He has made it his mission “to fix the wrongs of a broken food system” and address food security by giving Mzansi residents the opportunity to grow their own food through urban farming.
Since the project’s inception three years ago, Bonello and his team have created three community gardens and eight outdoor classrooms at two local schools and a hospital in the South Peninsula, Cape Town.
The founder hopes the gardens are adopted by the communities as their own. “[We do this] by giving children and community members, regardless of socio-economic circumstances, access to the tools and resources to lead better lives now and into the future,” he adds.
Filmmaker and self-proclaimed cook, Bonello is popularly known as Mzansi’s braai master. He’s hosted six seasons of the renowned television program Ultimate Braai Master and he’s published seven books about traveling and food.
According to Bonello, they want to build a stable food security system by creating and securing jobs for unemployed locals. Their project currently employs 37 permanent staff members from Masipumelele and Ocean View.
The initiative’s reward is the engagement and interest of the locals in the gardens situated at Kommetjie Primary, Laerskool Paul Greyling and False Bay Hospital. Bonello describes it as “truly beautiful”.
“We wanted to create an edible education space that connected children to the outdoors.” – Justin Bonello
Their community gardens continue to grow, with a fourth being initiated. Bonello says, “a large training market garden, complete with agricultural processing, animal husbandry and training facilities is in the final stages of installation at Ocean View Secondary School.”
He boasts about their food saying, “the vegetables we grow is organic and nutritionally dense”. Their team of gardeners grow a variety of crops, which includes mustard spinach, swiss chard, beetroot and carrots and has plans to start planting their first fruit bearing trees for harvest next year.
Bonello believes children often grow up disconnected from the food they eat. He says the outdoor classrooms are key to help break this disconnect. “We wanted to create an edible education space that connected children to the outdoors, while giving teachers a resource to integrate the subjects that they teach into nature.”
To date the Neighbourhood Farm has installed open-air classrooms at Marine Primary, Kleinberg Primary, Bay Primary, Kommetjie Primary, Ocean View Secondary School, Simonstown School, Laerskool Paul Greyling and Muizenberg Primary School.
Through the outdoor classrooms and gardens at schools, learners are actively picking up knowledge about cultivating their own food. A grade 4 learner at Marine Primary in Ocean View, Mia Newman says the garden transformed her school from ugly to beautiful.
The 10-year-old says, through the outdoor classroom she’s learnt about “plants and pollination, reproduction and fertilisation processes, as well as recycling and conservation life skills lessons”.
Joseph Brading, also 10, from Bay Primary in Fish Hoek expressed his interest in gardening. He says he has always wanted to grow his own plants. Brading says it is important to grow our own food “so that if anything happens to the food in the shops, we can always have a supply of crops”.
As an urban food gardener, Justin Bonello says he will continue to build food security one community food garden at a time. His dream is to give, “all people access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life all the time”.