‘There is money in the soil,’ says community farmer

community farmer

Six energetic women farmers are taking their organic vegetable garden under the name Siyazama Community Allotment Garden Association in Khayelitsha to new heights and they are determined to succeed. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

It was more than two decades ago when a group of 24 women and six men had the idea of starting the Siyazama Community Allotment Garden Association in their neighbourhood, opposite the Sizimisele Tech High School in Khayelitsha, Cape Town.

Most of the group members had a background in gardening because they grew up in rural parts of the Eastern Cape. Nokwanda Nkqayi (65), a member who has been part of SCAGA for 15 years, says the original members acquired land from the Cape Town municipality in 1996 and launched their garden.

“The land was vacant because people were not allowed to build on it back then because of the powerlines that were situated above it. So, the women of SCAGA approached the municipality and asked them to utilise it. The municipality agreed on condition that they didn’t interfere with the powerlines,” she says.

Some of the women of Siyazama Community Allotment Garden Association in Khayelitsha have all retired and they have dedicated their whole lives to their organic vegetable garden. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

With the help of Abalimi Bezekhaya, a non-profit micro-farming organisation, they started utilising the 1-hectare garden in 1996. Abalimi supported the energetic group through training courses, preparing the land and providing fences, windbreaks, irrigation, and the layout of the garden.

Nkqayi got involved as community farmer 10 years later, when members of Abalimi realised that although the Siyazama garden was growing, the Siyazama group didn’t have the necessary skills to run the garden like a business. They appointed Nkqayi on a three-month contract to teach them the financial aspects of farming.

“I am a teacher by profession, so I had experience in that area whereas most of them were uneducated. I taught them about bookkeeping, how to open bank accounts and how to read and write,” she says. 

After her training she decided to dedicate all her time to the Siyazama garden.

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Siyazama garden gets a face lift

“I joined Siyazama in 2006 because I fell in love with it, it was a place where we as a community could buy vegetables,” she shares.  

When Nkqayi joined Siyazama at the age of 50 there were 13 women working in the community garden who were all mostly above the age of 50. They grew organic vegetables and herbs and even supplied their customers with seedlings.

Their biggest market was Harvest of Hope, which unfortunately closed down in 2019 due to financial reasons. Harvest of Hope was an extension of the services offered by Abalimi, its aim was to provide market access to the farmers in Cape Town townships who wanted to sell surplus veggies.

Today the community garden has six women farmers growing organic cabbage, spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, beans, sweet potatoes, potatoes, kale, tomatoes and herbs. They sell their produce and seedlings to the vendors and schools in their community.

“This garden brings us together – as sisters. We became a lot like family lately and it reminds us of our younger days when we helped our parents in the Eastern Cape,” says Mama Bukulu. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

They also have a community hall that is used for church on a Sunday, but during the week it is used for training and community meetings. On Sundays after church they have a market where they sell fresh veggies from the garden to tourists who visit the garden.

Siyazama garden has also evolved into a row of many community gardens. Sometimes also referred to as the “power line project”, it is now a leading model of micro-urban agriculture in Cape Town.

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Trials and words of wisdom

Nkqayi shares that getting the garden to where it is today was not always easy, because they experienced quite a few challenges. However, that didn’t stop them.

“Farming is our passion; we love it and it’s our life now. Even if we don’t have a market, it can’t stop us,” she says.

She says that some of the challenges they experience today are theft and irrigation issues.

“Young people can end up employing so many people and bettering their lives because of farming.”

“We have constant break-ins, the perpetrators are making holes in our nets and they are stealing our water pipes and tanks, so we need security. Our water systems have also not been fixed properly so water access is still an issue for us,” she says.

The group of community farmers strive to become self-sufficient, sustainable and independent by growing their own seedlings and having their own truck to drive their veggies to different markets.

“I want to tell young people who still have strength and energy to farm that the soil will produce money for you. Money that you wouldn’t be able to find in other jobs out there.

“I say this because even the government is investing in farming because they know that there is money in the soil. Young people can end up employing so many people and bettering their lives because of farming,” she says.

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