The name of the project derives from the Setswana word “Tlholego”, which can be translated to "a place created and inspired by nature."
Tlholego is a family, a village, a training center and a permacultural garden. It is a community where everyone can participate within their strengths and weaknesses. They work, learn and teach together. Tlholego is a place where everyone is accepted just the way they are.
During apartheid, a large amount of the black population was sent to the barren rural areas. Since there was little opportunity to earn a living many still had to work in the cities. Families were torn apart. After the end of apartheid Tlholego was founded by RUCORE, a South African non-profit organization to provide a positive future for the people in this area. The idea was to establish a system which ensures education and solid food supply. By now the third generation manages Tlholego in a sustainable and conscious way. The collaboration of the black and white residents is a good example of a functioning and harmonious community of different cultures.
Tlholego Village is located nearby Rustenburg, a town in the North-West Province of South Africa. It covers about 150ha.
The land is divided into the garden which is the farming area, the village and wilderness. The villagers own of a part of the land and thus have a secure home. Since the children living there are the future of Tlholego, they are supported and engaged in the project from an early age on.
The farm is a pioneer of permaculture. Permaculture is a type of permanent and sustainable agriculture and strongly associates people with nature. Permaculture uses resources optimally and keeps waste as little as possible.
Over the years the Tlholego team has taught more than 5000 people from South Africa and all over the world in organic farming, sustainability and resource utilization, and hence in acquiring a healthy and self-sufficient lifestyle. However, the Tlholego team itself has benefitted the most from this experience. Every one of the team has gained unique knowledge, skills and interests which are encouraged and used individually. Ideas and inspirations are shared openly, so that each person has the opportunity to aim at new goals and to be an important and respected member of the community.
The Tlholego community consists of several families and people, changing volunteers from all over the world and the Tlholego founders Paul Cohen and Stephne Fain who all contribute to the success of the project. Each family has its own home with a small garden in the village or at the Tlholego Learning Center. The Tlholego farming area has the size of two hectares, where mostly vegetables are grown. They are primarily used for self-consumption or to supply the participants of the seminars with food. The farming area is also used as an example for a permaculture garden in seminars. The women manufacture handmade herbal pillows and eco-friendly wine coolers and hotboxes.
Tlholego is a project which lets people live consciously as individuals and as part of nature. It teaches us to work with nature and not against it, to be aware of our resources and to protect our planet.
The gardening at Tlholego works according to the principles of permaculture. The word permaculture is an abbreviation of PERMAnent agriCULTURE. Permaculture is an interaction of people, animals and plants. All put together it becomes a functioning ecosystem in which you work with nature to benefit from natural occurrences. With a little effort a solid profit is achieved by using everything nature provides without exploiting the earth.
Permaculture means ecological agriculture which forbids the use of any chemical substances. All fertilizers or pesticides are produced by nature itself or made from natural substances.
In Tlholego cow and chicken manure and even worm farms are used to produce fertilizers. Pests can be kept away by attracting beneficial insects and animals with certain herbs and plants. Kitchen waste is turned into compost, which improves the soil quality.
The garden is at the heart of Tlholego. It covers approximately two hectares and includes herb and vegetable gardens, trees and places to relax. The residents of Tlholego mainly use the locally grown fruits and vegetables. The garden also provides food for workshops held in Tlholego. Since it gets quite cold in South Africa during the winter (June - August), some vegetables cannot be cultivated permanently.
Nevertheless, there are always plants that need to be harvested in the Tlholego garden. Spinach, lettuce, beetroot, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kohlrabi, tomatoes, zucchini, cucumbers, eggplants, pumpkins, peppers, chillies, peas, beans, onions and garlic are just a few of the many plants found.
More than 25 different herbs grow in Tlholego as well. Besides being propagated and offered for sale they are used as pesticides in the garden or partner plants for vegetables.
The herbs are picked by hand and either used in the kitchen or dried and turned into teas or herbal pillows. Thanks to the knowledge of professionals and own experience, the Tlholego women have gained a vast knowledge of indigenous and traditional herbs over the years. They are excited to be able to pass on this knowledge in the seminars.
Trees play a key role in permaculture. Therefore, every year a considerable number of trees are planted on the total 150 hectares of land including native trees and fruit trees.
Tlholego Learning Centre
Tlholego has taught thousands of people about permaculture, sustainability and natural building methods. Especially people from Africa are encouraged to grow food for their own use or to ensure food security for schools and kindergartens. The project started with teaching only people from the surrounding neighbourhoods, but now people from all over the world use Tlholego as place to learn and teach and promote community.
To provide the seminars with food the Tlholego-Catering cooperation was founded. It consists of three women who have acquired a great range of skills in the kitchen over the years. They serve typical African meals with international side dishes using vegetables and herbs which the garden provides.
The catering team cooks balanced and healthy menus in which herbs play a significant role. Furthermore, they make sure that the food that needs to be purchased, for example meat, comes from an ethical and ecological husbandry.
They also prepare the dishes in an energy-efficient way by using solar energy. Tlholego has several solar furnaces to bake and cook on them. The food is kept warm in self-made "hot boxes".
"Hot boxes" are great pillows filled with Styrofoam which keep food warm for several hours. They can be used to prepare a variety of dishes. The Tlholego team manufactures these "hot boxes" by hand to sell them or use them themselves.
Tlholego tries to use resources responsibly and avoid waste. The "hot boxes" are just one way to do that, just as the sun oven. Hot showering water is prepared with a small solar cell, rinse water for dishes is heated by fire.
The water which comes from a borehole is used and disposed sustainably through grey water recycling. Sinks, showers and washing machines have a sewage pipe, which slowly releases the water into the garden and surrounding bushland. The water is cleaned by a filter and then pumped in the underground to be released through a tube with holes. As a result, trees and other plants are watered regularly and without effort. Rain water is collected in a large tank and used to water the gardens.
Tlholego has one large building with several rooms and two small houses where guests are accommodated. Being built of mud bricks these cottages are simple but charming.
Over the years, several people from the surrounding area were encouraged to imitate this simple design and thus to build an energy efficient house for their families.