Preparing and distributing 1 million meals in eight months is no small feat and doing so amid the disruption caused by a national covid-19 lockdown makes the task even greater. But this is exactly what a non-profit project dedicated to enriching the lives of farm worker’s children in the Western Cape recently did.
The Pebbles kitchen is nestled in the middle of a buzzing farming district. It is a division of the Pebbles Project, which supports the education and early childhood development needs of about 1 400 farm workers’ kids in the rural areas surrounding Cape Town.
The kitchen’s small team of food workers is dedicated to enriching the lives of disadvantaged children and families in these agricultural communities.
An impact-driven kitchen
Dominic Johnson-Allen, a consultant for the Pebbles Kitchen, says during the first four levels of Mzansi’s nation-wide coronavirus lockdown, the kitchen turned into an emergency feeding project.
“We worked closely with NGOs operating on the ground to identify the really needy members of that specific community. It was important for us to make sure that we weren’t just giving people food who wanted it, but people that needed it,” he says.
About 500 000 meals were cooked by the kitchen staff at their location on the Klein Joostenberg farm in Stellenbosch. A further 500 000 food parcels were packed for distribution to communities in parts of the province.
To make sure food reached the correct people, door to door visits were made in some cases.
“Thanks to that focus the impact was quite huge,” Johnson-Allen says. “We specifically targeted children, the elderly and sick people.”
He explains, “It is much easier to create meals out of a food parcel. The parcels can make about 60 meals and we also added tea bags, sugar and milk”.
The pebbles kitchen project was started nearly three years ago when he was approached by the organisation’s founders to design a facility that could produce meals. This was not only for the kids forming part of the Pebbles Project programme but also for other education centres.
The facility was designed and built during 2018 and launched in 2019. Johnson-Allen modelled the menu, recipes, contacted suppliers and recruited and trained staff.
Addressing the needs of farm workers’ kids
The Pebbles Project was established in 2004 with the purpose of bringing quality education to the Winelands, especially catering to the farm workers’ children.
Their core focus is education. However, additions like a health programme, nutrition programme and social work has given the Pebbles Project a more holistic edge. They service about 1 400 children in the areas of Stellenbosch, Somerset West, Wellington, Citrusdal and the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley in Hermanus.
Director of the organisation, Sophia Warner, says, “At the time we started there were a lot of amazing projects going on, but none of them was designed to support the children on the farm.”
She explains the biggest issue their project is addressing is the lack of access.
“The communities are fairly remote, and we’d find that on the farms there was maybe a little day care centre where one of the ladies on the farm was just babysitting the children, but there was no education happening.
“Most of the children would then start school with no preschool experience, and then there was an immediate disadvantage.”
The Pebbles Project has since addressed this need by establishing an early childhood development programme with a carefully constructed curriculum for children between birth and age six. There is also an after school club programme that provides support to school-going children between the ages of 7 and 18.
The programmes are stationed on every farm and in agri communities the Pebbles Project operates within.
Nutritionally balanced meals for as little as R5
While the economy has returned to some form of productivity in Level 1 lockdown, Johnson-Allen says the need in these communities remain significant.
“For this very reason, we are continuing to provide meals beyond our Pebbles Project children and families and are looking for new long-term customers, particularly from the education sector, to supply meals to them.
“With a menu starting at just R5 per meal, we would like to reach as many hungry mouths as possible with healthy, homestyle, cooked food,” he explains.
In addition, the kitchen also serves meals charged at R10.
The kitchen operates as a social enterprise which receives funding from a large Dutch organisation which covers the running costs.
Pebbles kitchen then provides meals to organisations who select and purchase meals from their menu.
“Everything on the menu is homemade style cooking. We do things like stews, hot pots and curries. These meals are all made from scratch every single day with whole, hearty foods. We cook our meals, blast chill them, freeze them and then distributed them as frozen products.”
Some of the ingredients are sourced locally from farmers and every now and then they also make use of community vegetable gardens.