Proposed school garden causes concerns

Justin Bonello addressing a small group of residents during an information session on the proposed community market garden at Bay Primary School.

Representatives of Neighbourhood Market were peppered with questions on Saturday April 14 during a community information session after they proposed a community garden for Bay Primary School.

The registered NPO is committed to the development of community market gardens and the growing of organic crops at schools in the far south.

Neighbourhood Market proposes that the garden, which will be 1 500 square metres in size with 70 beds, 30 metres wide, be placed on the upper half of Elgin Park, parallel to the school’s fence.

Neighbourhood Farm founder, Justin Bonello, said Bay Primary School is one of eight far south schools which have committed to help launch the Neighbourhood Farm pilot project and because space was a problem, they approached the City of Cape town for permission to use a portion of the park.

However, residents were not keen on the idea as Elgin Park is the only park in the area and residents who use it on a regular basis to walk their dogs or to enjoy the outdoors have taken it upon themselves to keep the park clean and remove rubbish from the bins to prevent it from overflowing.

They said they were worried that once the garden has gone up, other structures will be built on the field and referred to an electric cage that was erected a year ago to protect heavy duty electrical cables.

The cage has since been removed after negotiations with the City of Cape Town.

Other concerns included increased traffic and noise levels, a possible increase in flies and a foul smell that can be caused from the garden as well as the physical appearance of the garden and what water source will be used to maintain it.

Mr Bonello said there will be three 5 000-litre water tanks on site and water will be supplied by groundwater and complemented by rain water harvesting.

They will also apply a method called “plant the rain” developed by Brad Lancaster, an expert in the field of rainwater harvesting and water management in the US.

The garden will also be covered by a 20% shade cloth which will help reduce evaporation.

“Wherever you grow food there is a water cost but it is only where you grow food that you have food security,” Mr Bonello said.

He said the mission of Neighbourhood Farm was to build sustainable market gardens at each school and to teach young people where food comes from.

However, he said the project was more than just growing veggies.

Each participating school will get an outdoor classroom where geography, science, biology and economics can be brought to life.

But this is easier said than done and 90% of food gardens fail because they rely on parents or teachers to run and maintain them and the gardens are not economically viable ventures.

This is where the Neighbourhood Farm project hopes to do things differently by involving the community closest to the school.

Except for showing children how food is grown, the market garden provides a small revenue stream from distributing and selling healthy food to both the school and the local community. This not only makes the gardens sustainable, but empowers the community through skills-based training and experience and creates further entrepreneurial opportunities for marginalised community members.

In Bay Primary’s case, the outdoor classroom will be located on the school premises while the small market shop where produce will be sold from will be based in the cul-de-sac parking area.

Bay Primary School principal, Melvin Beckmann said the school was fortunate in having been selected to be part of a pilot project launched by Neighbourhood Farms and they are excited about the project.

“Neighbourhood Farms’ primary focus is to grow food, minds and community by nurturing children at schools so that they become catalysts for change in communities.”

He added that the garden will help children and the community experience the beauty of sustainable permaculture gardens and be a safe space for the children.

Ward councillor, Aimee Khul, said the proposed food garden is not an attempt at land invasion and the access to the public space will be uninhibited.

She said the City can confirm that the food garden will not set a precedent for further development on the designated area.

She said the opposite was the case and the initiative will contribute to the greening of the area.

“There is no budget or desire to propose any further development
on the park. This project will be
for the benefit of children, dog walkers and the community.”

She said with the drought, the park will continue to deteriorate and is already attracting criminal activity. She encourages the community to engage with the school and Neighbourhood Farm in future.

“A pillar of community resilience is to take ownership of our spaces in a sustained and joint manner,” she
said.