Bridget Hilton Barber is a well-known writer, photographer, author and lover of life in Limpopo. She grew up at Kings Walden, a soulful space in Agatha near Tzaneen, and over the past decades has seen Magoebaskloof change from a remote backwater to a happening hub. Some of her favourite Springalicious things to do on ‘The Mountain’ include rounding up friends for a cruise on the Sunset Queen on the Ebenezer Dam, enjoying an Old Packhouse G&T with a mountain view, going for a gourmet picnic at Graceland Eco Retreat and nibbling her way through Mina’s Neighbourhood Market.
What started out as a quarterly food market to showcase a gorgeous farm venue and local produce, has become the happy place for a diversity of people from around Mopani district in Limpopo. The first event post-Covid was a sight to behold. Some eight hundred people of all shapes and sizes, ages, colours and leanings, gathered together on a cold and windy mountain day in the remote mountains of Magoebaskloof.
There were tannies and gogos, boertjies and trendy youngsters with man-buns, chiskoppe and braids. There were young women in the latest fashion, families with kids and puppies. There were gay people, straight people, black, white, Indian. The sounds of laughter, the chatter of English, SePedi, Xitsonga and Afrikaans, It was a delicious slice of the proverbial rainbow nation that felt like the launch of a united people’s party, but was in fact, a gathering to celebrate ten years of Mina’s Neighbourhood Food Market.
Held at Mina’s Farm Venue, a charming event and wedding venue down a pine-shaded dirt road about 10km from the village of Haenertsburg, the lawns in front of the venue are guarded by giant pin oaks and look out across gorgeous valley views and distant mountains. Getting there is a fairly wild ride along the infamous Cheerio Road (leads to beauty and pleasure) which is bouncy and rutted – and just about everyone has a story about getting stuck, getting out, getting on down.
The venue is run by Rob and Denise Tooley and their clan, who started their quarterly food markets in 2012 with the aim of showcasing local soul food (think cheese platters, veggie boxes, curries, bliss bowls, biscuits, dips, sauces, relishes) along with giving people a good jol (think live music, mountain views, charming accommodation).
“From the very beginning we wanted to offer a diversity of delicious local food that would appeal to everyone”, says Denise. “For a small mountain area we have an amazing number of chefs, cooks, bakers and small producers, and it was a lovely way to get everyone together. Our very first market way back in 2012 was attended by a record 200 people who braved the mist and rain to see what Mina’s had to offer.”
One of the original stall holders was Hloki Sebola. Beloved Curry Queen of the Mountain, Hloki has been delighting people with her beef Market Curry for years and is featured in the wonderful book Curry: Stories and Recipes from across South Africa by Ishay Govender-Ypma.
Another local business which was there from the very beginning is Wegraakbosch Organic Farm who makes a delicious array of homemade cheeses and chourico. Wegraakbosch brought to the mountain in the 1980s, the traditional Swiss art of making cheese. From cow to curd to cheese there are absolutely no chemicals, fertilizers, pesticides or machines involved – and people flock to the market for their feta, parmesan, emmental, mutchli and cream cheeses.
Two years after Mina’s Farm Venue opened its door, Rob and Denise’s son Luca started Zwakala, Limpopo’s first brewery, right next door. The name Zwakala means come closer and the brewery started to attract a younger, hipper, non racial crowd from the village as well as surrounding Polokwane and Tzaneen.
Clearly what began as a fairly humble food market became a place of unity and a celebration of diversity. “Where else in Limpopo can you get such a mixed crowd of people enjoying themselves in a beautiful mountain setting?” asks Denise. “Not once have we ever had a racial incident or violence. We provided a safe space for all kinds of people to get together around food and drink, and people responded with love and delight”.
At the last market, revelers enjoyed curry and cheese, as well as pizzas, pap and chicken, spring rolls, kebabs, falafels and gourmet burgers. Plus cake, gin and tonic cheesecake, cookies, biscuits, and sweet treats. They drank coffee, masala chai tea, G&Ts, wine and an endless supply of Zwakala beer. A saxophonist played soulful jazz into the late afternoon. And as the sun went down, everybody headed happily back to their homes in Mankweng, Seshego, Polokwane, Tzaneen. Nkowankowa and Letsitele Valley. Fed, watered and full of a poignant joy that comes from South Africans getting together as one.