Seeds of tomorrow

‘The future has already happened,’ the novelist and essayist William Gibson once said, ‘it’s just unevenly distributed.’ What he means is that society doesn’t have to wait for some yet-to-be-discovered miracle fix to the present-day social and environmental challenges. The solutions are already all around us. We just need to notice, map and document them, share them widely and in this way, accelerate learning. We then need to explore their potential to scale into locally rooted green and social enterprises. The FLOW team went in search of local innovators.

Leonie Joubert

Read More

Seeds of tomorrow

‘The future has already happened,’ the novelist and essayist William Gibson once said, ‘it’s just unevenly distributed.’ What he means is that society doesn’t have to wait for some yet-to-be-discovered miracle fix to the present-day social and environmental challenges. The solutions are already all around us. We just need to notice, map and document them, share them widely and in this way, accelerate learning. We then need to explore their potential to scale into locally rooted green and social enterprises. The FLOW team went in search of local innovators.

Leonie Joubert

Seeds of tomorrow

By 4pm, up here in the crags high above Piketberg village, the early winter sun is watered down and low in the sky. The thermometer in farmer Jeremy Bryant’s hands just manages to nudge into the double digits: 12ºC. But then he pushes the half-metre-long thermometer probe into the heart of a domed compost heap out the back of the farmhouse kitchen, and the digital reader almost steams, its numbers ratchet up so fast: 27ºC, 32ºC, 38ºC, 43ºC, 48.8ºC… eventually settling at 49ºC.

To prove the point, Jeremy leans over an outdoor basin at the kitchen door, soaps up his hands, and spins the faucet on the hot tap. Before long, the water’s almost too hot for him to keep his hands under the stream.

The hot water system for the Kruistementvlei farmstead, up here in the Piket-Bo-Berg mountains about 20-minutes-drive from town, isn’t heated by the usual electricity driven cylinder. It’s not gas-fired. It doesn’t come from burning wood in an old outdoor ‘donkey boiler’, or from solar-thermal pipes snaking across the roof.

The water is warmed by the hungry bacteria munching their way through the plant matter inside the compost heap, churning out heat as they feed.

‘We call it the compost-powered shower,’ Jeremy says, gleefully.

The system is labour intensive at first, but relatively simple: a layer of mulched alien trees to give the dry organic matter; a water pipe coiled five times; a layer of farmyard manure; another layer of mulch; more coiled pipe; manure; mulch.

‘And so you build it up,’ he says, prodding the pile whose summit reaches about waist height.

He’ll add some volcanic dust for extra nutrients, and a cup of molasses syrup mixed into a litre of water, and let nature do its thing. Cold water in one end, warming up through the several layers of coiled piping, and hot water out the other end.

Jeremy began experimenting with compost-generated water heating a few years back after reading up on it online, and then testing, testing, testing the system. After about ten experimental attempts, and his wife Riette and two sons fast losing patience, he finally got it right. Now, one heap of slowly composting organic matter can keep the four-person home in hot water for bathing, showering and doing the dishes for ten and a half months, even during the coldest months of the year.

‘In winter, sometimes there’ll be ice on the sides of the compost heap, but steam coming out from inside,’ he says.

Once a heap has burned itself out, the remaining compost will go out into the fruit trees, and he will build another pile. It takes a bit of time and labour to construct the heap, but once it’s actively composting, it delivers free hot water for three-quarters of the year.

‘It costs about R2 000 to make the heap, in terms of fuel, labour and so forth, and we’ll save about R500 a month on hot water bills.’

Farming with soil

The soils up here are notorious: sloughed off ancient sandstone, sandy as dunes in places, they don’t hold water well. Eons of rinsing by rainfall has leached the nutrients away. The twiggy, fili-greed indigenous fynbos veld just loves it, but not much else does.

So the former engineer and now IT consultant and part-time farmer’s entire operation is geared towards farming soils to life, using various forms of composting, and conserving water either above or inside the soils.

Jeremy’s farm has become something of a bridgehead in the FLOW project and it is viewed as an inspiring local example of systemic thinking and innovation. In the same way that a circular economy tries to close the loop in local exchange, to keep value and profit within a community, so a farm like Jeremy’s is about linking a suite of different technologies that feed into each other and create a more resilient and less extractive form of production. In this case, it is food, but it could apply to any system.

Because of Jeremy’s innovative approach to sustainable farming, he became a close ally of FLOW in the Bergrivier area. His contemporary in the Kokstad constituency is Piet Bosman, FLOW’s regional co-ordinator there, and also a farmer with progressive ideas about sustainability and social justice (see A man on the edge of the future below.)

Just like the technologies they use and link up, these individuals could be seen as ‘seeds of transi-tion’ into a more sustainable future, argue the FLOW co-founders Anna Cowen and John Ziniades.

‘These are the kinds of innovators we’re looking for,’ they say, ‘People like Jeremy and Piet are important because they each go beyond single-point solutions, and move into looking for complete systems that work as solutions.’

Back to the fabric of Jeremy’s farm: there are the hugelkultur beds hemming the front of the property where it meets the passing road: bulky mounds of heavy pine or eucalyptus logs, covered with soil, and planted with various fruit trees and ground cover. This makes for a ‘12-year compost heap’ as the chunky timber slowly decays.

The swales (trenches constructed to slow down water as it runs down a slope) run parallel to rows of infant pecans: each trench filled with rolls of toilet paper, discarded by a local factory, or old car-peting, small tree branches, and a layer of mulch. They bank away water, and their organic contents slowly compost over time and release nutrients to the roots of the growing trees.

The almond orchard is carpeted with a thick mat of grass, which keeps the soils beneath damp and nutrient rich. There’s a small forest of fast-growing pines and eucalyptus trees on the far side of the farm, to provide lumber, firewood and wood for chipping into mulch.

At the kitchen door, a worm farm takes care of the kitchen waste, producing ‘worm tea’, the nutri-ent-packed liquid that runs out of the stacked tubs. The vermicompost bins out the back of the house, in various stages of decomposition, have worms and soldier flies steadily processing the waste that Jeremy’s collected from a local jam factory nearby.

A series of rectangular vegetable patches behind the farmhouse, just last season, were pigsties. The pigs live in small enclosures for a few months, eating and defecating the soils into ample life. Then he moves the pigs on, digs in beds, and pops in the seedlings.

It’s all about food: food for the soil, and food for people and other creatures living off the soil.

Close the loop

In nature, there’s no such thing as ‘waste’: every organism’s waste byproduct is another’s food. This kind of cradle-to-cradle thinking tries to reverse the wasteful, consumptive nature of the linear economy, which is about extraction, production, distribution, consumption, and disposal, explains John.

In terms of our link with natural systems that give us nutrients, water, energy, or effort, we put this stuff in at the top end of the system, extracting what we can, and discarding what’s not immediately ‘useful’ or ‘commodifiable’.

‘In the FLOW project, we’re interested in creating a circular economy, one that keeps things recy-cling inside the community,’ says John. ‘We can apply this to energy, water, food, local production, and local exchange, things that are the foundation of wellbeing.’

Jeremy’s farm is about closing the loop in terms of nutrients and water, and keeping everything cycling and recycling in the system. It’s about finding a whole lot of clever technologies and ideas that support one another to make a farm like this more sustainable and resilient.

It’s this kind of thinking that the FLOW Ambassadors were looking for when they set out to map what people were up to in their neighbourhoods: the local hardware store owner who has put pho-tovoltaic panels on the roof of his home to make him a little less dependent on the grid; the water tanks that collect rainwater from neighbourhood roofs; a cleverly insulated house; a farmers’ market.

Even small home industries, or people remembering how to use energy sparingly because they grew up without electricity in their homes, are all technologies or ways of being help make communities a bit more resilient in the face of environmental or economic shocks, and lead towards a more sustainable way of life. These can be at a household level, or something practiced by a community working together, or even something that a city-scale or provincial level government supports and promotes.

‘If we can find these ‘fixes’, and link them up. If we can improve on them and use them more wide-ly, that’s how we can seed the change towards the future we want,’ says John.

Spreading the load

John points to a picture of one of those early mainframe computers. It’s the size of a large refrigerator.

‘Compare that with the internet today,’ he chuckles, switching to a graphic image of the globe, covered with a spiderweb of lines linking up different hubs across the planet.

‘With that old, centralised system, there was one point of failure. When that goes, everything breaks.’

Many of the systems we’re dependent on these days – water, electricity, waste removal, food – are similarly centralised, he explains. They’re usually run by large and powerful entities, either state or the private sector. And while it frees the rest of us up to apply ourselves to other things, it also leaves us disconnected from the origins of these resource and services. We forget how fragile they might be, or how much we need to conserve them. And we’re also vulnerable should the system of delivery fail.

‘Consider energy,’ he says.

In South Africa, now, we’re mostly dependent on a few massive coal-fired power stations up in the highveld of the country to power the entire country’s grid.

‘With new technologies, we can have a decentralised energy system on a scale we never have before. Let’s say, in a community like Piketberg or Kokstad, we link up a number of small energy producers so that we have a micro-grid here. So if I produce more than I need today, my neighbour can buy it.’

What if we did the same with water, and with our recyclable and compostable household waste, and with our food?

‘This isn’t about replacing the existing system, but complementing it,’ John explains. If people have water tanks at home, it eases a bit of the load on municipalities, particularly when they have to put water restrictions in place during times of drought. Imagine that: instead of a town being dependent on one central dam, we have a community with lots of little dams. It takes the pressure off the grid’.

‘Thank you for your contribution!’

Gift Ngundu, a young Zimbabwean farmer who is interning with Jeremy for ‘as long as he needs’ to learn, is half way through shovelling up a pile of compost that’s almost the size of a small car. He’s tossing it up into a trailer that’s about to head off into a new nut orchard to fertilise young trees. Jeremy stoops to pick up a handful of the dark, earthy matter, and gives it a sniff.

It smells just like a forest floor.

This is Kruistementvlei’s pièce de résistance: this batch of compost, a year ago, was the contents of the toilet buckets from the farm’s guest cottages and campsite.

Each of the loos is a removable bucket, beneath a long-drop style seat. There’s a big tub of sawdust next to it, and the usual roll of toilet paper. It also comes with some reassuring instructions that the more squeamish shouldn’t be put off by this waterless loo system.

‘Sit down, do your thing and wipe clean as usual,’ the laminated instructions explain. ‘Dispose of paper in the toilet. Scoop a bucket of sawdust/mulch from the bin in front of you and cover whatever you have deposited in the toilet. Ensure there is no sawdust on side of toilet seat as this is very uncomfortable for the next user. Thank you for your contribution to the farm!’

Every day, the buckets are removed, and the contents tipped out into a composting mound in the ruin of an old water reservoir. It’s covered with more sawdust and, over the course of a year, occasionally turned to keep it oxygenated and the composting process active.

The heat kills off some of the pathogens, but time needs to take care of the rest.

In The Humanure Handbook, self-styled human manure composter and organic gardener Joseph Jenkins writes that after a year, this kind of compost is safe enough to at least use on trees that will only bear fruit about six years from now.

Like the nut orchard to which Gift is about to haul this load.

Gift and Jeremy are equally unfazed by the origin of the compost they’re busy working with. The Zimbabwean smiles, twin dimples sinking into his cheeks, as his garden rake swings through another arc, flinging the dark, earthy compost up onto the back of the trailer.

Sydelle Willow Smith
Slowing down: Old carpet offcuts, discarded cardboard spindles, and tree branches go into the swales, trenches designed to slow the passage of water down a slope

Mapping the seeds of transition

When the FLOW Ambassadors went out on their mapping exercises – to chart how energy, water, and waste flows through their communities – they also went in search of these ‘seeds of transition’. This was as much about opening their eyes to the solutions around them, as it was about creating a database of single-point solutions to sustainability, as well as to capture entire systems that work this way (such as Jeremy’s farm). It was also to document the richness of knowledge of those people who have lived sustainably without even knowing it.

‘The point of the mapping is that it is a discovery process,’ explains Anna. ‘By understanding how people in the community have responded to the various challenges they face, it also allows us to see what is not there, and how we can turn these into opportunities.’

By tracking the solutions that people have come up with themselves, and then collaborating, for instance in workshop environments, they hoped to ‘celebrate local capacity, learn from what works in the local context, and then use tools like the Business Model Canvas to explore how point solutions could develop into something which is both repeatable and scalable, and in so doing support the development of a thriving local economy’.

These are some of the stories of the people, solutions, and potential systems that the FLOW Ambassadors found.


Sydelle Willow Smith

Harvesting the rain

If every household in Goedverwacht captured rain runoff in tanks like this one, it would help lighten the load on the municipal water system, particularly in times of serious drought when state-run dams run low. Having a ‘backup’ system like this – essentially, a series of little dams within the neighbourhood – is what makes communities and families more resilient in the face of an environ-mental ‘shock’, like a drought, or if the state fails in its service delivery.


Cool cob

There’s a lot more to getting good temperature regulation in a cob house, than merely building it with exterior walls made of straw bales, clad with clay and plaster.

‘To get good heat efficiency, the orientation is important. Where possible, the house should be north facing (if it’s in the southern hemisphere), with most of the windows on the north side, some on the south, and none on the east and west sides, especially to avoid the extreme heat in summer,’ explains retired risk manager Johan van Kraayenburg, who has built his retirement home up here on the Bella Vista farm in the Piket-Bo-Berg, just a few kilometres along the road from Kruistementvlei.

The windows are low to the floor, with the sill just above ankle height, which lets more light and heat into a room, particularly during winter when the sun is angled low in the sky. To capitalise on that, the floor should ideally be covered with dense materials like tiles or stone, preferably in a darker, heat-absorbing colour, so they can act like a battery, absorbing heat during the day and slowly releasing it into the room later, once the sun has moved on.

This kind of ‘solar design’ can be applied to any building, not just a straw bale house, explains Johan.

The skylight windows are made with double glazing, but the lower windows are all reclaimed window frames and therefore just filled with normal glass. Because of this, the interior does need a bit of extra heating during the bitter winter hours, hence the fireplace with a long chimney.

The ceilings should be well insulated, and the roof must have a reflective colour to bounce away the summer heat.

The interior walls of the double-level home are made with conventional bricks and mortar, because straw bale walls are too thick and would take up too much space.

Johan chuckles a bit at the irony of the fact that he spent most of his working life in the cement industry, one of construction’s least sustainable materials. By his back-of-cigarette-pack calculations, this house cost about half of what it would have to build with conventional materials.


Old ways: many of the elderly Goedverwacht residents remember ways of living efficiently and sustainably
Sydelle Willow Smith

Living memories

The camera is zoomed in on the plump hands of Annie Booys, who makes a show of snapping the brittle twigs of a sugarbush protea tree into kindling for a fire. A FLOW Ambassador is capturing all this theatre on film. The final vignette is less than a minute long, but is part of a journey of documenting the often hidden and unappreciated knowledge and skills within communities.

Annie has been cooking food and baking bread in an old coal-fired Dover stove since she was a laaitjie (a little one) and like many of the ‘aunties’ of Goedverwacht, knows ways of being in the world that could teach the rest of us how to live more sustainably, argue the FLOW team.

She remembers starting each day with collecting dried sugarbush which, she still maintains dec-ades later, ‘makes the best coals’.

The people of Goedverwacht have always been an independent lot, growing their own vegetables, tending livestock and fruit orchards, building their own homes, managing their own water supply (they still don’t get municipal water), and only in recent years have they received state-supplied electricity.

This self-sufficiency as a community means many of the older folk grew up in a world where they saw the direct link between the labour needed to keep a fire going, and the food it cooked. The generation that grows up merely flicking a switch to get power, has lost the connection between the difficulty of gathering the energy source, and the ease of using it. Making that connection again, is often a direct incentive to use energy more sparingly.

‘We need to document many of these ideas,’ explains FLOW co-ordinator Ian Schaffers, ‘otherwise we’ll lose (this important local knowledge).’

By capturing some of this know-how amongst their elders, through storytelling and movie making, the FLOW Ambassadors were able to make these ‘living memories’ visible, and appreciate the value of the old-timers who have held onto this knowledge for so long.


Small change: a community with many small, thriving business, like that of seamstress Constance Nomdoe, will be more resilient to economic shocks
Sydelle Willow Smith

Needle and thread

Seamstress Tannie (auntie) Constance Nomdoe is one of the small operations that the ambassadors discovered in their survey of the ‘invisible’ businesses in Piketberg – the home-industry type operations that don’t have an obvious shop front to advertise their existence to passers-by. She was also one of the first to sign up to the BRAND Business Network.

Small businesses like these are good ‘resilience strategies’, and see people rewarded for their skill while keeping money circulating within the community. Ambassador Marlin Swartz didn’t know about Tannie Connie’s seamstress service before, but now says he sometimes takes his clothes to her if he needs a hem taken up or a piece of clothing mended.


Hacking tomorrow

FLOW co-originator and entrepreneur-in-residence John Ziniades is trying to hack the financial system, and he’s using his prowess as a tech entrepreneur and start-up veteran to do so.

An electrical engineer by training, John set up his first internet-based business in the mid-90s at the age of 25, when the ’net in South Africa was still only something available to governments or research institutions. Within three years it was listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange. Since then he’s been involved in several other start-ups, and now he’s interested in how this kind of entrepreneurialism can be used to meet society’s social justice and environmental challenges.

‘A start-up is a temporary organisation, designed to search for a repeatable and scalable business model,’ John explains, quoting Professor Steve Blank, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur and the ‘godfather’ of the lean start-up movement.

‘Before you start investing in factories and marketing, you first see if there is a business model there.’

Some of the toughest start-ups, according to John, are usually geared towards ‘introducing products and services into markets that don’t exist yet’. It’s about making things that people don’t know that they want, and doing so with speed of adoption being the greatest risk, and education and awareness playing a critical role.

‘My ah-ha moment was when I saw the connection here, because the work that we need to do, to deal with green and social issues today, means coming up with solutions that might not exist yet.’

Bringing this perspective into FLOW, John started to think about how he could support young entrepreneurs to use the methods and processes shared through FLOW, to get their businesses going, and then mentor them.

The reality, though, is that nine out of 10 start-ups fail within the first decade.

‘But if we can increase the success rate of these sorts of start-ups, then we can create a positive feedback loop,’ he maintains.

Part of this is his efforts to subvert the money system, as a key leverage point for large-scale systems change.

‘Hacking’, according to Brett Scott, the author of The Heretic’s Guide to Global Finance, is ‘an action that combines an act of rebellion with an act of creative re-wiring.’

With this in mind, John argues that transforming a town or community can’t be done with one simple bespoke solution. It needs an intervention that changes the entire system, and social or green entrepreneurs need support so that they can think in this way.

FLOW, John hopes, can be that kind of a platform in towns such as Piketberg and Kokstad, and their surrounding communities.

Tackling the money system – hacking it with a community currency – is part of it.

‘The current design of our money system is incompatible with sustainability,’ he says, referencing the US sustainability guru, Professor Dennis Meadows, ‘and often works against efforts to transition to a more environmentally safe and socially just world.’

But the emergence of digital currencies, crypto-currencies, and complementary currencies – think ‘Bitcoin’ and beyond – has allowed communities to start working together to redesign the money system.

These currencies, he argues, have the potential to support local communities to develop their self-determination and wellbeing, while giving the economic fuel to co-fund the transition.

‘Thomas Greco, the alternative currency theorist, says it’s about democratising the credit commons.’LJ

A man on the edge of the future

The farm road drops away from the tar. A thick green field rises to one side, full of chickens, pecking with incessant energy, and there’s another drifting mass of chickens around the scatter of buildings at the road’s end.

They’re beautiful birds, plump and sleek, some speckled, some shades of russet, some white. Among them struts a large turkey, spreading his tail feathers in a magnificent and hopeful display. Beaks are busy picking up seed and grass and insects, while their tough claws scratch to release more bounty.

Piet Bosman strolls through the feathered throng on his Mountain View farm out here in the rolling hills, a ten-minute-drive from the KwaZulu-Natal town of Kokstad. He is also the local project co-ordinator for the FLOW programme. Just 32 years old, with eyes that echo the blue of his jeans and K’Mali-branded golf shirt, he has the leanness of a man who spends his spare time hiking, rock-climbing and trail-running. He explains that the birds are a permaculture agriculture tool for soil regeneration and pest control: as the chickens, ducks and geese move through the farm, they reduce insect populations and leave behind rich little packets of manure.

Mountain View is a living laboratory, where its owner is imagining a possible alternative future.

Piet Bosman grew up on the 338-hectare farm, absorbing an easy fluency in Xhosa along-side English and Afrikaans. His doctor-father, who had a surgery in town (and later built a hospital, as well as a school) was a thinker who encouraged his children to learn, so Piet left home to earn his undergraduate degree at the University of Stellenbosch, in the Western Cape, in PPE (Philosophy, Politics and Economics). The day his father died of brain cancer, Piet learned that he had earned a scholarship for post-graduate studies at Chang-chun University in China. He took up the scholarship and spent two and a half years in China earning his master’s (he learnt to speak conversational Mandarin too). Piet also worked for the World Food Programme for a time.

Another world is possible

One of the concepts he encountered while away was permaculture farming, just another of a large, fizzing and fermenting barrel of ideas that he brought back with him when he ran out of funds to study, five years ago.

The farm seemed the ideal field for experimentation. Years earlier, his parents had abandoned their dairy farming. His mother, Michelle, was running a laundry operation from some farm buildings, washing linen for the local hospital and guest houses. The land was lying fallow, and Michelle was supportive of her eldest son’s desire to try out some of what he’d learned.

Piet sees life through a lens that is wide open to social injustice and obstacles which prevent people thriving. He’s been wrestling with ways to subvert ‘the system’, as he calls it, and regenerate and reinvigorate the community around him, in particular the farm workers and residents of Shayamoya township, which borders the farm. He sees a lack of access to information as a key stumbling block.

So he has turned an old dairy building and a shed on Mountain View arm into centres of learning and information for the people who live in the area. He calls it an ‘open education platform’ that’s freely available to local people, from the township or neighbouring farms.

In the repurposed milk parlour, there are books, magazines and a collage of postcards pinned to a board, each one a quote from people as varied as Jimi Hendrix and Nikolas Tesla. Rows of black plastic chairs fill one side, waiting for an audience, all of them painted with Chinese pictographs for an English word… ‘genuine’, ‘compassion’, ‘confidence’, ‘kindness’.

Next door, the old shed has morphed into a ‘cinema’. Plastic chairs in neat rows fill the centre facing the screen; on the outskirts are wooden benches lining the walls, with old mealie (maize) sacks filled with reclaimed shredded plastic as cushions. This is where Piet shows documentaries and films to groups of locals, aimed at showing them how people around the world are experimenting with ideas that could create a more sustainable and just world.

Piet understands the power of visual storytelling: ‘I’m inspired by seeing people doing things that create wholesomeness in the environment, in producing food, in human relationships,’ he says. ‘Some of it’s quite controversial in terms of the current mainstream way of doing things.’ He has thousands of hours of video stacked up for use here, and has shown documentaries like The High Price of Cheap Gas, about fracking; Home, about the damage humanity has done to our environment; and a number of documentaries about permaculture.

Learning is often seen as a chore, Piet says. ‘But I find it very cool. And I wanted to create a space where it can be cool. This cinema uses subversive ways of bringing new ideas to people’s minds, through pictures, through videos; thought-provoking stuff that can be imitated locally. How do we create soil fertility without having to buy a bag of fertiliser every year from now onward? How do we create these systems that re-energise themselves, that re-mineralise themselves? So it’s that kind of information I’ll be sharing – on food, energy, finance, economics.’

Moviegoers will find some of the images on screen being lived out in practical reality on the farm. The cinema has low-flush urine-diverting toilets that separate the two products; faeces head for the composter, while urine is diverted elsewhere (the world is facing a crisis in terms of phosphorus, a key element in soil fertility, and it can be harvested from urine).

Another shed – lit by solar bottle lights that use the power of refraction to provide as much as 55 watts during the day – contains an impressive rack of drawers filled with heirloom seeds, soil samples and a tumble of harvested pumpkins piled up like an art installation. This is where Piet teaches some of the components of permaculture.

Community assets

Piet and several co-founders have set up two institutional arrangements – a non-profit and a cooperative that are constantly evolving – to serve the people of Kokstad and surrounding farms. The first, the Mount Currie Community Development Organisation (MCCDO), houses educational initiatives, including the Masibambisane initiative, teaching permaculture to community members who want to learn; 150 hectares of Mountain View that borders directly on Shayamoya township have been set aside to be worked by township residents and adjacent communities. The MCCDO has also taken over Kokstad Tourism, which connects different sectors, and is a means of encouraging interconnectedness within the community.

The cooperative will become a business venture to market and sell the surplus produce from these lands.

Piet is a pioneer, a visionary, inhabiting the ‘adjacent possible’ a term described by author Steven Johnson as a ‘kind of shadow future, hovering on the edges of the present state of things, a map of all the ways in which the present can reinvent itself.’

Fields of gold

Downhill from the educational buildings is something akin to a permaculture demonstration: rows of old bathtubs have been turned into earthworm farms where the eager little workers do their job of making humus into worm manure as rich as chocolate.

Swales run along the contours of the land, capturing and retaining water; ducks nibble at delicacies like slugs in herb and vegetable gardens. There is a small orchard of tree saplings that will one day be a permaculture forest farm for fruit, mushrooms and vegetables planted under the tree canopy.

‘In a couple of seasons, we will be in a position where we can produce a lot of organic food, and then people will be asking, ‘Why is it we can produce organic food more cheaply than conventional food?’ Piet says.

He steps into a small fenced enclosure filled with a bustling mass of baby chicks and lifts out their mother, one of his favourites. He strokes her speckled russet feathers gently and gazes across the veld. His mind is probably busy dreaming up yet more ways to nurture a fertile future for his community. MS

The ‘adjacent possible’ is a kind of shadow future, hovering on the edges of the present state of things, a map of all the ways in which the present can reinvent itself.

Steven Johnson,

The Genius of the Tinkerer

Sydelle Willow Smith
Dew at dawn: daybreak, at the Kruistementvlei farm up in the Piket-Bo-Berg

Weaving it all together

The mapping process identified the local ‘seeds of transition’ and these ‘seeds’ provided insights into new ways to address local challenges. These enabled local entrepreneurs to develop three potential business models and prototyped them with the Business Model Canvas. Incorporation of the community currency provides support to the viability of these business models, supporting localised economies and further developing resilient communities.


The Bergriver municipality is in the water-stressed West Coast region of South Africa. All water is extracted from the Berg river, which is highly polluted from farm pesticides and fertiliser run-offs, and raw sewage from the upstream informal settlements (particularly in winter when the region experiences its heaviest rainfall). By the time it gets to the extraction point and water purification plant it has to be treated with large volumes of chemicals which are imported into the region by motorised transport. This water treatment is also a single point of failure, and is dependent on a chemical supply chain and dependable transport networks. There are also areas in this municipality where there is a high degree of leakage due to aging infrastructure. Ferrocement water tanks are a low cost, labour-intensive complementary strategy to ensure that each household has access to roof-harvested rainwater that can be used as a resilience strategy and to water household food gardens.


Distributed compost-powered water-heating creation and maintenance business, which uses chipped, cleared alien vegetation and organic waste as inputs, and generates rich compost and heated water for households for most of the year. 28m3 of mulch from alien vegetation and 2m3 of manure becomes 22m3 of compost and provides hot water for household use for 7-10 months of the year, generating net savings of R3,000 per year, before considering the potential income from compost for nut, vegetable and herb crops.


High capital cost of solar photovoltaic cells and battery storage are prohibitive for households. In addition, the difficulty to maintain batteries for storage is also a hurdle. This provides an opportunity to provide a solar battery charging and distribution service business. These charging stations will be for basic household appliances such as lighting, cellphone charging and television. This business will lay the foundation for the eventual development of a solar-powered micro-grid.

This thermometer measures the temperature inside the compost heap which can reach up to 49 degrees Celsius and is used to heat the wate
Heating systems inspired by Jeremy’s compost heap/ hot water system showing how it could integrate with the BRAND
Initial Business Model Canvas for compost powered household water heating system
Sydelle Willow Smith
Rebuilding rich fertile soil: the foundation for the seeds of tomorrow
GreenWin workshop participants explored opportunities using the Business Model Canvas