[singlepic id=129 w=320 h=240 float=left]One misty morning, about a month ago, I joined a specially organised tour of Soil For Life‘s “Little patches of salvation” – home food gardens and the bigger ‘Food Garden Enterprises’ that this hard-working Cape Town NGO has coached into being.

To quote their website:  “Soil for Life is a Cape Town-based NGO which teaches people to grow their own food and it works with the premise –healthy soil, healthy plants, and healthy people.

Home and community food gardens are designed to maximise production in small spaces, to conserve water and to make use of all available resources that would otherwise end up in already over-burdened land-fill sites, and to avoid, at all costs, the need for artificial fertilisers and poisonous sprays.”

And this tour was specially organised to show interested parties just how far they have come:

“Soil for Life made the decision last year to focus its energies on a home gardening program centred on local Food Gardening Enterprises in communities. The pilot program, run from May-December 2008 was so successful that 2009 saw the launch of a new wave of home gardens. By April, a total of 130 individuals have food gardens outside their back doors.

“They’re eating from them, selling from them. They’re healthier, happier, saving money, making friends, learning skills, sharing what they have and moving ahead with their lives. They’re proud of what they’re doing, and they’re making a worthwhile contribution to their neighbourhoods, especially because they have turned barren wasteland into little green oases.”

It was an incredible voyage, and the striking contrast between the areas of dire poverty through which we drove, and the verdant oases of green we encountered within them made me feel that even in the face of great odds, anything is possible.  Through their dedication and hard work, Soil For Life is creating hope amongst communities – and perhaps one day these small oases will become one big sea of green…

These are the gardens we visited that day:

[singlepic id=115 w=320 h=240 float=right]1. Michael Valentine’s garden at the Haven Night Shelter, Wynberg

Michael Valentine is a worm farmer of note. A row of bath tubs, full of hungry red wrigglers, is testament to his vermiculture skills. The Haven receives regular donations of food from retail chains around the city and anything that’s left over, or deemed unfit for human consumption goes straight to the wrigglers. Very little wastage, and thanks to the industrious worms, it very quickly turns into life-giving food for plants. What a great system!

A small food garden has been set up in the otherwise rather barren grounds of the Haven, fed by Michael’s prolific tubs. And produce from the garden goes into soups and salads, which help supplement the diet of the residents.

[singlepic id=119 w=320 h=240 float=left]2. The Old-Aged Home at Ryberg Terrace, Hanover Park

It’s incredible what you can grow in containers! This small old-aged home has a number of small gardens, some of them primarily container-based.

The height of the containers make them easier for older people to reach (rather than having to bend right down all the time), and the size is manageable.

I was blown away by what they’d managed to create, in such small spaces… and it all looks so vibrant! Not only does growing their own food lower their overall food costs, it’s fresh and packed with goodness, making them healthier as well.

[singlepic id=133 w=320 h=240 float=right]3. Sinebhonga Community Garden in Langa

In the middle of run-down houses, ramshackle fencing and obvious signs of poverty and neglect, the Sinebhonga Community Garden shines like a bright green beacon of hope.

I know that sounds cliched, but it really is incredible to see something so verdant in stark contrast to its surroundings (especially when one takes into account the generally abysmal soil with which they would have had to start).

The women who run the garden beamed with pride as we stepped off the bus to wander through their rows of gleaming vegetables. Spinach, lettuces, enormous turnips, shiny peppers, cabbages – all in beautiful neat rows, and all looks so ridiculously healthy it made my own home-grown attempts look completely silly.

These ladies are switched on, and supply the community around them. They’ve even started their own soup kitchen, in an old shipping container on the garden grounds.

[singlepic id=148 w=320 h=240 float=left]4. Nicola’s garden in Langa

Then it was off to small backyard garden in Langa. It looked like just another house among many, until we saw what was behind the protecting grey walls…

Once again I was gobsmacked by the quantity of food grown in a small space. And, again I was struck by just how healthy it all looked (who says organic means imperfect?)

Every possible nook and cranny was growing something… lettuces, eggplants, broccoli, sweet potatoes, cabbages, peppers and chillies, spinach. What a feast one could have from a garden like that!

[singlepic id=156 w=320 h=240 float=right]5. Rose Nongogo’s garden in Gugulethu

Another example of using every possible space for the production of immune-boosting food. Rose’s home borders on a busy urban roadside, and you wouldn’t know it was there, unless you were sitting rather high up (as we were, in our big bus).

Look over the wall, though, and there are rows and rows of fantastic vegetables and herbs.

Whilst we were there, Rose probed her sweet potato patch and proudly hoisted out one of the largest sweet potatoes I have ever seen!

[singlepic id=169 w=320 h=240 float=left]6. Two Samora gardens in Philippi

Even more dramatic than gardens in the backyards of brick homes are the ones you encounter outside township shacks. Wandering around the maze of dwellings in Samora, Philippi, and trying not to get lost, we suddenly came upon some of the small gardens being created there.

The challenges here are enormous, with not too much shelter from the Cape winds, and limited water supplies, these guys have to work a bit harder.

Using materials they find, they create makeshift windbreaks, home-made watering cans (an old tin, with holes in the bottom, with a handle made of string) and manage to grow a surprising amount of vegetables.

[singlepic id=181 w=320 h=240 float=right]7. Sibanye Garden Centre in Vrygrond, Capricorn Park

This incredible garden near Muizenberg is jam-packed with fresh vegetables and herbs, and even has a nursery for seedling creation, which brings in much needed cash.

There’s spinach and eggplants bursting out of old car tyres, herbs growing in old sinks and cisterns, great bushes of lavender and rosemary and beautiful seedlings, waiting to be deployed.

Members of the community come here to learn about gardening, and if they’re enrolled in Soil for Life’s gardening program, can cash in special vouchers for compost, seedlings and so on.

[singlepic id=202 w=320 h=240 float=left]8. Charles’s garden in Military Heights

Last, but definitely not least, was a visit to Charles’s garden, just around the corner from Sibanye. A small but incredibly abundant garden in Charles’s front yard yields enormous cabbages, pak choi (or tatsoi?), leafy swiss chard varieties, healthy lettuces, bush beans, soup celery, chinese cabbage, tomatoes, leeks… the list goes on!

Charles loves to talk about his vegetables, and even sold a few items to some of the visitors. After seeing so many people descend from a bus to view the garden, a curious crowd of onlookers gathered, and Charles was in his element at the centre of all the commotion!

View the entire gallery here.

Soil For Life‘s resource centre is located Stables Lane, off Brounger Way in Constantia (behind Peddlars on the Bend).  The centre runs a series of fantastic practical workshops on food gardening, vermiculture, natural pest control and more.  Plus, they sell pickles and preserves made from community produce, and you can even go and pick your own uber-fresh vegetables from the resource centre and pay in either Talents or hard cash.  Visit www.soilforlife.co.za for more info, or phone them on +27 (0)21 794 4982.

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