Food gardens fight hunger

Mark Scheffers's food garden in Colorado Park six weeks after it was started.

Soil for Life in Constantia took its food-garden training digital when lockdown hit and the results mean fewer families have to rely on food parcels.

The public-benefit organisation teaches people how to grow their own food, improve their health and well-being, and care for nature.

Sandi Lewis Fortune, the co-ordinator of a Soil for Life programme teaching people in poor communities how to grow their own food, said the gardens meant less dependence on government food aid.

“Everybody’s fighting for these food parcels, and it’s making people dependent on the government when they can grow their own gardens and make their own food. Besides growing good organic food for themselves, we teach people to sell and barter the vegetables.”

Three-month training is done twice a year, with five trainers each taking 15 to 20 trainees. The trainers visit the trainees’ gardens to see how they are doing.

After lockdown put an end to these visits, Ms Fortune and the other trainers turned to WhatsApp, getting the trainees to send them pictures of their gardens.

“I tell them what to do step by step over the phone. Every week, it’s me teaching them something different.”

Ms Fortune’s current group of trainees is in Colorado Park, Mitchell’s Plain. She teaches them how to make food boxes, have fertile soil, develop seeds into seedlings, make trench beds, bury garden waste and organic matter to make compost for organic soil and how to plant.

One of the trainees, Mark Scheffers, said he was thrilled with what he had learnt.

“It’s not for the lazy person; it takes some time and it takes patience to wait for the veggies to grow, but it’s been nice to see my spinach growing so quickly. My lettuce and turnips are also doing well.”

Mr Scheffers is unemployed, and he said the vegetables would provide for himself, his wife and his son. He also gives some of the spinach to his mother and hopes to donate produce in the future to those worse off than him.

“Next to us, there are people from Samora Machel who like to come here and ask for food. I’d like to give to them. It’s good to give to someone who needs more.”

He added: “It’s been interesting to learn something new, especially through WhatsApp. Like I’ve learnt that some of them don’t grow when it’s not their season even when you’ve planted them, like my butternut. But what has surprised me is the tomatoes: they haven’t really ripened, but I’m surprised that they’re growing quite fast.”

In summer, the programme trains people to grow vegetables that can cool them down such as tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, carrots, radishes and spinach.
In winter, the focus is on growing warmer foods such as turnips, cabbages, broccoli and celery.

“When we train 15 people, there’s easily 100 people who will benefit from that training because some people have big families of eight to nine people, which they can then feed from these vegetables. These people can also sell these vegetables for a more affordable price to their neighbours,” Ms Fortune said.

Soil For Life gives the trainees seeds and only charges them a R20 admin fee that covers a pen and recycling booklet, a Soil for Life badge and pictures of what their gardens could look like so they can visualise their goals.

Email or call 021 794 4982 to find out more.