In the middle of one of the most gang-ridden areas of the Cape Flats flourishes a 300 square metre organic vegetable garden which is changing the lives and attitudes of a score of youngsters.
The garden is project of the Zerilda Primary School Lavender Hill into which 20 grade 6 learners – dubbed the Garden Club – pour their energy and attention into after school.
Started in July 2008, the patch of greenery amidst rundown tenement blocks, tarmac and sandy wastelands is bursting with organic lettuce, potatoes, tomatoes, broccoli, watermelon and tasty herbs.
Besides the therapeutic effects of tending to the plants, the garden also provides the learners with nutritious food to supplement their diet and acts as an outdoor classroom for environmental lessons for the more than 1 000 children who attend the school.
The garden was started with the help of Earthchild Project, a non-profit organisation which teaches environmental awareness and life skills at schools.
The learners, together with a teacher, meet once a week after school from 2:30-4pm to maintain and learn about the garden, climate change and the value of organic food.
They have built a recycled green house that houses a worm farm to provide nutrition for the soil and practice natural farming techniques.
Grade 6 learner Jade Jantjies said his parents were impressed that he was able to grow food at the school and provide some for their household.
Jantjies said his family was unable to afford a healthy diet because his mother was unemployed, but since he had been bringing vegetables at his home they are now saving money and eating properly.
He said being part of the gardening club helped him to avoid the fate of so many of his peers: drugs, gangs and crime.
Since learning about organic farming and the environment, he said he has since started a vegetable garden at home.
“I love what I am doing. Not only do I support my family, but I respect where the food comes from.”
Learner Marlena Du Plessis said it was important for all learners to be involved in food gardening as the world might soon have a scarcity of food due to the effects of climate change.
Du Plessis said being involved in gardening had led her to pass on her knowledge to other members of the community who were beginning to grow their own food as well.
Earthchild Project manager Lisa Cohen said the organisation was intending to expand the vegetable garden so that some of the food could also be provided for the school’s feeding scheme.
Cohen said some children eat cheap junk food which made them fat and unhealthy but proper organic food helped them perform to their best potential.
School principal Lorna Engeldoe said the school was “blessed” to have a vegetable garden which helped learners to improve their nutrition because getting sufficient food was a problem for many of the school’s learners due to the poverty experienced in their household.