Contributor: Leonie Twentyman-Jones.
Photographs: Margaret Richards.
From July to September the rolling hills of the Overberg, known locally as rûens or ruggens, are swathed in deep yellow. The canola crop is in bloom. The contrast of yellow with the green wheat crop, framed by purple mountains, creates magical scenes in the Overberg – an inspiration to any landscape photographer. Where better to be based than in the historic town of Swellendam with its classical Cape Dutch architecture as well as 19th century Georgian double-storeys and commercial buildings, the latter dating from the time when the town was the centre of the thriving business empire of Barry & Nephews.
The Overberg has for many years been an important area for the growing of wheat, barley and oats. In 1993 farmers were persuaded to try a new crop. This was Canola, which had been developed in Canada in the 1970s. Through plant breeding, two undesirable components (erucic acid and glucosinolates) were removed from rapeseed (Brassica napus) a member of the cabbage or mustard family, thereby creating Canola. The crops are harvested between October and November and oil is pressed from the tiny brown seeds found in pods on the plant. According to the website of the company producing the oil in Swellendam, Southern Oil (Pty) Ltd, our local crop contains no genetically modified materials, unlike some cultivars produced in North America, and has been endorsed by CANSA. The oil has a high heat tolerance and can be used for frying and baking as well as in salad dressings and sauces, and is a good source of Vitamin E.