In a township riddled with poverty in a country where the youth faces staggering odds when looking for employment, four men have undertaking the challenging work of changing their own lives and that of their community.
Simphiwe Daniel (44), Banetsi Jacobs (32), Thando Bango (43) and Siseko Bokoto (33) from New Crossroads in Nyanga, Cape Town, have started an organic vegetable garden called Abathethi Food Garden that was inspired by the great health challenges and poverty against which the young as well as older people are especially vulnerable.
Daniel says today young and old suffer from diabetes, high blood pressure and other chronic diseases because of the type of food they consume. Their organic vegetable garden, he says, is a step towards “healing the nation”.
“We want to change people’s perception about the food that they eat. Today we have chronic diseases such as high blood pressure and sugar (type 2) diabetes, you’ll find that an 18-year-old or 25-year-old has high blood pressure or sugar diabetes,” he says.
He believes that food grown using chemicals to speed production and increase yields is “poisoning” consumers.
Daniels says Abathethi’s aim is to encourage the youth, physically challenged people and women to participate in urban agricultural and environmental awareness programmes so that they can plant their own organic veggies and be able to identify natural herbs and their use.
“Abathethi Garden also aims to protect and promote traditional indigenous food knowledge and preparations in order to promote moral values as a basis for a way of life. We want to encourage the youth to learn about the importance of urban agriculture and indigenous plants in our livelihoods,” he says.
A dream to farm in the city
The garden was started by the four friends in January 2020, after they attended a course with non-profit organisation Abalimi Bezekhaya in Nyanga.
“We always wanted to be farmers, so we acquired a lot of knowledge about growing organic vegetables through Abalimi. After our course we decided that we would create our own garden and plant vegetables organically.”
Fortunately for them, right after they completed the course with Abalimi they received a five-year lease agreement from Eyethu Educare Crèche in February 2020.
“All we had to do was share our vision with Eyethu and they liked it. We also promised them that we would guard and maintain the crèche and that’s how we got the land,” he says.
Within a short space of time, they were scouted by UCOOK while they were still supplying their organic vegetables to Philippi Economic Development Initiative (PEDI), which is an initiative that supports and unites small business owners.
“We have an agreement with UCOOK to supply them with our organic vegetables such as carrots, kale, parsley and chillies. We also grow lettuce, coriander, basil, sage, spring onion, tomatoes, spinach, squash, broad beans, cabbages and broccoli.”
“Just the idea that the herbs and vegetables that UCOOK sells was planted by us is amazing. It tells us that our hard work and dedication has paid off.”
The Abathethi food garden is about 249 square metres big and they hope to expand it.
Daniel says although they have achieved great milestones, starting the organic garden was really challenging.
“When we first moved to Eyethu we had a big issue with rocks and weeds, so we had to remove the rocks and weed out the weeds. We also had irrigation challenges; the irrigation system at Eyethu was not working so we had to purchase tools to fix the pipes so that we could water our crops. Fortunately, the Violence Prevention Through Urban Upgrading Initiative (VPUU) supplied us with water tanks and boreholes,” he says.
VPUU is a comprehensive area-based community development initiative by the City of Cape Town that works towards the safety and integration of communities and the improvement of quality of life for the residents in local neighbourhoods through urban improvements and social interventions.
Currently things are going very smoothly, except for the irrigation issues they still face every now and then.
Daniel says their biggest moment of breakthrough was being scouted by UCOOK.
“UCOOK was the highlight of our career. Being one of the farmers supplying to UCOOK is a big deal because they are big. Just the idea that the herbs and vegetables that UCOOK sells was planted by us is amazing. It tells us that our hard work and dedication has paid off,” he says.