It’s true. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, and these words could not ring more true for the Bonteheuwel Development Forum on the Cape Flats.
Together with caring residents, this Western Cape organisation uses anything they can get their hands on to plant vegetables and fruits to help feed between 40 000 and 50 000 people per week.
The forum, made up of street and block committees, is on a collective journey of fighting food insecurity with their community garden programme. This, while also helping struggling households become self-reliant and sustainable.
Truly, for the hands involved in this agricultural initiative, there is nothing under the sun that they will not plant in order to supply 35 different feeding schemes.
There’s spinach, butternut, parsley, turnips, onions, tomatoes, green pepper, rosemary and more. All of these can be found at different locations, including school grounds, churches, dumping sites and even community homes.
Henrietta Abrahams, chairperson of the Bonteheuwel Development Forum, explains that they do not stand around waiting for donations. Instead, they do as much as they can for themselves.
“Everything that we can get our hands on, we plant. The seeds of fruits and vegetables, we save and plant.
“We use anything to plant in, also. Trust me, anything. From a paint can to a rubbish bin, bottles – anything goes; even muffin trays to cultivate our seedlings. You must remember, gardening can get quite expensive when you’re feeding this many people,” Abrahams says.
‘People were poor before Covid-19‘
The Bonteheuwel Development Forum was established to restore community pride and dignity and to create a safe and healthy community. Their mission is combating poverty, inequality and social ills through development interventions.
Unlike other community programmes that focus on specific issues only, they look at the entire development of the community. They touch on gender-based violence, mental trauma, food insecurity and health and safety issues.
“The problem is that many organisations are one-man shows and you only see them visible around Mandela Day. But the community’s needs are not only there on Mandela Day,” Abrahams says.
This, she explains, became even more clear to them when President Cyril Ramaphosa announced a nationwide Covid-19 lockdown in 2020.
“Our people were poor long before Covid-19. They didn’t become poor as a result of the pandemic – they just became poorer,” she exclaims.
At the start of the lockdown, Abrahams and her team immediately made some plans. They reached out for donations and funding organisations to help them buy food for the community.
But they soon realised that they were bound to run out of funds and had to think differently. They knew that going forward it would not be sustainable to depend on funding alone, Abrahams explains.
“The alternative was to plant food gardens, so that we could plant and grow (food) ourselves. We wanted to also make sure that we give our people nutritious meals. Our motto is ‘If you don’t eat it, don’t serve it’.”
Since then, they have taught youngsters and their parents how to grow food in their own backyards. However, this was not always possible. Most houses in Bonteheuwel have shacks latching onto the main structures of the homes, taking up most of the yard space.
Rewarding, yet challenging
Most of the project’s gardens are situated at former dumping sites and schools. When the veggies are harvested, they are used for the various feeding schemes. When there is a surplus of food (mostly spinach) it is sold.
This money is used to buy other essential foods.
The forum consists of street or block committees. These are residents of 18 years and older living in a particular street or in a block in Bonteheuwel. Committees are formed with a minimum of ten families in a street.
While she is proud of the progress they have made, Abraham says, “Sometimes I feel like we are moving at a slow pace and to raise funds on such a large scale is challenging.”
Some of the gardens do not have fencing, so theft is a problem. Abrahams says they have also taken a beating from the summer heat, however, they will continue to “keep on keeping on”.
“We take the lessons and learn from them. We have to push through. To this day we have some challenges, but I hope that this will no longer be a problem in the future.”
Currently, the Bonteheuwel Development Forum are getting ready to plant for the coming winter. They call on communities, organisations and businesses to consider donating seedlings, seeds, fencing, shade cloth, or gardening equipment.