We sit down with Christine Stevens, edible gardens expert and Leeu Locally Grown Team Manager at Leeu Estates in Franschhoek, for some farm-to-fork insider insight…
WM: Can you tell us a bit about your background and how you became involved in horticulture?
CS: I grew up on a small holding in rural England, so was brought up in an environment that was conducive to gardening and growing one’s own food.
WM: What inspired you to start the Leeu Locally Grown initiative at Leeu Estates?
CS: I was approached by the Leeu Collection as they wanted to create a farm-to-table initiative to service their hotels and restaurants. Through the project, I help them to ensure that their restaurants have the best fresh, organic, and seasonal ingredients at their disposal. Fresh is best.
WM: What will you be harvesting this summer?
CS: We work very closely with the chefs to ensure that we fit into their menu plans.
We always grow lots of fresh herbs, salad leaves, courgettes, and heirloom tomatoes. Chefs always love using courgette flowers, as they are almost impossible to buy in the shops.
WM: Could you share some of your favourite dishes using fresh, summer produce?
CS: So many to choose from! A favourite from last summer was a plum, tomato, herb, and burrito salad, which was served in the hotel at Leeu Estates, and made from ingredients grown by us on the farm. We have delicious plums growing in the orchards, which the chefs love.
WM: Do you perhaps have a summer recipe of your own to share with readers?
CS: I love making fresh pesto and salsa verde to season and elevate any dish. I often make a herb pesto from nasturtium, coriander, and almonds. If I work late, I also use it as a quick pasta sauce with some added pecorino.
Christine’s Summer Herb Pesto
250 g mixed nasturtium and coriander leaves
30 g almonds
1 garlic clove
Zest of half a lemon
300 ml olive oil
- Grind the almonds, garlic, and herbs in a Nutribullet or blender.
- Add the lemon zest and olive oil.
It keeps in a jar for a week, so it’s something I always have in my kitchen.
WM: Why is it important to grow (and eat) local, seasonal, and organic produce?
CM: I think it is becoming obvious that for a healthy functioning body, we need to eat seasonal, fresh, and unprocessed ingredients. Freshly grown vegetables also contain more nutrients. As Hippocrates said, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food”.
WM: Can you share any interesting or unexpected challenges you've faced while building and maintaining your organic gardens?
CS: Patience is always required. You cannot fool Mother Nature - she always wins. Work with nature, not against it.
WM: What advice would you give to someone who is interested in starting their own organic garden, whether at home or on a larger scale?
CS: Everything starts with healthy soil, so invest in good compost – it’s worth it. At Leeu Estates, we grow on large, raised beds, which help to keep weeds under control and assist with good drainage in winter. Heathy soil means healthy vegetables. Always write a list of what you like to eat, and plant according to that list to ensure that you use what you grow.