Four Cape Town friends have turned to the earth to sustain themselves amid rampant poverty and unemployment. Several health challenges plague young and old around them, and starting their own food garden was a way to fight back, say Simphiwe Daniel, Banetsi Jabobs, Thando Bango and Siseko Bokoto.
Their garden is now firmly rooted in the city’s township of Nyanga and is aimed at teaching young people, people with disabilities and women to grow food organically.
Bango, Bokoto, Daniel and Jacobs founded the Abathethi Food Garden in New Crossroads, Nyanga, in 2020. Because young and old are vulnerable to lifestyle diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, their organic vegetable garden is a step towards “healing the nation”, says Daniel.
“We want to change people’s perception about the food that they eat. Today we have chronic diseases such as high blood pressure and sugar [type 2] diabetes. You’ll find that an 18-year-old or 25-year-old has high blood pressure or sugar diabetes,” he says.
He believes that food grown using chemicals to speed production and increase yields is “poisoning” consumers.
Abathethi’s aims are therefore to encourage the youth, people living with disability and women to participate in urban agricultural and environmental awareness programmes so that they can plant their own organic veggies and be able to identify natural herbs and their use.
“Abathethi Garden also aims to protect and promote traditional indigenous food knowledge and preparations to promote moral values as a basis for a way of life.”
“We want to encourage the youth to learn about the importance of urban agriculture and indigenous plants in our livelihoods.”
City farming dream
The four friends attended a course with non-profit organisation Abalimi Bezekhaya before starting their own garden in January last year.
“We always wanted to be farmers, so we acquired a lot of knowledge about growing organic vegetables through Abalimi. After our course we decided that we would create our own garden and plant vegetables organically.”
After completing the course they received a five-year lease agreement from Eyethu Educare Crèche in February 2020.
“All we had to do was share our vision with Eyethu and they liked it. We also promised them that we would guard and maintain the crèche and that’s how we got the land,” he says.
The group of gardeners supplies organic veggies to UCOOK and the Philippi Economic Development Initiative (PEDI), which is an initiative that supports and unites small business owners.
” We always wanted to be farmers, so we acquired a lot of knowledge about growing organic vegetables through Abalimi.”
“We have an agreement with UCOOK to supply them with our organic vegetables such as carrots, kale, parsley and chillies.
“We also grow lettuce, coriander, basil, sage, spring onion, tomatoes, spinach, squash, broad beans, cabbages and broccoli.
“Just the idea that the herbs and vegetables that UCOOK sells were planted by us is amazing. It tells us that our hard work and dedication has paid off.”
Hopes for expansion
The Abathethi food garden is about 249 square metres big, and they hope to expand it.
Daniel says although they have achieved great milestones, starting the organic garden was really challenging.
“When we first moved to Eyethu we had a big issue with rocks and weeds, so we had to remove the rocks, and weed out the weeds. We also had irrigation challenges. The irrigation system at Eyethu was not working, so we had to purchase tools to fix the pipes so that we could water our crops. Fortunately, the Violence Prevention Through Urban Upgrading Initiative (VPUU) supplied us with water tanks and boreholes,” he says.
VPUU is a comprehensive area-based community development initiative by the City of Cape Town. It works for the safety and integration of communities and the improvement of quality of life for the residents in local neighbourhoods, and does this through urban improvements and social interventions.
Currently things are going very smoothly, except for the irrigation issues they still face every now and then.
Daniel says their biggest breakthrough was being scouted by UCOOK.
“UCOOK was the highlight of our career. Being one of the farmers supplying to UCOOK is a big deal because they are big. Just the idea that the herbs and vegetables that UCOOK sells was planted by us is amazing. It tells us that our hard work and dedication has paid off,” he says.
Watch this video for tips and tricks on growing your own food: