“You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” This is the saying an organic gardener is living to do his bit in transforming the state of food insecurity in the townships of the Eastern Cape.
The 66-year-old former teacher has created more than 100 sustainable vegetable gardens in tunnels in Port Elizabeth and elsewhere in the province. Through these projects he delights in not only helping to put food on people’s tables, but also sharing knowledge that can keep making a difference long after he has gone.
Born and bred on a farm in the Free State, Trevin van der Walt seemed destined to fall in love with nature. After obtaining his honours degree in geography at the Rhodes University in Grahamstown he moved to Kimberley where he taught geography at Kimberley Girls High school for 20 years.
His wife, Mariette, is also a teacher and they have three sons together.
During his teaching career, he was promoted to the role of deputy principal, but decided to leave the profession in 1996. Three years later he moved to Port Elizabeth with the intention of establishing a bird park.
“This never materialized, so I started building bird cages and aviaries. I also started building worm farms to create compost about ten years ago,” he said.
This path of exploration led him to the idea for Urban Gardens, a project that develops organic vegetable tunnel systems with gravity fed drip irrigation for households, schools and starter farmers. He builds the gardens with the help of two trained staff members and with the assistance of the beneficiaries of the vegetable gardens.
“Once we start building the gardens people working with me will continue to learn and gain experience until they are able to train, encourage and assist community members to start their own gardens,” he says.
“The produce from the garden can put food on the tables of the gardeners, supply a soup kitchen and the excess food can be sold,” he adds.
“We create sustainable vegetable gardens. The tunnels are constructed with poles and structural timber with a wire harness and are covered in shade cloths. The shade cloths prevent the wind, birds, and pests from damaging the vegetables,” he says.
“The trench beds are filled with soil and compost to replace the poor-quality soil we have in the coastal areas. The drip irrigation directs the water to the plants and thus uses water very economically. The worm farm recycles organic waste from the kitchen and produces nutrients and microbes for the plants,” he adds.
Over the past 15 years Urban Gardens has built over 100 gardens situated in Port Elizabeth townships and suburbs and rural communities in Lusikisiki and Mqanduli in the Transkei area.
He says an established working garden forms the ideal venue for training individuals or groups in organic vegetable gardening.