Woman’s garden helps fight hunger
IN A bid to fight hunger in her community, a Verulam woman has been sharing fresh produce from her garden with those in need, for the past 20 years.
Tashnee Maharaj, 42, of Trenance Park, decided to use about 2 020m² of vacant municipal land behind her home to grow fruit and vegetables, which she distributes for free.
“We live in a community where many families are struggling to make ends meet. If I can make even a small contribution to another person or family, then I am happy to do so,” the mother of two said.
After getting married, Maharaj moved from her family's farm in KwaDukuza to Verulam in 2000.
“There were a lot of dense bushes on the land, which can be a hideout spot for criminals. I decided to clean it up. While doing this, I decided that I could use the land for planting vegetables, fruit trees and flowers on a small scale.
“I remember the first thing I planted were the shoots of a red banana tree, which was given to me by my late grandfather. He had brought the tree from India, which he planted on his farm in KwaDukuza.”
Maharaj has almost 50 red banana, butter banana, lady finger and green banana trees.
"As soon as they are ready, we pick them and give bunches to those who want. The green banana is very popular as it is prepared in many Indian homes.
"I am also proud of my litchi trees, which were bought for me by my late dad. I also have massive avocado, papaya and lime trees."
Maharaj planted sour herbs, pumpkin and double beans, among other vegetables, as well as turmeric and marigolds.
“Many people also come to me when they do various prayers, for the marigolds and pumpkins, which I give at no cost. I have also given out a lot of fresh turmeric sticks over the past year. Many families who were impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic used it to make home-made remedies.”
Maharaj said her passion for gardening started as a child while spending time with her late dad, Rajpaul Andhee, on their farm.
“My dad inspired my love and passion for growing fruits and vegetables from a young age. I remember waking up at 4am with my dad. We would put on our garden clothes and gumboots and venture out on the farm.
"It did not matter what we were planting, it was the best time just being with him. I admired my dad who was very hands-on and would be working despite having workers. The best and most exciting time was when we did the reaping and seeing the end product of our hard work.”
Maharaj said she enjoyed spending time in the garden, finding it therapeutic. “You will often find me turning the soil, planting new seeds or pulling out weeds. I feel at peace during these times. After my dad's death, I suffered with anxiety and I found comfort being in my garden and thinking about our time together."
Maharaj said irrigation on the plot was done with water collected in a JoJo tank. "But when it doesn't rain for a while, I use water from my home, which does increase my bill. However, I love what I do. I can help others, even if it is on a small scale."