Residents grow crops for a viable future

Mzu Zele makes notes of the group's vision.

A year-long permaculture programme was launched at the Hive on the first day of the Muizenberg Festival.

Calvin Dias, Yoliswa Mohave and Mzu Zele, all previously SEED facilitators who now run the accredited Urban Resilience Initiative (URI) training and internship programme, introduced the philosophy of permaculture to a group of interested people from across many far south communities.

Calvin said that in permaculture, the intention is to create a marriage between landscape and local culture through responsible and appropriate design interventions, which support the needs – and growth – of all life.

“We don’t always get a blank canvas or undeveloped site to work with – so retrofitting existing situations is a key skill for us to learn. More people than ever now live in cities or built up suburbs, or suburbs that took little notice of aspects like growing food,” he said.

And, he said, the idea of permaculture was not just growing food, but also people, and community: he said he wanted to create a group of growers who would work on the positives and create more of these, and rather focus on what can be done, than what is missing.

Ms Mohave invited the participants to engage in a discussion, and artfully reflected back to the group their concerns, while Mr Zele made notes. The group who gathered to learn were from Muizenberg, Vrygrond, Pelican Park, Marina da Gama and Diep River. Their interest was equal, and the morning began with a focus group for what they wanted to achieve from the course.

The group raised soil management, saving water, education and youth programmes, upliftment factors, nutrition, medical and cosmetic interests and the design of shared community spaces as among their top priorities.

Albertina Ngqume, who arrived to learn, spoke passionately about re-purposing all items that are bought: from bottles and cans, which could be used in new ways, to saving laundry water for use in the gardens.

Ms Ngqume also raised the idea of alternate currencies. “We may not have money, but maybe we can swop something, or make something for one another. We don’t all have jobs, but we have hands, and God gave us minds to use,” she said, to applause from those gathered.

Mr Dias said that 10 people would initially be chosen from the group to take on the year-long programme which would include learning all these aspects and setting up a community garden and they will be helped to establish local networks for their produce.

He said he particularly wanted the gardens to be linked, and have input from, and benefit to, multiple communities, adding that permaculture is keenly focused on the daily needs of people and the environment.

“This area is not an agricultural zone, and good clean food which is affordable is hard to come by. We can, each and every one of us, be part of the solution, though,” he said.

Ms Unser of Ladles of Love introduced her views of cooking to the group – who listened intently – as Kim was providing their food for the week. “Your approach to gardening is my approach to cooking,” she said.

She described the origins of their food and some ingredients of the Tisane (herbal) tea she had prepared, with honey, lavender and mint.

Ms Ngqume was visibly pleased by the re-purposed jars that Kim had brought to serve the tea in. Kim, a Diep River resident, is desperate to get people eating nutritious food, not food that is simply labelled that way, and says that permaculture produce is the next level up from organic. She also cautioned not to be too taken in by organic labels which, she said, had become a marketing tool by some large scale producers; and to rather grow food themselves or source from small producers – preferably individuals cultivating a crop of their own.

Mr Zele said his concern is about trees: he wants to see many more planted, and the group suggested that fruit trees would be the best idea as these had the dual purpose of beautifying the environment and feeding people.

SEED is an award-winning non-profit and public benefit organisation operating from Mitchell’s Plain.

Their work over the past 14 years has pioneered the Outdoor Classroom to not only grow ecological literacy, but also organic food for school goers and the communities in which they are situated.