Photo Credit: Courtesy of Abalimi Bezekhaya

From the of The Rotarian

On a drive along the N2 Freeway in Cape Town, South Africa, travelers speed past endless clusters of corrugated metal shacks that fill the sandy Cape Flats area between the airport and iconic Table Mountain.

“I grew up in this area,” says Lloyd Whitfield, a retired dairy products company owner and member of the Rotary Club of Constantia, pointing out where his family once owned land. “There was just bush. I used to ride horses, and we used to shoot game in this area – there was nothing.”

Now, more than a million people are crowded here, the townships established when black residents were forcibly relocated out of “white areas” during the apartheid years. More recently, the townships are the destination for hundreds of thousands of migrants seeking to benefit from Cape Town’s growing economy.

But the rate of migration has outpaced job growth.

The Constantia Rotary Club has helped set up a community garden and farm training center for young residents in Khayelitsha, the largest township. The club is working with Abalimi Bezekhaya, a local organization that helps create income-producing gardening opportunities in the community, and partnered with Rotary clubs in the United Kingdom, the United States, and Germany to secure a global grant from The Rotary Foundation worth $46,000, on top of a previous matching grant.

“The philosophy behind both projects is to try to get young people, men and women, into the gardens,” says Kelly Winckworth, treasurer of the Constantia club. “Traditionally, this kind of work is older people, and largely women.”

 

Settled in a grassy park across from a subdivision of modest brick homes is the Moya we Khaya Peace Gardens plot. The garden adds to Abalimi’s farming capacity and creates more financial stability for the organization.

“We grow everything,” says Abalimi operations director Christina Kaba, who works in the garden with about a dozen others, growing pumpkins, green peppers, basil, thyme, tomatoes, carrots, cabbage, and lots of other vegetables and herbs. Those vegetables supply Abalimi’s Harvest of Hope venture, which sells boxes of vegetables to middle-class Capetonians for a monthly fee.

The Constantia Rotary Club first developed a 5,000-square-meter garden on city land with Abalimi in 2013, installing infrastructure such as an irrigation system and protective fencing.

“The first challenge was the land,” says Nancy Maqungo, Abalimi board member and farmer. “We wanted the land from 1995 – think how many years. We’ve attended so many meetings, but we couldn’t get the land. But Rotary helped us. That was the first problem that we had. Getting people to come here was no challenge. They did come.”

In fact, the garden was so popular that community members asked the club to help establish another one. That added 5,000 square meters to the original garden, making it an even hectare (just under 2.5 acres).

Another early problem was the sandy soil. “The soil was very poor,” Whitfield says. Compost and manure were added, but no fertilizers, to keep the soil organic.

Finding enough partners to get the funding for the land presented another challenge. Whitfield, a longtime Rotarian and past district governor, interested other Rotary clubs through his many connections. The project was made more attractive by the team of professionals within the Constantia club, including an architect, engineers, project managers, management trainers, and an accountant.

At the garden in November, the growing season was well underway. Rows of green plants brightened the plot. A hadeda ibis, a brown-gray bird with iridescent wings, picked through the dirt inside a tunnel greenhouse. Part of the tunnel covering had been torn away, stolen to become part of somebody’s shack, Winckworth says.

Despite these occasional setbacks – early in the project, all of the water valves on the Rotary-sponsored irrigation system were stolen – farmers say the garden is a safe oasis in the community, providing income, motivation, and a healthy source of food.

“We chat and we help one another in many ways,” Maqungo says. “We learn a lot, because there are quite a number of vegetables that I didn’t even know. … When I came here I said, ‘Christina, what is this, and how do you – ?’ and I would Google the recipes. And I would share the recipes with other women here.”

As interest in the gardens grew, a third project aimed to redevelop an existing garden and build training facilities for young, unemployed people, who could benefit from the knowledge of the older farmers. Not far from the Moya gardens at another site in Khayelitsha, the Constantia Rotary Club helped set up the Young Farmers Training Centre.

The facility is central to keeping local garden plots in use, says Chris D’Aiuto, Harvest of Hope production coordinator.

“What’s neat about this is not only are we engaging youth who do not have jobs and giving them a vocation, but also we’re able to then say, ‘We have land for you in these other community gardens that have space,’” he says. “So not only does it give meaning to some people’s lives, but then also we’re able to give them the space they need to produce.”

The center completed a trial training session in fall 2015 and launched a formal yearlong training program for nine young people in April. Rotary will stay involved until at least September 2017 to ensure the program can run on its own. To that end, Rotary required Abalimi to partner with another organization, in this case Netherlands-based Avalon.

The training offers both practical instruction and theory, covering topics such as soil preparation, seedling production, cross-pollination, organic growing, and climate change.

“I learned a lot every time I attended the classes,” says Zandile Hlangwana, a 25-year-old farmer. “It was very encouraging to work with other young people practically outside, and the way we just discussed everything inside … I think some of us actually found a way toward what we wanted to do in the future after the apprenticeship.” 

The Rotarian