Call to support food garden drive

The food garden at the Haven Night Shelter in Wynberg. From left, are George Birch, manager Pius Okiror and resident Wilson Mkhungela.

A Bergvliet man is leading a campaign to establish indigenous and food-yielding gardens in Plumstead and surrounds.

George Birch founded Plumstead Community Gardens, a non-profit, earlier this year to help with existing gardens or establish new ones.

Spin-offs were food security and greater biodiversity and community collaboration, he said.

“There was hunger before Covid-19, but it’s bad now,” he said from the grounds of the Haven Night Shelter’s food garden in Wynberg which he started about nine months ago.

“It’s not Oranjezicht market farm levels of produce, but I’m definitely happy with the outcome. It gives me more energy now that I’ve literally seen the fruits of my labour,” he said.

All produce that is not used for shelter residents goes to the nearby Wynberg Methodist Church soup kitchen.

Reverend Graham Goodwin said the church’s community kitchen provided about 100 meals on Tuesdays and Thursdays to the needy.

“The veggies provided by George Birch are fantastic as that’s what’s lacking in people’s diets,“ said Reverend Goodwin.

Dr Birch spends much time watching videos about feeding the soil and planting food using a no-till garden regenerative agriculture method.

“With sandy soil, the idea is usually to introduce manure and dig it into the soil. Research nowadays is different, using layers of cardboard and newspaper and mature compost in which to plant seedlings. The advantage is that weeds do not come through and the cardboard and newspaper breaks down,” said Dr Birch.

The Haven was not the best site for a garden, he said, because there was lots of shade. “The best thing for a garden is a gardener’s shadow, which means always needing to be there,” he laughed.

Dr Birch is calling for help from the community to provide seedlings and compost, or funding to buy these.

He said edible gardens and urban agriculture were popular in Cuba where people learnt to supply all their veggies during sanctions.

Another good side effect of community gardening was the social aspect of meeting the neighbours and making new friends, he said.

This has happened at two sites in Plumstead, a mostly succulent garden at the traffic circle in Gabriel Road, with the Gabriel Road Area Project, and a mostly indigenous garden in the Thornwick Road, Vernon Street area.

“You have to do something in the neighbourhood you want to live in,” smiled Dr Birch, pulling out a fresh carrot.

To support the feeding scheme, contact George Birch at 082 440 3239 or grgbirch@gmail.com or Reverend Graham Goodwin at 061 021 6616 or revgoodie@outlook.com

George Birch says he gets a crate of food a week without doing much.
A mostly indigenous garden on an empty plot in the Thornwick Road, Vernon Street area of Plumstead.
George Birch at the mostly succulent garden at the traffic circle in Gabriel Road which he works on with the Gabriel Road Area Project volunteers.