Teens transform gang-ridden area with food gardens

The teen activists of the Feed The Future Garden Project believe they can make a difference in their gang and unemployment ridden neighbourhood

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In a community where fatal gun fights claim the lives of young people on the regular, a group of youngsters are taking an activist role in working to change their community and make it a better place.

De Klerk, his brother (Valentino aged 20) and 13 of their friends started Feed The Future Garden Project. In five different locations you’ll find them cultivating anything from broccoli, tomatoes, spinach, cucumbers, carrots, basil, Brussels sprouts and even fruit trees.

It was an idea that took form inside a small church meeting room where the youngsters convene to discuss their activist work. They all work in the community as young activists and have been doing so for the past three years.

“Growing up in Elsies River is not easy,” De Klerk states. “I mean, while you are supposed to focus on your goals in life, you have to live with what’s happening around you. Once I saw a little girl reading a book on the side of the road while a gun fight had broken out.”

He says this is a normal occurrence where he is from. But he and his friends have taken ownership and want to make Elsies River a better place.

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Saving Elsies River

Feed The Future Garden Project
Geronimo de Klerk trains youngsters in Elsies River about permaculture and agriculture. Photo: Supplied/ Food For Mzansi

The gardens supports unemployed youth in the community and it is also used a platform where young and old are rehabilitated through agriculture.

Whatever is grown in the garden is donated to feeding schemes in the community. Also, every month when there is a surplus, they invite the elderly to harvest food for themselves.

“We prefer to focus on feeding schemes because they are able to reach more people than we can and they run seven days a week. Then what we do is create little vegetable boxes for the elderly.”

Youth unemployment is also high in Elsies River and De Klerk says most of the time this leads to gangsterism. As a result, those who are unemployed also get to harvest from the garden and take the veggies home to cook.  

Feed The Future Garden Project
Lyle Esau, one of the Feed The Future Garden Project volunteers getting ready to plant seedlings. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

The Feed The Future Garden Project also offers training programmes in which they teach people how to grow their own food.

“In our schools in the community, food cultivation does not feature anywhere in the curriculum. So, for most people our gardens are their first introduction to agriculture.”

He says they hope to get the few who are interested in agriculture trained through the support of the department of agriculture. But in the meantime De Klerk and his brother, who did short courses in agriculture before, share all the knowledge they have acquired.

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Creating positive platforms

De Klerk’s activism work started in 2017 after he grew tired of seeing the people in his community suffer.

“We live in corruption, people don’t have jobs, there’s no service delivery and they are struggling to survive. I know of people who live in one bedroom home with 19 other people. This shouldn’t be happening,” he exclaims.

Feed The Future Garden Project
Besides being green-fingered young men, these youngsters are also activists in their community. Photo: Supplied/ Food For Mzansi

As activists they want to create platforms for people to learn how to sustain themselves. They have started veggie gardens at various local primary schools as well and recently also started their own football club.

“If you come to Elsies River all you hear is gangsterism, crime and unemployment. If people don’t have something to eat, they are going to steal, this is the reality of the situation,” De Klerk says.

Feed The Future needs help

The group is happy that the community responded well to what they are trying to do. Some could not believe that they could freely harvest from the garden.

A project of this nature, De Klerk says, is not easy. There are many challenges, of which funding is the biggest.

“We have a Facebook page, so we ask for donations and funding mostly through our page. This is how we keep the gardens running. Sometimes people in a faraway area want to support us, but we don’t have transport to collect whatever it is that they want to give us,” he says.

De Klerk says they have big plans for the garden project, but that all of it is tied to finance and support. Those who are able to donate seedlings, gardening equipment, money or offer agricultural skills training can contact De Klerk via the Feed The Future garden project Facebook page.

ALSO READ: Community veggie garden a lifeline for Marikana orphans

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