Did you know that 60% food relief during lockdown came from civil society? This remarkable statistic points to the power of ordinary people to help solve food macro issues affecting our country.
This astonishing insight surfaced during the recent #cocreateDESIGN FESTIVAL 2021, which was organised by Craft and Design Institute (CDI) in collaboration with the Mission Network of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in South Africa. The range of incredible actions and efforts coming from civil society organisations was highlighted by guest speaker Andrew Boraine, CEO of the Western Cape Economic Development Partnership, and included Agri hubs and community food gardens.
If you aren’t yet involved in a food garden, then consider getting your hands dirty this October – a month focused on food and gardens. Garden Day on 17 October follows shortly after World Food Day on 16 October, which is themed "Our actions are our future - Better production, better nutrition, a better environment and a better life." Both activations throw our food system into sharp relief and highlight the need for intervention; every day, millions of South Africans struggle to access affordable, nutritious and good quality food.
Food that is produced and consumed locally is a more affordable alternative to improve diets and farmers can also supplement their income if they sell surplus produce. Such small-scale farming can be seen at initiatives such as the Langa Agri/Food Hub, Spier Food Garden and Living Soils Community Learning Farm.
The SA Urban Food & Farming Trust is working in the under-resourced community of Langa with a local non-profit, the Masakhe Foundation, on a pilot project that will establish local supporting infrastructure, farming inputs and services (AgriHub) to assist existing and new urban farmers, and also establish supporting infrastructure and services for market access (FoodHub) by these farmers to local customers.
Spier has joined hands with other small-holder growers in a collaborative effort to boost the local organically-grown food system. The Spier Food Garden has been a voluntary member of the Western Cape Peer Guarantee System (PGS) since 2019. The PGS is a network of growers that guarantees bona fide organic growing for producers based on the sharing of knowledge, resources, and connections. Ultimately, the growers have a shared commitment to building local food security by making nutritious, organically-grown food available and accessible to their communities.
Spier Food Garden’s head gardener, Megan McCarthy says: “It’s Ubuntu in action. Participating growers are united in collaboration and support for one another. For experienced growers, it’s an amazing opportunity to teach and to mentor, while the emerging growers tap into expertise that would normally take years of trial and error to gain on their own. Together, we learn, we share, we grow more.”
McCarthy teaches members of disadvantaged local communities how to grow fruit, herbs and vegetables using eco-friendly and regenerative techniques. Seeds and training have also been given to 11 vulnerable families in nearby Lynedoch who have started their own food gardens at home.
Working together as a community is critical to Spier’s efforts. The Living Soils Community Learning Farm is a partnership between Woolworths, Spier and the Sustainability Institute. Based at Spier, this learning farm demonstrates ecologically restorative methods to grow nutrient-rich foods to improve community food security. Since it was established in November 2019, approximately 1700 kilograms of produce have been harvested from just under a hectare of land.
On Thursday, 26 March 2020, ahead of the nationwide lockdown, Spier partnered with the Sustainability Institute and the Living Soils Community Learning Farm to compile and distribute relief food boxes to provide nourishment to 450 vulnerable families during the lockdown period. With an average of five members per family, approximately 2 500 people received help.
“It was a wonderful moment when we delivered the first order to the Sustainability Institute, to use in the meals prepared for approximately 200 impoverished and at-risk children from the Lynedoch community that attend one of the schools at the Institute. This is one of the main objectives of the Living Soils Community Learning Farm, to improve food security within the community, starting with early childhood development (ECD) centres,“ says Rirhandzu Marivate, Project Manager for the Living Soils Community Learning Farm.
Reflecting on the project successes to date, Heidi Newton-King, Spier’s HR and Sustainability Director, says that they have experienced “the power of a collective, unified with a common purpose. Every person involved in this project embodies the commitment to learning and delivering on our agreed goals.”
Now, to extend this spirit further and help visitors at large learn more about regenerative and eco-friendly gardening, Spier is hosting hands-on workshops at the Spier Food Garden, teaching techniques that can easily be put into practice. The Spier Food Garden, which stretches over 1 hectare and was once a disused horse paddock, was officially launched to the public at the end of September 2021 and entrance is free for those wanting to explore.
Whether via a public project, shared allotment, smallholding, communal farm, windowsill, or balcony - or even the former lawn of your own backyard - food gardens represent a viable way forward. Of course, they are just one of the ways to contribute to the complexity of food security challenges. But the fact remains that an effective response to hunger in our society is right at our own fingertips – and quite literally so!
Find out more about Spier’s Food Garden and its other Growing for Good initiatives here.