Gallatin Africa House Fellowship
Cape Town, South Africa
Its midday in Makhaza, one of the many former townships established during Apartheid, and I am in the backseat of a passenger van with my supervisor who is trying with great difficulty to direct the driver through the narrow and sporadically marked streets. Although apartheid ended more than two decades ago, its legacy still stands strong. Cape Town, to me, seems to exist as two cities in one—one of upscale restaurants, museums, casual surf culture, bustling nightlife, and suburban mansions, and another of informal settlements that often lack access to basic amenities. The division is extreme and undeniably racialized. It is almost exclusively the black and “colored” (a term used during Apartheid to identify people of mixed race) South Africans that live in these settlements, and it is also the people in these communities that often struggle with food insecurity and subsequent issues, such as malnutrition and obesity.
We were en route to the home of a woman named Sileka Florence Ruka. Florence was born in the Eastern Cape and dropped out of school after 8th grade due to severe asthma, which she has continued to struggle with throughout her life. She moved to Makhaza in Cape Town where she now lives with her two sons. Florence completed Soil for Life’s home gardening program almost a year ago, but Soil for Life continues conduct follow-up visits for at least three years following completion of the program, which was the purpose of our visit. At this point I was about 5 weeks into my 2-month internship with Soil for Life and had seen a substantial amount of home gardeners that had successfully implemented Soil for Life’s techniques and were in the process of establishing a fully functional home garden. However, I had yet to see a garden like Florence’s.
Florence in her home garden in Makhaza, South Africa.
Florence greeted us as we arrived outside her home and immediately led us into her experimental, thrifty, and flourishing garden. Her yard, which wrapped around nearly the entirety of her home, was filled with found objects—tires, kitchen sinks, bathtubs, plastic crates, the hollow shell of old desktop computers, Tupperware containers, plastic bottles—all of which she had filled with compost-rich soil and converted into planters. She had even built a small structure that doubled as a covered area for propagating seedling and a vertical garden for growing lettuces. In the remainder of the space were trench beds that were overflowing with various greens days away from harvest. Florence led us around her garden proudly, giving an explanation of every plant and structure. Florence described how her garden has been so productive that she has more than enough food to feed both herself and her family,
“Because my garden got a lot of food, I give even my neighbors. Some veggies for example I give to some people who have nothing to eat.”
Vertical planter system.
Tires and other repurposed containers used as planters.
Florence hopes to not only share her food with her neighbors, but to teach other people in her community how to grow their own food, and potentially sell her produce one day.
Sustainable development, especially in terms of food security, is often difficult to adequately address, especially since the cause is often related to structural issues, such as a large amount of cheap, but nutritionally-deficient foods on the market and an insufficient amount of affordable, healthy whole foods. Grounds-up interventions such as Soil for Life’s that provide a solution for the specific issues afflicting marginalized communities, such as a technique for improving soil quality so people are able to grow their own food in their own homes, and various other techniques such as seed-saving and composting kitchen scraps, which both enable home gardeners to spend less on gardening materials, ultimately allow people to achieve a greater level of food insecurity. However, it is people like Florence, who then share their knowledge and educate others that really make the entire system sustainable.
Florence with her seedlings grown in recycled styrofoam containers.