With hard work and innovative thinking, Neighbourhood Farm has supported the community through the Covid-19 crisis .
The NPO, which grows food in an urban setting to improve nutrition in schools and communities, while creating public awareness about environmentally sustainable farming, was deemed an essential provider during lockdown last year, and founder Justin Bonello and his team worked around the clock to provide the community with fresh organic produce in a safe space.
In the early days of the pandemic, Mr Bonello told the Echo that Neighbourhood Farm wasn’t big enough to donate its produce to charities in need as they would have then been unable to pay wages to all their 21 staff.
However, this has since changed. The farm has increased its production and is now able to support three local charities: My Father’s House in Simon’s Town, The Noorul Islam Mosque feeding scheme in Ocean View and residents of Costa da Gama.
In addition, children from the Dream Centre, an educational support centre at Laerskool Paul Greyling, harvest produce once a week for their families.
Lockdown had highlighted a huge need, Mr Bonello said, and he started thinking about ways the farm could support the community.
“I came to the conclusion that the only way to make it happen was to grow more produce. Our soil was the best it’s ever been, but space was a problem so we used a bit of maths and science,” he said.
They increased the 800mm garden beds to a metre by reducing the 400mm walkways and by planting certain fast-growing vegetables in between others that took longer to grow.
By reducing the width of the walkway between beds, they created an extra bed for every four beds.
By September last year, the three gardens at Laerskool Paul Greyling, Kommetjie Primary School and False Bay Hospital produced more produce than they could sell and they were able to donate some of it.
The extra produce is rotated between the three recipients, and once a week one recipient receives a variety of fresh organic vegetables.
“Our aim is to produce a variety of vegetables to provide a healthy nutritious meal,” he said.
The farm also runs a staff market at the False Bay Hospital every Tuesday. Produce is made available to staff below cost price.
“This is our way of giving back to the hospital for being a great host and to all the front-line workers such as the porters, security guards, nurses and doctors,” he said.
However, to enable Neighbourhood Farm to continue its good work, it needs the support of the community.
“The aim has always been to make the produce available to everyone regardless of their social economic circumstances, but the model of the organisation was built on the fact that there had to be a cross subsidisation from the middle class to enable us to work with lower socio economic groups,” he said.
The community can support Neighbourhood Farm by volunteering their time to help with marketing or in the gardens, supporting the fresh produce shops at Kommetjie Primary School and False Bay Hospital, making a donation or contributing to the Double it up Donation challenge where Neighbourhood Farm will supply double the fresh produce of any donation made to a local feeding scheme.
Pastor Shaddie Valayadum, of My Father’s House, who feeds the homeless in Simon’s Town and Fish Hoek daily as well as the elderly and children in Masiphumelele, Sunny Acres caravan park, Glencairn Heights and Capricorn, said they get a fresh supply of produce once every three weeks and its made a “huge” difference in cost savings as they were completely dependent on donor funding. He said the quality of the produce was good and lasted several days.
“We really value their support,” he said.
Welfare coordinator for the Noorul Islam Mosque in Ocean View, Zuleigha Manuel, said the fresh produce from Neighbourhood Farm was greatly appreciated. It was distributed to the various kitchens and also used to make up “veggie packs” for the elderly, she said.
The mosque feeding scheme provided thousands of meals through 70 satellite soup kitchens to various communities during lockdown.
Louise Phillips, of Costa da Gama, started feeding the hungry during lockdown last year. She said she was grateful for Mr Bonello’s “generous donations”. While she no longer prepares food in bulk for the needy, she supplies them with the fresh produce which they collect from her house.
Ron Townsend, co-founder of the Dream Centre, said the children loved harvesting vegetables from the garden and taking them home.
“Several children have shared that they would not have had anything to eat at home had it not been for the veggies from the garden,” he said.
For more information about Neighbourhood Farm or to make a donation, visit their Facebook page or www.neighbourhoodfarm.org