Hi. I’m Tom Lynch, Founder of Worthwhile Wine Company, an importer of great, sustainably made wines from South Africa. I’m also the Co-Founder with my teenage daughter, Miranda, of Isipho, Inc., a nonprofit company that is empowering the people of a remote rural South African village to lift themselves out of poverty through sustainable food gardens. I hope you’ll come with us over the next 17 days as we share our travel through South Africa and our work with some of the most amazing sustainable farmers in the world, rich and poor, as we explore how their sustainable farming is making a more sustainable society.
I believe it was Mark Twain who once said something like “There are lies. There are damn lies. And there are statistics.” One of the first statistics I heard about South Africa had to do with income inequality. Statistically speaking, the gap between the average income of the wealthiest South Africans and the poorest South Africans is greater than any other nation on the earth. That sounds like it is really telling, but what does it really mean?
It means that many of the poorest live as Miranda and I will live for the next 8 days: in mud huts with thatched roofs with no heat during nights that regularly get well below freezing like tonight; enough food to keep from being hungry, but not enough to stave off malnutrition; unemployment, disease, and poverty that are hard for most Americans to imagine. And, as Miranda and I have come to understand over the last few years, the most crippling is the poverty of dignity and hope this situation creates.
That income gap also means that others in South Africa live as I will the following eight days; on beautifully groomed estates with amazing views, any food one can imagine, and more, all in one of the most beautiful and modern cities anywhere in the world – Cape Town and the surrounding Cape winelands.
Seeing and living this statistic gives an entire new meaning to the term “sustainability,” as there is no society on the face of the earth that can sustain that level of inequality for long. And it is when you realize this that you really begin to understand and appreciate the miracle of South Africa. Not only has it survived unfathomable change, but through the courage and leadership of many people on either end of that gap (and in between), positive change is happening when chaos would often seem more natural and easier outcomes. People all across this country come together every day to create something all too rare in the world – a culturally, socially, historically, racially, linguistically, and in many other ways diverse group of countrymen and women working, succeeding, failing, and trying again to life each other up and be a model for the best that human society can be.
Fighting Poverty Through Sustainable Food Production
Doing our non-profit and for profit work in South Africa we have seen, and will share with you in the next two weeks, that a very big part of making this amazing country a more sustainable society is through creating more sustainable food and drink.
Sustainable food gardens in the poorest communities can provide nutrition (one of the best ways to ward off many diseases), improved education (teaching science and agriculture in the schools and using revenue from sold vegetables to enhance the school’s budget), additional income for individual farmers, improved environmental surroundings, as well as providing hope, dignity, and a sense of self-determination. Among South Africa’s amazing wine estates, crafting wines in a more environmentally and socially sustainable manner accomplishes the same thing – healthier work environments for workers, better wages and living conditions, management opportunities, and sometimes equity stakes, all bring people together personally, and bring them closer together in the statistical gaps between them.
The people of South African fall short in the goals every day; with every success there is some failure. Often, and for many, the pace of transition seems like it is happening too slowly. But when you see the spirit of people on opposite sides of the country and opposite sides of the income gap, people from cultures that have historically been in open opposition, all working in their own ways, doing what they can to come closer together, it’s easy to have faith that the chances of reaching the amazing promise of this country are much better than some statisticians would have us believe.