HERBS IN THE ’HOOD
Inner City Gardens Are Cropping Up Everywhere
IN SOUTH AFRICA’S MAJOR CITIES, ROOFTOP GARDENS AND CITY FARMS ARE SPROUTING EVERYWHERE. AMONGST THE URBAN JUNGLES OF BRICK, CONCRETE AND GLASS, A NUMBER OF PEOPLE HAVE TAKEN IT UPON THEMSELVES TO GIVE A GREEN THUMBS-UP TO A PROLIFERATION OF HERBS, VEGETABLES AND FLOWERS, THEREBY AIDING JOB CREATION AND BIODIVERSITY.
GREEN AND GOLD
Johannesburg has long been touted as one of the world’s largest man-made forests, and these days it has a lot more to boast about in the greenery department. Over the past few years, gardening and farming projects have popped up all over the city, most noticeably in the CBD. Joubert Park’s Greenhouse Project is a prime example of a thriving inner city garden. It demonstrates sustainable living practices in the form of permaculture landscaping, the growing of organic food and herbs, as well as water harvesting.
In another part of the city, basil grows on a balcony of the 93-year-old Chamber of Mines heritage building in Marshall Street. This urban farm is part of the Urban Agricultural initiative, a project that will see another 100 small-scale farms rolled out in the inner city. The endeavour was launched by Wouldn’t It Be Cool (WIBC), an incubation and mentorship organisation that helps entrepreneurs launch their businesses. The WIBC idea implementer, Michael Magondo, believes that farms can flourish in vacant buildings, balconies, rooftops and even in unused parking garages.
But it’s not all roses. Urban farming is not without its challenges, explains Robyn Hills of Food and Trees for Africa. Hills is the Food Gardens for Africa Programme Manager and has witnessed the creation of a number of urban plant projects.“We need to ensure that there is sustainability over seasons, and we need to account for growing patterns. Lack of consistency is the greatest challenge. In the areas that we work in people come and go, they live there for a while and then leave, so the farms need to be fluid and robust,” she says.
“We have to ensure that the water tanks aren’t too heavy and that bio-waste goes into the earthworm farms, because producing soil is a big challenge. Plants need a range of things to survive.”
This said, numerous farms within Johannesburg and its outskirts are thriving thanks to members of the community who consistently weed, water and fertilise the vegetables and herbs.
IN THE ZONE
The key to a flourishing garden is a good gardener. In Durban, just over the way from the Durban International Convention Centre, is a rooftop garden called the Zone Project. It was created with recycled material and serves as a showpiece for how to grow food in small spaces. Everything, including the water, is reused and recycled. Plants are grown in shoes, buckets, handbags and up walls in repurposed two-litre plastic bottles.The water used comes from rainwater tanks that collect water run-off from various neighbouring buildings.
Marc Nel and his team have tended the garden for eight years and he describes it as being
“quite spectacular”. His passion lies in running with a project from start to finish. “The Zone Project started as a blank concrete area which was turned into a garden that since then has been visited by presidents, bridal couples and TV shows.” The garden has won awards, it was a showpiece for COP 14, and has become a famous green space in Durban’s city centre.
THE MOTHER (CITY) OF FARMS
In Cape Town, a derelict bowling green has been turned into a village centrepiece.The seeds were sown by Kurt Ackermann in 2012. It was a decision that stemmed from him not wanting his child to grow up thinking that living behind walls and spikes was normal. He looked around and found a neglected piece of land in Oranjezicht. “Creating the Oranjezicht City Farm was about finding the village in the city that helps raise children.There were hundreds of people looking for this – a place and a reason to nurture the community,”Ackermann says.
Ackermann is not a farmer by training but he wanted to make a difference in people’s lives and to create human connections. “There are a number of residents in our community who are homeless, but they are still part of the community.The farm is a place where there can be connections between lives that are at odds.”
The story of the farm now includes the OZCF Market Day which is held every Saturday at the historic Granger Bay site of the V&A Waterfront.The market is a community farmers’ market for independent local farmers and artisanal food producers. It has created 200 jobs and put R40 million into the local economy.
City farming is growing and is part of the solution to the bigger problem of ensuring food security. It is also a way of keeping humans connected to nature, the turning of the seasons and the cycle of life – elements that are discarded for the on-demand immediacy of the virtual world that has blurred with organic reality.
Opening Spread: Cape Town’s Oranjezicht City Farm is evidence that even a derelict bowling green can be turned into a village centrepiece. This Page Top: The Zone Project garden in Durban began as a blank concrete canvas... now, look at it! This Page...