They say it takes a village to raise a child. This might be true, but every now and then it also takes an army of children to step in where adults have failed. This is the reality of a Western Cape initiative where 44 children are feeding 900 families.
The vegetable garden, originally started to raise funds for children of migrant farmworkers to participate in a local judo tournament, has mushroomed into a giant project on 32 different farms.
The main garden, situated on Middelpos farm near Malmesbury, is “more than just a garden”. It is the key element with which rural children (aged 3 to 15) are using to steer their communities forward.
Today, these children and their mothers grow vegetables organically on half a hectare of land to end hunger – not only for themselves, but for the hundreds of other families who are reliant on them.
It all started when government handed Middelpos – a 60-hectare land reform farm – to 13 families to cultivate the land. There was one big condition: these families had to prove, within the first five years, that they could develop the farm into a sustainable business.
Seven years later and the farm is thriving under the leadership of Middelpos director Ingrid Lestrade and her NGO, the Inspire Children and Youth Trust. Their mission is to inspire rural people to achieve success, and to create safe spaces for children and young people to thrive.
The trust provides food, shelter, toilets, and a range of developmental activities to help restore human dignity on rural farms.
“One of our core teachings are acts of random kindness,” Lestrade says. “The children are taught to do something for someone else – not only their families – without expecting anything back.”
Lestrade says her criticism about charitable work has always been that “we raise money and either give it to the poor or buy things for them. However, very rarely do we create spaces for the poor to do things for themselves.”
The birth of a garden
The garden, launched in 2018 with the support of an agricultural enterprise and the Dutch-based Children’s Fund MAMAs and AFGRI, was started after 24 children got involved in judo and needed money to participate in the SA Judo Championships.
Cash was an issue, but the kids had a masterplan.
“They asked me to buy seeds for them. They wanted to clear half a hectare of vacant land and plant veggies to sell. They worked on the garden after school and weekends with littleequipment to their disposal,” says Lestrade.
The rest is history. No less than R90 000 was raised with the vegetable garden which helped cover the competition expenses.
Since then, the women on Middelpos and surrounding farms have started stitching tote bags for the veggies which they sell for R100 each.
“This is also creating jobs for the mothers. We think that the two (mother and child) are linked to one another, so as much as we want the children to develop, we want their parents to develop as well,” Lestrade says.
The children, she adds, are therefore at the centre of taking their community forward.
“We want to keep the children inspired so that they continue to inspire their families back home… This is a community where children are taking charge of steering the community into a direction that they want.”
Solving bigger social issues
Shortly after the vegetables started growing, Lestrade and her team noticed that the children did not have much energy because of malnutrition. The trust then offered the children food, but they would opt to take it home instead.
“We realised that the problem was much wider and that most of the families were hungry. With the first harvest, we gave the kids vegetable parcels to take home. The kids were very surprised because usually they would go and steal it on farms.”
“This is a community where children are taking charge of steering the community into a direction that they want.”
The children have managed to get their parents involved in the garden. And according to Lestrade, the garden is a space where children and women learn that land can be used to end poverty and restore human dignity.
Plans to make further impact
Setting up the garden, however, was no fairy tale, Lestrade admits.
It was not easy keeping the children motivated and inspired. At times, the veggies would not grow, and they would be faced with irrigation problems too.
“We had to come up with various ways that would help keep everyone inspired. Like hosting a function where they could dress up and dance, or to take the veggies to other farming communities so that the children could see the living conditions of other people; hoping this would show them the change they are bringing to communities.”
She adds that much work still needs to be done to impact rural lives.
Recently, a nursery to grow seedlings was erected and they plan to use the seedlings for their own garden as well as hand it out to families to plant themselves.
An expansion of the garden is also on the cards to increase the number of vegetables they give to each family and to help supply the families on a more regular basis.