"I grew up in Gansbaai and went to high school in Napier, where I started working in the local shops. My plan was to study beauty until one day I saw an application to study horticulture through Green Futures and thought ‘go for it’. They aim to give their students the skills and confidence necessary to market themselves and become employable, while at the same time contributing to the conservation and promotion of our region’s unique biodiversity. Plants became my first love. Plants are a different kind of beauty.
After studying I worked for Grootbos for 8 months and then studied field guiding through the Field Guide Association of SA (FGASA). Working and studying at the same time is tough, but I didn’t want to be at the bottom anymore and nothing in life comes easy. Now we’re starting level 2 guiding and I’m studying level 1 marine guiding too (it’s nature guiding but it’s focussed on sea life).
A day in my life at Grootbos? I am Assistant Head Guide, I come in and go 4x4ing and hiking, I also do both the ‘Living the Future’ social responsibility tour and on-foot exploring. We take guests into the Klipgat Caves in De Kelders, a Cape Nature excavation operation, where we explain the history around early artifacts. They’ve put up boards so that people can see what it used to look like and they leave feeling amazed and inspired. We meet people from all over the world and my biggest joy is that they go home knowing more, loving more about this unique country. People are ‘wowed’, they don’t expect the Western Cape to be this great. Many come back a second and third time just to learn about Fynbos. They are surprised that South Africa is more than the Big 5, that we have unique, special plants here.
Responsible Tourism is growing and there’s so much going on at Grootbos. The Grootbos Foundation, a non-profit organisation, works with local schools, teaching young adults about horticulture. The Growing the Future project teaches organic farming, and animal husbandry, which is looking after farm animals. They teach their farm team, all of whom are from the local community, about the animals, how to grow veggies, the art of bee-keeping and computer skills. They’ve now employed 6 ladies and 2 guys and are a full-time commercial enterprise, supplying 25% of the lodge’s organic vegetables, bacon, free-range eggs, honey and more. The aim is to supply 80% of the lodge’s food eventually. The Green Box programme grows veggies by using stones in black plastic, with a waterbed and compost at the bottom. It’s a sustainable option for families as it uses little water (the reservoir beneath the box prevents evaporation) and any organic waste is fed back into the pipe to feed the worms for compost."
How is your work inspired by the Western Cape?
It’s where I fell in love with Fynbos. The Western Cape is a Fynbos biome and part of the Cape Floral Kingdom, it grows all the way from Cape Town to PE and back again. 200km from the ocean, that’s unique! You will never know everything about the plants in this province, we have 785 different species at Grootbos, that’s a world to discover.
I once met a lady from England. She had short-term memory loss, so she took loads of videos to remember her time here. She repeats the amazing experience regularly and it really touched me because even though she sees the same thing every day, she sees it with new eyes. In a way I’m like that, I see the plants every day, but I discover them differently each time.
What is your hope for the future?
I want to finish studying and get to the top of my field. I want people to know about Fynbos, it has a rich history which we must preserve, and we also need to preserve peoples’ cultures. If you go back to the times of the San Bushmen, they used plants for food and medicine for survival, which modern people tend to forget.
We need to look into the past for our future. Everything in nature has a purpose, everything has its place in the giant eco-system. I am part of that, I am just a small part of the order of things.
Interviewed by Jean Scheltema, Edited by PR and Communications Intern Matthew James Kirk