Home Food for Thought It Takes a Village Free State missionary serves community with homegrown veg

Free State missionary serves community with homegrown veg

From her own backyard, Nelly Komape is on a mission to educate future generations about the relationship between food gardens and food security


To be a missionary, leave your family and go into communities to teach strangers about your faith is one thing, but to feed and often clothe them from your own pocket is another. 

This is exactly what 45-year-old Nelly Komape from Parys in the Free State has been doing for years.

With being a wife and mother of two children, her missionary work at Overcomers Ministries and her work in hunger relief efforts soon became too demanding. The costs often dwarfed the family’s income.

It is for this reason that Komape turned her sizeable backyard into a community garden which she calls Mmakomape Home Gardening.

Today Komape, together with her husband, two children and other community members, operate two garden sites cultivating an array of organically grown vegetables. One is still at the Komape residence and the other on a church property.

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“I’m a missionary worker. I give people food and help others wherever I can. We as Bapedi people have that thing called ubuntu. So, ultimately if I have, I should be able to share it with other people,” Komape explains.

Practice what you preach  

The Mmakomape Home Gardening project was born in November 2019, after another realisation by Komape that she could not encourage the community of Parys to grow their own produce if she was not doing the same.

Nelly Komape from Parys in the Free State runs a community garden in her backyard. Photo: Shoprite

At the time, she was working as a project coordinator for numerous food gardens in the Free State. JET Educator Service, a non-profit organisation working with government, the private sector, international development agencies and education institutions collaborated with the Free State department of education on a pilot project.

With her background as lecturer, lecturing management practice, operations management and project management, Komape was asked to assist in the implementation of food gardens at 19 schools in the district.

Her main duty is to coordinate stakeholder and partner relationships that would ensure the food garden project becomes a success.

“It’s a community where people struggle a lot and the gardens have had such a positive effect on the children’s lives. I started thinking how do I teach people to do this (grow their own food), while I am not practicing it in my personal capacity,” Komape says.

“Just start and someone else will eventually add to what you have.”

In 2019, her and her husband bought a house with a large backyard. Komape immediately saw a golden opportunity to start her very own home garden.

This Free State missionary recruits youngsters in the community and offers them an opportunity to learn how to plant and grow their own vegetables.

“My missionary work started to affect my family because I was doing it from my wallet. I would use my own money to feed people in the community. I thought that by having a garden this would take some of the strain off and reach more people,” she says.

The Mmakomape Home Gardening project encourages people to grow their own food organically. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

“A local priest offered for us to start a second garden on the church property so that people who visit the church can see first-hand the benefits of having a food garden. There we’ve grown spinach, onions, chilies, tomatoes, pumpkin, mealies, cabbage, carrots, okra and beetroot,” explains Komape.

During the extreme hardships experienced in 2020, the fresh organic produce from these two gardens have helped provide a lifeline for disadvantaged community members and children at a local crèche.

Komape says she is now also selling produce to reinvest in her food gardens, so that she can continue to support families in the area.

Educate future generations

Both gardens are supported by Shoprite’s “We Act For Change” initiative.

Shoprite is assisting Mmakomape Home Gardening with 18 months of training, as well as gardening tools, seedlings, compost and an irrigation system at the church site. 

“We’ve gained so much through Shoprite,” says Komape. “We are now even making our own compost which will be ready for use later this year, and we know more about raising beds and even understand how intercropping works.”

Nelly’s husband, ntate Noko Komape. Photo: Shoprite

The group is also attending training workshops on permaculture, garden design and pest and weed control.

“We struggle with water in Parys. I currently go out and source water from a local well with 25-litre buckets around three times a day.”

One of the things Komape is most excited about is the water tank her project will be receiving from Shoprite.

“Shoprite has agreed to assist with a 10 000-litre water tank, and we can’t wait. When the tank is here it will really change my life and better our farming,” she explains.

According to Nelly, ntate John Sello, one of their garden members is her pillar. Photo: Shoprite

In the meantime, Komape says she has big plans for Parys.

She dreams of one day expanding Mmakomape Home Gardening into a farming academy and to educate future generations about the relationship between food gardens and food security.

“I need a bigger [piece of] land. That would enable me to hire more people and teach others growing their own food because anybody can do it in their backyard,” she explains.

Her advice to others wishing to make a difference in their communities is to “just start”.

“I started with almost nothing and look at where I am now with all the help I’ve received. Just start and someone else will eventually add to what you have,” Komape believes.

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Duncan Masiwa
Duncan Masiwa
DUNCAN MASIWA is a budding journalist with a passion for telling great agricultural stories. He hails from Macassar, close to Somerset West in the Western Cape, where he first started writing for the Helderberg Gazette community newspaper. Besides making a name for himself as a columnist, he is also an avid poet who has shared stages with artists like Mahalia Buchanan, Charisma Hanekam, Jesse Jordan and Motlatsi Mofatse.


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