Food gardens help to green Cape Flats
Tokyo Sexwale is considering widening a project to beautify Delft, reports LYNNETTE JOHNS; pictures by TRACEY ADAMS
ISRAELI technology has helped turn patches of the Cape Flats into flourishing food gardens. Recently Minister of Human Settlements Toyko Sexwale toured 30 food gardens in Delft where thousands of governmentsubsidised houses are being built.
This week Sexwale’s spokesman, Chris Vick, said the department was looking at the economics of rolling out the project.
“We have received a presentation and visited the site. We are now looking at the costing and seeing if it is feasible and if people in fact want gardens,” he said.
As Delft is built on sand dunes, in summer a wild south-easter blows sand into eyes, ears and mouths. Gusts heap sand in houses and on the roads. In winter heavy rains turn the sand into soft mud and often flooding dumps sand in homes. But the food gardens are making a difference.
Gil Arbel, owner of Agrirenaissances, piloted the food garden programme at the request of Lindiwe Sisulu, Sexwale’s predecessor. After testing the soil, he says, they made up special enriched compost, routed bath water into underground irrigation pipes and planted seedlings which his company had germinated.
The result is houses with attractive patches of green which produce a range of vegetables, including cabbages, potatoes, spinach and onions.
Part of the deal includes planting grass, which Arbel says helps to anchor the foundations.
It cost about R10 000 per house to establish the garden. Most of the money goes into rerouting the water – but Arbel believes the gardens could go a long way to help feed residents and beautify low-cost developments.
Arbel relocated from Israel to South Africa about 30 years ago and has been helping farmers improve their produce and increase their yield through technology honed over years in the desert country. This has involved distinctive compost mixes and underground pipes with holes in them to water certain areas.
Using this technology Israel produces half a billion rands’ worth of vegetables on desert-like land the size of the Kruger National Park.
Arbel’s ultimate dream is for South African farmers to export vegetables to Europe, but in the interim, he says transferring skills to those who need them the most, is just as important.
However, Arbel cautions that food gardening is difficult. It requires constant checking and problems like caterpillars chomping the produce have to be nipped in the bud.
He has also been working with the Zetler family on their strawberry farm in Stellenbosch for the last 12 years. In that time the Israeli technology has led to a huge increase in their yield.
“We have doubled the production of strawberries and currently the yield is about 600g per plant,” Arbel said.
Previously the Zetlers’ farm depended on gas to heat the greenhouses, but recently a gas shortage forced them to bring in a water-based heating system.
The 30 hectares of land is covered in scores of plastic tunnels under which strawberries are grown. There are also two greenhouses in which the Zetlers grow red, green and yellow peppers. Most of the produce is sold at Woolworths.
The special plastic, which diffuses sunlight to prevent the plants from burning, is imported from Israel.
A computer system, which takes weather and soil conditions into account, dispenses water and “liquid food” via underground pipes to all the tunnels.
The computer also calculates the ratio of nutrients the plants need to thrive.
But, says Leslie Zetler, even with all the technology in the world, farming will still fail if “you are not there to see that everything is working”.
STRAWBERRY FIELDS: Leslie Zetler and Gil Arbel inspect strawberries growing under tunnels. The Limberlost farm in Stellenbosch has seen their yield double since they started using Israeli technology.
SHELTERED EMPLOYMENT Even though it’s pouring with rain, workers on the Limberlost farm can still tend the strawberries which are grown in tunnels.
FRESH: Huge, sweet strawberries are harvested for Woolworths.
HANDS ON: A labourer carries boxes in which the harvest will be packed.