Biologically active soils enable the above.

with paultjie and hairy vetch cover crop

with paultjie and hairy vetch cover crop

First we plant a variety of crops as cover crops, (another blog to follow on vineyard cover cropping) which bring various nutrients to the vine roots as well as break up the hard ground. Second we graze our cattle in the high density method, an enormous energetic and manure stimulus for the land. Third we apply a small amount of Talborne compost and our own vermicompost to each vine. Fourth we apply as  folio spray the PFPE from BioEarth to which we have added a little of our own Cow Pat Pit/Barrel compost. Finally we apply the BD 500 horn manure preparation three times a year. See photo below of me stirring the BD500 before spraying onto the vineyard.

stirring the BD500

stirring the BD500

The process of making it

Our way of making straw wine is very simple indeed. We wait for the grapes to get to a Brix count of 22.5 and then harvest on the fruit day (according to the biodynamic calendar developed by Maria Thun) closest to that sugar level. The grapes go onto the straw covered racks for about a month.

At a Brix of 48 we then crush them with a handcrusher made by Helmut Amos of Magitec,


leave them overnight in a bin after being sprayed with SO2 of 60ppm and then the next day we press the grapes in a barrel press. The juice then goes into 225 litre French oak barrels. We usually bottle about 2 years later.

We also compost the grape waste with our chicken manure and the Bio Earth DDS innoculant. Here it is being removed from the hand operated barrel press.


What does Ezibusisweni mean?

Ezibusisweni is a Zulu word meaning “The Place of Blessings”. It refers to the area where we built our clay home, established our garden and the vineyard.


The bottling process

The bottling and the corking and labeling is all done by hand. Below is a photo of the three bottle manual bottler on the left and the hand operated corker on the right.

hand bottler and crusher at Ezibusisweni

hand bottler and crusher at Ezibusisweni


Where all the work takes place.

Inside a cob building at Ezibusisweni watched over by angels.

The Angels looking down on the winemaking at Ezibusisweni

The Angels looking down on the winemaking at Ezibusisweni


What the bottle looks like?

There are only 2280 of these beauties with each bottle numbered by hand.

Ezibusisweni Straw Wine 2008 bottles

Ezibusisweni Straw Wine 2008 bottles



More about the lady on the front.

My oldest friend, Mqapheli Enoch Zungu, is apart from being a graphic designer also an accomplished artist whose best work I think is in pencil.

This is him below

Artist Mqapheli Enoch Zungu

Artist Mqapheli Enoch Zungu


This is his sketch that now adorns the bottles

Mqapheli pencil illustration for Ezibusisweni Wines

Mqapheli pencil illustration for Ezibusisweni Wines


Where can you buy it?

At this stage directly from me. Contact details on the blog’s contact page.



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