For Farmer Angus and Mariota McIntosh, organic farm life in Stellenbosch couldn’t be further from the urban existence they once led – and they’ve never been happier…
Stroll into the McIntosh’s sprawling home and there’s a comfortable sense of ease and purpose in the air. Classical music floats through the house and out onto the stoep. Inside Angus and Mr Hector are busy. Mr Hector is kneading his famous buckwheat bread dough while Angus is whizzing together a great big bowl of garlicky hummus for lunch. The scent of just-crushed herbs and the roasting fragrance of free-range chickens fills the air. The boys, Hamish and Josh, are rough and tumbling on the lawn overlooking the dam. Maya is cuddling her new kitten, Angel. It is the picture of Sunday morning bliss.
For Angus, Mariota and their three children, this is what it’s all about. Not long ago they were high fliers in the corporate world, living in London and contemplating a move to Tokyo. The thought of raising children in the city made them reassess their lives, so they returned to the Cape for Maya’s birth, swapping their high-powered existence for a life less ordinary, living close to the land on the Spier farm, embracing the rhythms of nature and reinventing their place in the world.
But it’s not all mung beans and tie-dye – the McIntoshes believe in keeping it real. Every day they reap the bounty of their enormous vegetable garden, the children go to school just a few minutes away and Angus has harnessed his passion and skill for biodynamic farming, so much so that his vegetable, chicken and beef concern now supplies the popular farm-to-table Eight restaurant at Spier as well as a local organic box scheme and a number of retailers in the area. Perhaps this success was inevitable, given that Angus was raised on a dairy farm in KwaZulu-Natal, where commitment to one’s livestock is key and work starts at 4am.
The family home is called Ezibusisweni, meaning ‘place of blessings’ and judging by the sense of ease, it’s entirely apt. Having children inspired Angus and Mariota to seek a more considered life, treading more carefully on their environment. They live in a traditional cob house, built by hand from a mixture of straw and mud rather than bricks and mortar.
“We didn’t set out to build a cob house,” says Mariota, “but it turned out that the architect we liked best was a green designer.”
Their home harnesses time-honoured principles of heating and cooling. With an interior dressed in old Cape furniture and antique rugs, it looks like it has been there for generations. It’s the perfect space for entertaining, whether in the double-volume kitchen-dining room or outside on the stoep. For lunch today, Angus and Mariota have invited Spier winemaker Frans Smit, his wife Lacea and their adorable twin girls, as well as old friends Daneel and Alta van Zyl and their son. In no time it’s a house of noise and laughter. Frans does a sabrage demonstration, slicing off the neck of his latest endeavour, Spier MCC. Recently admitted to the prestigious Cape Winemakers Guild, he has plenty to celebrate and lunch gets off to a bubbly start.
Daneel and Angus quickly get to farm talk: currently in the process of seeking organic certification, Spier’s farming principles are biodynamic, working with nature’s rhythms. Nguni cattle are herded from pasture to pasture to graze on indigenous grasses, alternating with free-range chickens. This system of rotational grazing is a natural way of fertilising and restoring nutrients to the land. And the results speak for themselves. In just two years, Angus has earned a reputation for quality offerings – his on-farm abattoir ensures humane meat and his growing clientele is proof that this approach is working.
None of them regrets the move from the city. “The children lead a simple life that’s connected to nature,” says Mariota. “Their value system is nature-based rather than focused on material things. The freedom of living on a farm is just fantastic, and being responsible for growing what you eat is very much part of that.”
With a crowd – including a few strapping farmers – to feed, Angus’s dry-aged prime rib steaks are called for. The table is laden with seasonal offerings: there’s an oversized spinach quiche, complete with wonky pastry, for the vegetarians, along with a green salad full of edible flowers. The roasted chickens are perfectly succulent with suitably crispy skin. A true farm girl, Maya grabs two slices of buckwheat bread with cheese and pops them on the braai for an impromptu ‘braaibroodjie’ before pudding arrives: raw chocolate with toasted goji berries and vanilla ice cream piled with masses of berries, picked that morning in the family’s veggie garden. It’s a picture of abundance and with plates scraped clean and a chorus of congratulations to the chefs, Mr Hector and Angus, it’s clear that the green life really is the good life.
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By VICKI SLEET