Daugh­ter of the soil

By teach­ing peo­ple to grow their own food, Pat Feather­stone has im­proved the lives of thou­sands

CityPress - - Business - Quentin Noire

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.

Spark news is a so­cial start-up that has cre­ated an open source video plat­form to share in­no­va­tive solutions from across the world. It also founded an an­nual in­ter­na­tional event called Im­pact Jour­nal­ism Day.

In part­ner­ship with Spark news, Spark Tour Africa is a six-month project in South Africa aimed at high­light­ing so­cial and en­vi­ron­men­tal ini­tia­tives in the me­dia. Visit www.face­book.com/spark­tourafrica Twit­ter: @Quentin Noire Email story ideas to pro­jects@city­press.co.za

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

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