Sheryl Ozinsky

Founder Oranjezicht City Farm

About six years ago Sheryl Ozinksy had a dream to convert an old derelict bowling green into a community farm. It was the start of an incredible journey that involved lots of red tape and bureaucracy, yet with the support of the community and volunteers the market garden was established, becoming so much more than that along the way.

We needed money to employ our farmers full time so we started a market on the grounds, and that grew and grew and is now based in the V&A Waterfront employing a number of people and supporting 35 farmers that farm organically. Putting back about 60 million rand into the local economy every year with the help of the 80 traders that sell bread, cheese, meat, fish and cooked food there every weekend.’

Sheryl’s own journey has been an impressive and interesting one and she is synonymous with the development of tourism in Cape Town, as well as a couple of the city’s most iconic attractions.

‘I started my career as a Marine Biologist and got the dream project, to develop the Two Oceans Aquarium, which I did. After it had received 1 million visitors the challenge was done and I went on to help transform Robben Island into a heritage site.’ Turning it from a prison to a museum involved many different aspects that varied from purchasing ferries in Australia to writing a business plan and designing a logo, even training the tour guides.

Sheryl had an idea. Given that the entire neighbourhood had been a farm 300 years ago, and had been farmed for at least 200 years prior to development, she thought they should return the land to farming.

From there Sheryl moved to Cape Town Tourism for what was meant to be a 6 months contract, but Sheryl ended up staying for 6 years. ‘It changed my life completely as I realised the incredible asset that we have here in the city; the people are so warm with incredible stories to tell.’ That combination was award winning and under Sheryl’s guidance would take the city from relative obscurity during the apartheid era, to a top world tourism destination – which it is today.

From there Sheryl went into consulting, with her passion for responsible tourism and sustainable living see her consult on the planning of the Green Point Park, as well as establish two plastic recycling companies, PETCO and POLYCO, spending a decade working as a specialist environmental and tourism consultant.

‘Then one Sunday morning my partner Caz Friedmann and I were attacked in our new Oranjezicht home. In that split second of trauma I realised my life would change again. I started asking questions, who patrols, who works with the police, who lives in the area, whether this happens often – and nobody knew.’ This prompted Sheryl to start a neighbourhood watch, and while surveying the area she spotted an old neglected piece of land that was dirty and known to draw drug dealers and other bad elements.

‘Could we possibly bring people together in a community where crime is prevalent and people live behind walls, and invite them to get out and meet each other? Would it be possible to put a farm back in Oranjezicht and create a place where people could gather to talk to each other – around food?’

With the market established to sell produce to support the garden and gardeners, soon they grew too big for the available space and after a 7 month stint at the Premier’s House, moved to the V&A Waterfront where they have been operating for four years. The market is an unrivalled success and has become a much visited attraction, drawing 10 000 people on a weekend with 300 employed by the 80 resident traders. Sheryl and her team run the vegetable and the fruit stall, as well as running all of the logistics of the market.

Everybody likes to eat, no matter your background, race or denomination, food has a wonderful way of uniting people. ‘If we put a market here would it unite people in the area – and it did.

‘This is all about the food system that is broken, with most people eating unhealthy food and with fresh food really expensive. How can we repair that and make good nutritious healthy food that is grown organically available to people that live across South Africa. ‘Food is a human right, but it is the only one where there is no policy to implement this right.’

‘Is this notion a dream, or is that possible. Can we start 30-40 gardens across Cape Town with little markets attached to them? Can we help to employ hundreds of people, in turn addressing the country’s unemployment issue? Can we begin to repair this food system that is so broken and that is the source of many problems, health, unhappiness that those who cannot eat properly are afflicted by – especially babies and children?’ These are the questions that still sit heavy with Sheryl as she works every day to bring change in the lives of so many.

The work at the urban farm is all about  growing beautiful food, paying the farmer a fair price so they stay in farming and attracting more farmers to grow organically, doing right by the earth and the soil. If we can do that the city will be a better place with more people employed, and more people eating healthy food. ‘We shouldn’t be paying the doctor to make us healthy, we should be paying the farmer to keep you healthy’

The Oranjezicht City Farm (OZCF) is a non-profit project that in turn has put back 9 million Rand in support of farmers, supplying them with vehicles, guidance and infrastructure that in turn allows their farms to be more productive, and means they can employ more people. The decision to open on Sundays too has equated to an additional 100 jobs, which is remarkable.

Cape Town is still Africa – raw and beautiful and what I love most of all is that there is still so much to be done here. You can do good work and feel the difference you are making immediately and that keeps you moving forward.’

Running a weekend market at the Waterfront where 80 traders come to sell their wholesome goods including sustainably harvested fish, olives, cheese, and delicious cooked food has changed the city. It is today much more than a market, it is a place to gather, for tourists to meet locals and locals to meet tourists. A feel good place where people are happy and relaxed, and every inspired by the unwavering energy of Sheryl and her team.

A born and bred Capetonian that has travelled extensively to other cities, Cape Town remains favourite in all the world. ‘There isn’t another city in the world that lives side by side alongside a National Park, where clouds dance on the mountain, we can enjoy incredible sunsets with whispers of white on lions head. The fresh air and seeing whales off shore. Where the people are special and always have time for one another with their varied accents and stories. It is never boring to live here although you do need to tough and sassy.’