A GROUP of 24 gardeners at Uitsig Community in Uitsig on the Cape Flats have created a thriving food garden that is a shining example of what can be achieved. It took a year for the overgrown site to be cleared to make space for vegetable and herb cultivation. Yet by January 2017, within 12 months, a food garden had been created that delivered its first harvest – a crop of healthy red tomatoes that were shared with the school.
The vegetable garden that is situated at Uitsig Primary School continues to produce an abundance of vegetables for harvest – onions, spinach, potatoes, carrots, gem squash, salad greens, herbs and more – despite the drought. The team of gardeners at Uitsig Community also tend a food garden at the Uitsig Community Centre twice a week. Enough produce is harvested for the gardeners’ own consumption as well to share with the community and school kitchen, and to sell at markets.
The community garden tended by this group of people with disabilities (PWDs) at Uitsig Community is among 25 community gardens in the greater Cape Town area that are managed by Mhani Gingi Social Entrepreneurial Network. They include a vertical garden at Langa Cheshire Home for Adults situated in Langa and a food garden at Blouvlei School for Learners with Special Needs in Retreat.
“It always seems impossible until it’s done”
It was “quite a challenge” for a group of people with various disabilities, some of whom are in wheelchairs or on crutches, to clear the overgrown site at Uitsig Primary area to make space for food cultivation, according to the team leader, Vanessa Baadjies.
Yet the large vegetable garden has “showed us any things can be done if you are committed and strong” maintains Baadjies. Surplus produce is sold at markets like the Market Day at Pick n Pay Office Park in Kenilworth and vegetables have been supplied to the Department of Agriculture. The harvest is also shared with the school and with the community of Uitsig.
The Uitsig Community gardeners also make crafts, such as baskets, and do pottery. They are studying towards a learnership in a National Qualifications Framework Level 4 qualification to run a construction business, according to Baadjies. They were honoured when the recent graduation ceremony where they obtained certificates for six months of training on how to handle their finances was attended by the former Minister of Higher Education, Dr. Blade Nzimande.
Peter Sampson, the group’s star sportsman, won a gold medal in the 10 km race at the Outeniqua Wheelchair Challenge OCC Race athletics in George last year. Sampson took up bricklaying recently and is laying pathways in the garden that are “wheelchair friendly”.
Inclusivity for people with disabilities (PWDs)
“Mhani Gingi is proud of the activities of its Flagship Programme to include people with disabilities innovatively in urban agriculture. An example is the vertical garden that we created at the Langa Cheshire Home for Adults. With more open space to allow wheelchair movement and wall space at our new location at Saartjie Baartman Centre for Women and Children, we plan to expand on this inclusive initiative,” said Lillian Masebenza, Founding Director of Mhani Gingi Social Entrepreneurial Network.
The Uitsig Community gardeners are members of Mandla Sport 4 Change, which was set up by the Netherlands-based organisation, Respo International: The Joy of Movement. The organisation trained Baadjies 10 years ago and she began working with the Uitsig Community group five years ago. Baadjies says that the changes that she has witnessed since then in the lives of people who had little opportunity in life have exceeded her expectations.
Some families in Uitsig who had no breadwinners now receive food and income because a family member is working in the food garden, she said. “It’s a game-changer” says Baadjies. “It’s a life-changer because they realise they needn’t sit at home.”
A daily stipend provided from the Western Province Department of Social Development enables the gardeners to maintain themselves and their families.
Uitsig in the Cape metropole ranks among the highest in the world for tuberculosis (TB) infection and poverty, unemployment, gang activity and other social challenges occur. Mhani Gingi donates vegetable and herbs seedlings from the Mhani Gingi Organic Vegetable and Herb Seedling Nursery situated in Athlone to the food garden. Mhani Gingi also provides training and expertise.
A source of hope
Produce from the vegetable garden at Uitsig Primary School and Uitsig Community Centre is shared among the school, community and old aged homes. “The food garden helps old age people to have something to eat before taking their medication; some of the old people (do) not have a source of income or decent income to buy healthy food to eat before taking their medication,” said Tabisa Mahlathi, Co-Ordinator of Mhani Gingi’s Flagship Programme.
“The community garden has now become their source of hope to bring food to their table,” Mahlathi said.
Besides the athletics (wheelchair racing) and craft-making and pottery activities of the 24 gardeners at Uitsig Community, Mhani Gingi has donated a sewing machine to initiate a sewing project.
Food kitchen provides access to healthy nutrition
“We have also started a community kitchen at Uitsig civic centre for everyone around the community to have access to nutritional food,” Mahlathi explains. There is a growing realisation that even when food is available in supermarkets, it may not be accessible to every household, she said.
“A large portion of people in disadvantaged communities do not have access to acquire sufficient food quality to have all of its family members meet their nutritional requirements and lead productive lives. As the Mhani Gingi Flagship Programme we are working together with the communities, churches, early learning centres, old age homes, prisoners, and disabled homes (in) different communities in the Western Cape Province, creating food gardening to help them bridge the gap between the rich and the poor.
“The food gardening in the communities helps households to have access to organically propagated vegetables,” she said. The Flagship Programme, which houses Mhani Gingi’s environmental activities, thus helps to provide access to healthy nutrition and to boost food security among disadvantaged communities. The community gardeners earn a stipend which is obtained through the Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP) of the National Department of Public Works and the Department of Social Development in the Western Cape Province.
The Flagship Programme activities are funded by support from Ackerman Pick n Pay Family Foundation, General Mills through United Way Worldwide, the Department of Social Development; the National Department of Public Works through the Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP), City of Cape Town, and others.
Now the Mandla Sport 4 Change champions are now looking forward to a holiday together. After saving all last year, they will travel to George in February 2018 to participate in the Outeniqua Wheelchair Challenge OCC Race. Some of them have never been outside of their suburb, let alone travelled further afield, or taken a holiday, said Baatjies.