Daughter of the soil
By teaching people to grow their own food, Pat Featherstone has improved the lives of thousands
For Pat Featherstone, who founded Soil for Life in 2003, “everything is linked”. Her organisation shows that a holistic approach with marginalised communities is the key to having a positive impact. From practical training in organic farming to health and wellbeing, Soil for Life has managed to improve the lives of thousands of people in Africa. The Soil for Life education centre in Cape Town is a great place to see low-cost, waterwise and environmentally friendly technologies used in whatever small space is available.
Why was Soil for Life created?
The first reason is environmental concern and the second is food security issues. There is a problem in South Africa with the quality of food. Poverty alleviation was another reason I created Soil for Life. When you identified these problems, why did you decide to do something?
It goes back to when I was at school in the 1960s. There were so many predictions made about the future. I started wondering, ‘What can I do about it?’, instead of feeling hopeless. When I started teaching, I realised the lack of knowledge and the lack of caring in people. I have the passion to change things because I know that everybody can make a difference.
How does it work today?
Our focus is to support people to grow their own food at home so they can eat something safe and nutritious. We also realised that unless you build people up, you can’t get anywhere with anything. We help people to acknowledge that they have a potential to change their lives. Eventually, we look at people’s health and wellbeing as obesity and diabetes have many bad consequences in our society. We try to bring in positive thinking.
How many people have you trained in 11 years?
It is hard to say ... maybe about 7 000 to 10 000. People we trained a few years ago do their own training, inside and outside South Africa. Can you give us three words to describe the spirit of Soil for Life?
Energy, integrity, creativity. What has been the biggest challenge for the organisation since it began?
Funding is always an issue as we have to ensure that we have adequate funds to expand the programme and to even keep it running. Another thing is to change people’s mindsets. This is a major challenge as it can take years to change the way a person thinks. How do you see the evolution of Soil for Life over the next few years?
At the beginning, poverty alleviation was the main focus. Now, things have turned around. I see in the future a greater demand for services linked to food security, health and wellbeing. We also need to grow our income-generation projects where people realise they can make some money out of an activity they learn through Soil for Life.
For you, ecology is closely linked with personal wellbeing.
Absolutely. There is such a link between nutrients, soil, plants ... and human health. People are suffering from malnutrition as they are not getting what they need for a healthy body. Out of the soil comes everything. Today, many young South Africans want to embark on an entrepreneurial adventure to improve society. What advice do you have for them?
In our programme we use waste, which is an available resource. My advice for young people is to look around and start something with what they have in their environment.
A last word?
The most satisfying thing anybody can do is to grow something that you eat because it is like meditation. It is a reconnection with nature ... It is wonderful.
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FOOD FOR LIFE A Soil for Life volunteer tends to young plants. The NGO aims to encourage people to grow their own food so they can eat something safe and nutritious