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East City retailer starts own fresh produce garden

East City retailer starts own fresh produce garden

By SIMANGELE MZIZI
22 August 2019

The Electric describes itself as “an ongoing experiment”. And the East City juice and nut-milk bar, sandwich shop and bakery continues to be forward-thinking with the establishment of its own vegetable and fruit garden in the Swartland area.

“We’re very committed to being a self-sustaining business and the reason I can do this is that I have an allotment and space where I can grow fruit and veg for the shop knowing the source and that it’s an organic, chemical-free process,” says Janette de Villiers, co-owner of The Electric.

After growing herbs and vegetables in the area for years for her own consumption, planting for the shop was a natural progression.

“Food costs are insane and it’s hard to find good organic veg on hand in town, and it’s so easy to grow it ourselves. We believe business needs to be done on a more holistic level again and we all have a big responsibility to become more conscious about farming, sustainability and generally lightening our footprint on the planet.”

SEPTEMBER HARVEST

So far, the retailer has planted carrots, spinach, kale, beetroot, mint, coriander, basil, celery and cucumber. “We should be harvesting the first round of vegetables by end September if the weather plays fair from here into spring,” says Janette.

She adds that there are three beehives at the garden which have been producing honey for five years already. “I’m hoping we can increase our honey production to be able to stock the shop, too. There are also citrus trees (including two orange trees, a lemon tree and lime tree) that produce fruit and allow us to make a dent in our food costs.”

VISION FOR THE GARDEN

Janette’s vision for the garden also includes establishing partnerships with like-minded individuals.

“We want to collaborate with other small businesses and communities supplying quality local produce and hope to be working more closely with people like Jesse Laitinen* from Streetscapes and Nude Foods* and hope to find more sustainable ways of servicing our businesses collectively in the East City."

The two (Jesse and Nude Foods) are a good fit as The Electric is also passionate about social development and is mostly a plastic-free zone with all its nut pulp and food waste being used for baking purposes. What's more, the retailer’s bottle-return policy supports The Service Dining Rooms, a pillar of hope in the CBD for those who depend on it for a nourishing daily meal. For every glass bottle returned, patrons are given two tokens for The Service Dining Rooms (that is down the road from The Electric) and each token provides one meal for a person in need, including the homeless.

“We are trying to do more for those less fortunate,” says Janette. It’s a philosophy that ties in perfectly with the organisation’s mission to run a holistic business.

WORKING IN THE EAST CITY AREA

Located in a repurposed auto-electrician building that burnt down, The Electric celebrated its first birthday in March 2019 and is fast gaining popularity with its many offerings. With its bright-yellow building, it’s also one of the most Instagram-friendly venues in the CBD.

In an interview with VISI magazine last year, shortly after their opening, Janette explained that The Electric came about as a result of a collaborative creative process with a group of people who shared similar ideas. Drawing on the building’s history was integral to the creative process as they wanted to retain its authenticity, and didn’t want to recondition the space or change what is a very original and unspoilt part of the city.

Looking back on the first year, Janette says: “We love it here. It’s an upcoming area that is still finding its own culture, so it takes time to build a business. We love our customers, and there is such a strong sense of community among the businesses and landowners around us.

“I think the East City is leaning towards creating a culture that is organic, sustainable, and community-driven in a far more direct way than a lot of other areas around Cape Town; it’s definitely different. We are very happy to be here and have so many ideas to grow our little business.”

WHAT TO EXPECT NEXT FROM THE ELECTRIC

The Electric has undoubtedly added to the vibrancy of the CBD’s East City. And its founders keep coming up with interesting ideas as the venue is one of the few CBD retailers already embracing the “third space” concept.

According to the 2017 edition of the CCID’s State of Cape Town Central City Report, this is a concept inspired by American sociologist Ray Oldenburg and these are locations people visit between home (their “first” space) and work (their “second” space). The third space environment is one in which people interact with their surroundings and are open to new connections, and they are increasingly being used by the retail industry to stimulate the sale of products, services, food and beverage, and social engagement.

A few months ago, the retailer launched its Electric merchandise featuring their now recognisable lightning bolt. They have T-shirts, hoodies and beanies. They have also introduced a yoga-and-movie night which can be enjoyed every Tuesday from 17h30 for R130.

Janette says this is just the beginning and people can look out for more exciting things from The Electric: “We are going to be launching our cinema and slam poetry nights soon. We are running some talks with the team at Ikhaya le Langa and Tony Elvin that we are very excited about, we’ve got some interesting pairing dinners happening over the next few months and as always, our quirky vinyl and live music evenings. That’s the tip of the iceberg, but we don’t want to give away all our secrets yet.”

*Jesse Laitinen is the manager of strategic partnerships at one of the CCID's partner NGOs, Khulisa Social Solutions. Through the Streetscapes programme, the organisation works with the homeless and repeat offenders who are often unable to stay at shelters due to heavy drinking or drug use. For this group, Khulisa advocates for sheltered employment with many opportunities existing within the green economy, such as urban gardening and recycling projects. 

**East City retailer Nude Foods (5 Constitution Street) opened its doors on December 2017 and has been dubbed Cape Town’s first plastic-free grocer.

IMAGES: The Electric

Tags: The Electric East City CBD’s East City Janette de Villiers