The need for nutritious food in her school and village encouraged North West school principal Ellen Leping (50) to revive their neglected school garden three years ago. She also realised there was an even greater need to create work opportunities for the unemployed youth in their village, Letlhogoring.
Today the head of Mokaila Primary School feeds more than 1000 residents and learners and she employs a number of young people from the village, who now know how to grow their own food.
She was determined to make a success of her idea and reached out to the youth with the hope that they would help her with the garden. “I called them, and asked: ‘How about we start this garden so that we can benefit and also supply the community members with fresh vegetables?’”
Five young people agreed to put their hands in the soil so that fresh vegetables could be more accessible to those in their community. This was an easy call to make, because their neighbours had to travel about 22km to the nearest town for fresh veggies.
In 2017, the group started from scratch when Leping used her own money to buy seedlings. “I started the garden to alleviate hunger and help unemployed youth. We supply the veggies to disadvantaged learners. The community doesn’t have access to fresh veggies, as they are far from town and transport to town is not frequent. Now we are able to supply them with what we grow,” says Leping.
The learners are also actively part of the garden, as it contributes towards their school’s feeding scheme. It also plays a vital role in certain school subjects, with the learners taught about planting and harvesting their own food.
“During teaching periods of natural sciences and life skills we take the grade 5, 6 and 7 learners to the garden. Here they do practical assignments by planting seeds and seedlings, watering the plants and taking out weeds. They also help to harvest and sell the produce to the community to raise funds for the school.”
The school’s garden grows spinach, lettuce, cabbage, carrots and herbs such as rosemary, parsley and sage. “The vegetables that we’re growing are purely organic. We sell the produce every Friday and if there’s enough, we donate the veggies to the school’s learners for their parents to cook for them,” Leping adds.
Last year the local Checkers supermarket offered to contribute towards the school garden that has become an important food hub for locals in Letlhogoring.
The young people working in the garden have been offered permaculture training through the supermarket chain. The positive results are clear, as the group’s harvest has doubled since their training started a year ago. Through this initiative the school garden is not only providing food, but also an income to the local volunteers.