School food gardens are undisputed in their power to supplement meals for learners. This is the view of Eastern Cape teacher, Nomonde Ntsundwana, who has spearheaded the Seyisi Primary School’s permaculture for a decade in Kwazakhele in Gqeberha.
“When I first came to Seyisi in 2012, there was a big dumping site area of 800 x 40m, full of stony ground. But it was fenced, so we cleaned it and started our school garden there,” explains Ntsundwana.
Ntsundwana is a beneficiary of Food and Trees for Africa (FTFA), a non-profit organisation that seeks to address food security, environmental sustainability, and greening in communities. Through the FTFA’s permaculture starter pack programme, she was quickly able to tackle issues of food insecurity at the school.
“Planting these trees helped the entire community to appreciate their importance.”
Feeding growing bodies and minds
The Seyisi garden provides fresh organic vegetables to supplement the schools nutrition programme.
Integrating classroom learning and practical skills in the garden is essential, she believes. Learners are also taught how to *propagate plants from leaves, stems, or rhizomes.
“Plant identification helps the children learn what is good to plant. Intercropping, like planting herbs with some of our vegetables, provides knowledge about things like natural insect repellents and antibiotics,” she says.
“This provides a lot of benefits for disadvantaged communities like ours. The learners gain so much knowledge that they wouldn’t have had if this garden was not part of their environment.”
She adds, “The science club also integrates our work in the garden. I always say our garden is our living laboratory where we do our experiments.”
PSP has laid the foundations for further projects
Converting an eyesore space into a thriving garden by applying permaculture principles has enabled Seyisi to establish further projects.
A worm farm uses kitchen and garden waste to produce organic fertiliser, while spekboom propagation offers multiple benefits. “The spekbooms absorb a lot of carbon. We also use them as windbreaks because this is such a windy city!” Ntsundwana laughs.
The PSP intervention and participation in the EduPlant programme have empowered her to become a mentor to other schools, leading to skills transfer in Gqeberha.
“We run workshops, showing them planting, herbs, and other skills we have learnt from FTFA’s permaculture workshops. One of the most important skills is the fertilising method, using some trees to create liquid fertilisers. This is really helpful with our very stony soil.”
The EduPlant programme focuses on developing schools across the country and has given learners the chance to attend workshops, participate in the national competition, and travel interprovincially. “For our learners to get the opportunity to travel out of their home province is a special thing,” adds Ntsundwana.
Long lasting memories
After a decade of using permaculture techniques in the school garden, Ntsundwana has many fond memories.
“I was teaching in Motherwell for 22 years in a nice area with many benefits, but coming to Seyisi was a huge breakthrough. I was presented with what looked like an impossible task, when I saw the state of the soil where we wanted to start the garden. For me this has been a process of ‘possibilising’ impossibilities!”
Ntsundwana also attended a Permaculture Design Course after Seyisi bagged a category win at the 2016 EduPlant Finals.
One particular moment that stands out for Ntsundwana, is overhearing a former student talking to his friend. “They walked past the school and he said, ‘I used to go to this school. But when I was here, I never thought this area could look so beautiful.’ That was so fulfilling.
“I feel like at least I have made some change in the community that will continue after I am gone. People will keep the school garden going, the trees will still be there, and the information is there for the learners.”