Melanie Farrell has gone from being a words person to an inspiring ecopreneur. The Cape Town freelance journalist and writer has turned her special interest in environmental issues into a business – not only does she transform wooden pallets into receptacles for vertical gardens but she’s started a Green Route initiative in the Mother City that has taken root and is bound to spread. Here she talks about putting eco-conscious people on the map, living mindfully, and why she likes to sit in her garden and think about “simpler ways of living that are good for people and the planet”.
Turning pallets into receptacles for upright gardens was an inspiring move. Where did you get the idea?
I wanted a vertical pallet garden with shelving that I could fill with terracotta pots and it had to be able to withstand Cape Town’s gale-force southeasters. When I looked on Pinterest for ideas I realised the design I wanted wasn’t there so I described it to my husband, Dave Chambers, and he made it happen.
Then it got wings … tell us more.
I was so pleased with the pot-filled pallet garden that we put up outside our kitchen that I posted a photo on Facebook. A friend immediately asked if she could order two for her newly-renovated cottage in Claremont. It hadn’t occurred to me that we could sell them but we took her order and that was when I realised it could be a small business. This is how Pallet Gardens Cape Town came about. Through trial and error we have discovered which pallets work best, and we now use 80 x 120 cm EUR-pallets for their superior quality and uniformity. They’re perfect for symmetrical vertical gardens.
What were you doing at the time, work-wise?
I was, and still am, writing for a number of different publications. One of the stories that I pitched to the Sunday Times early this year featured seven earth-loving activists describing their favourite ecosystems. I got some good feedback from the story and launched Green Route Cape Town with a view to expand the green route concept.
My motto is that we would never tell anyone how they should live, we simply make it easier for people to make better choices when it comes to sustainable living.
This obviously buys into your own personal green manifesto to live lightly, not so? Was it a slow realisation or what prompted you to take action?
When my eldest son had major surgery two years ago for a malignant melanoma I became more eco-conscious than I had been.
I became more aware of eating healthily and more discerning about the products that I buy. Why buy products filled with chemicals when you can buy organic? I like to think of our home in Bergvliet as a mini-farm although I still need to get some chickens. The house is adorned with pallet gardens, my mosaics are everywhere and half the lawn has been dug up to make way for a veggie patch. We also recycle, there’s a compost heap and indigenous, waterwise plants have replaced water-needy plants. The garden is alive with birds, bees and butterflies and I feel very lucky to be able to live and work here.
We can’t all live off-grid but there are lots of small ways that we can choose to live more lightly and they are all part of our personal green route.
Sadly the devastating effects of climate change are part of our daily reality now and Cape Town is in the grip of a drought. We’re in Phase One of the disaster management plan and we’ve been advised to keep five litres of water on standby due to “water cut-offs”. Obviously we need long-term solutions in order to survive drought and other effects of global warming.
Where are you now in the process of growing Green Route Cape Town?
I would like to see Green Route developing into a national network of eco-conscious people but I’m focusing on Green Route Cape Town at the moment because it’s my home town.
Green Route supports local, ethical and sustainable businesses and it’s not about hard sell. You get to meet people who are trying to make good choices for the planet and themselves so it’s a way of plugging in to a local green network.
I’m busy building a website where everyone who has shared their green route with me is in one place. Basically, I want to put eco-conscious people on the map in the hope that they encourage others to take small, green steps. I’m also linking up with other eco-conscious organisations in Cape Town and the rest of South Africa and chatting to them about future collaborations.
In an ideal world we’d all live in a hemp house, wear sustainable hemp clothing, grow our own organic veg and drive a clean-energy car. In the meantime I’d like to think that I’m able to encourage people to “think green” in whatever way they can. Let’s make green the new normal and watch it grow.
In terms of growing Pallet Gardens Cape Town, what have been the greatest challenges and rewards?
It has been a major shift for me to go from being a words person to someone making and selling a product and an idea. The beauty of where I am now is that I can switch between writing, pallet gardens and working on the Green Route concept and they’re intertwined. Because I’m passionate about greener living it doesn’t feel like work and we have met some fascinating people through pallet sales. It’s shown me that there are a lot more “greenies” out there than I realised! I invite them to share their green routes, or paths to eco-conscious living, with Green Route Cape Town. It’s an organic process.
Thank you, Mel!