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Grown in Philippi - Farmer Ian Grimmbacher


Blog and photos by Deni Archer. This series forms part of World Design Capital 2014 #WDC585.

Farming family witnesses the changing landscape of farming

Ian Grimmbacher knows farming. His family, descendant from German settlers, have been working the land in Philippi for three generations - Ian’s father, 79, still lives in the farmhouse that his grandfather built in the early 1900s. “When my grandfather farmed here he grew veg with a long shelf life, like carrots, potatoes, and cabbage. It would take him a day to travel to Salt River Market in his oxcart, so the veg needed to be hardy,” Ian reminisces.

But these days, farming is a completely different animal. Margins are so low that every square metre of land needs to be in maximum production to make ends meet, and customers expect such high quality that food must enter the cold-chain (refrigeration) the minute it leaves the soil, Ian explains. “It used to be said that ‘a farmer’s best attribute is his footsteps through the land’. It’s not like that anymore. We don’t employ farmers now, we employ scientists, and chemical engineers. That’s the big change. The old way of farming is gone.”

Ian’s family farm merged with Dew Crisp 16 years ago. He now manages the farming side for the group, overseeing production on farms nationally (including 1.25 million square metres in Philippi). They manage their entire supply chain to serve a high profile client base including the major retailers and fast food chains, mainly with leaf crops like lettuce, kale, spinach, rocket etc, but also with cabbage and onions, amongst others. (continues below...)

Ian Grimmbacher, 47, has been farming in Philippi his whole life. He comes from a long line of Philippi farmers.


Philippi grows food for everyone

But, contrary to claims by Cape Town’s mayor Patricia De Lille that Philippi doesn’t cater to the urban poor, Dew Crisp’s small processing plant in Philippi supplies a full basket of vegetables to the local market which includes hawkers and the local foreign African market, as well as wholesalers (who in turn sell to hawkers around the city) and private clients. In fact, this market is responsible for a turnover of over a million rand each month, at Dew Crisp alone.

This isn’t an uncommon occurrence in Philippi either, he says. The hawkers that one sees all over the Cape Flats, and the rest of the city, are largely farm customers in Philippi. They prefer buying direct as they get it freshly picked at highly competitive prices. But this isn’t the only way the urban poor benefit from the farming activities in Philippi. “When we have an excess that we can’t sell on, for example if the veg are slightly imperfect or the clients’ needs have changed, we take the truck to the informal settlement and give it away to the residents there. We also give away a lot of veg to our own staff on the farm and in the yard here,” says Ian. This is an invaluable service to unemployed families struggling daily with food insecurity.

A unique environment reaps abundance, and saves us money

Philippi also provides an unexpected but invaluable service to all residents of Cape Town, rich or poor, by regulating the price of fresh produce in the city. Philippi boasts a unique climate that makes farming here ideal. Because it’s near the sea, the climate is cooler in summer, and warmer in winter. This, combined with the fresh sea breeze that blows almost year round, keeps most of the common pests at bay, says Ian. “This means that Philippi gets 5.5 crop rotations a year, while the rest of South Africa gets only two,” he explains. That’s more than double the productivity, which equates to a lot more food for everyone. The close proximity means that transport costs are low, while the near-surface freshwater aquifer means that farmers get free water year round.

Urbanisation threatens fragile resources

By now the inherent value of Philippi to Cape Town is becoming crystal clear. And the risk of encroaching urban development all the more threatening. Not only because of the obvious loss of fertile farmland that it poses, but also because of the effect urbanisation will have, and is already having, on the precious water resource that shies beneath the surface. The aquifer is valuable not only for the farmers, but also for its potential to serve as Cape Town’s drinking water supply. As farmland, Philippi acts as a sump where excess rain water can penetrate down into the deeper layers of earth and be stored for later use. Any water that the farms extract simply goes back into the aquifer after passing through the surface, replenishing supplies. But as a suburban area, water would only be extracted for use in homes, then flushed into sewer systems and eventually out into the sea. Furthermore, rain can’t penetrate through tar roads and cement surfaces, which collect toxins like oil and other pollutants. So water runs off instead, ‘cleaning’ away this dirt and becoming contaminated in the process. Any of this water that seeps in through grassy patches here and there simply contaminates the aquifer, making it unusable to humans and having untold negative impacts on the environment.

This is already happening in the northern parts of Philippi, says Ian, where the land has become unfarmable because of urbanisation and mismanagement by the CIty. The south is still good for now, but these threats are growing every day. “We will try as far as possible to urge [the developers] to do their projects right up against Mitchell’s Plain where there are no farming activities happening for the last 20 years. They must start there, and leave the farming area alone,” asserts Ian.

Mismanagement wreaks havoc that puts us all at risk

But the challenges of protecting the farmlands remain complex. According to Ian, and others, the City has turned a blind eye on the problems that their mismanagement has caused for too long. “But they won’t be able to get rid of the problems its caused by just turning it into a housing complex, and it won’t solve the housing crisis either,” he warns.

Ian believes strongly that the area should remain agricultural, and he plans to buy up as much of the land in the south that he can to farm. To him, the issue of food security is paramount. “The City doesn’t understand that when Philippi is not here, the cost of cheap veg to the people is going to double. It’s going to skyrocket.”

The Grown in Philippi project is independent of Deni Archer is a founder of this project, which aims to create a relationship between Cape Town’s citizens and the food growing area at its heart. Grown in Philippi is presently a zero income volunteer programme focused on storytelling and consumer education. Grown in Philippi is fully supportive of the Save the PHA campaign, led by Nazeer Sonday. To find out more about the Save the PHA campaign, contactnasonday@gmail.comTo find out more about Grown in Philippi, contact

Dew Crisp is a major employer in Philippi, providing employment for almost 300 staff on the farm and at the processing plant.


Note: The opinions expressed in this article are not those of This is a representation of the interviewee's opinion as interpreted by the interviewer.

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