Today, I would like to introduce you to our friends from Ekasi Project Green; Sizwe, Lonwabo, Loyiso and Abonga. It is a beautiful sunny day and as we are sharing some pap and vleis under a tree in the schoolyard of the Vuzamanzi Primary School in Khayelitsha Site C, we get to talk about what motivated the four founders to become one of the most driven grassroots activists in South Africa. As part of the Slow Food Youth Network South Africa they are under the umbrella of a well connected global network of young people who seek to transform the food system “towards good, clean and fair food”.
What motivated you to start Ekasi Project Green?
All four of us do not only have in common that we come from the Eastern Cape, we also grew up in the same neighborhood here in Khayelitsha Site C and went to the same school, Vuzamanzi Primary. About 3 years ago, we started to become really frustrated about the lack of quality food in our community and developed an interest in the root
causes for this problem. For people who don’t live in our area and don’t understand what I am talking about, I suggest that they pay a visit to our supermarket in the neighbourhood, our Shoprite around the corner. When you walk through the colorful red and yellow aisles you will realise to which concerning extent it lacks, fresh nutritious food. Talking to our elders in our community, many of them went to the exact same primary school as us and grew up in the same community, have made a concerning observation over the years. They have kept telling us what they have witnessed, which is that the access to nutritious quality food became smaller, whereas food prices went up over the past decades. We trust their observation as they have more knowledge and experience than us. If they didn’t speak to us, perhaps, we would even think that the bad quality food that we are force fed with today, is normal.
The four of us, are convinced that our food system needs a transformation through innovation and an open mind to try a different approach, considering the fact that our current food system is neither just, safe, nor sustainable and has therefore failed its purpose. Africans used to live sustainably back in the days, before our food system was taken over by Western corporations. Originally isiXhosa people did not have to pay for food and practised the bartering system instead, where one food item was traded for another. It is a crucial part of our African heritage to honour food in a way that it is more about sharing than selling. Today, we as a multiracial democratic society in South Africa, can reclaim our food system by practising food sovereignty. Currently, the production, distribution, processing and selling of our food is controlled by large companies who are continuously trying to find ways to increase profits instead of trying to find effective and humane solutions to provide healthy, nutritious food to the majority of our people. A lot of things are required, but two things are crucial – food education and genuinely engaging in the production of food. That’s exactly the route we took as the four of us refused to complain any longer and had enough of the politics. We wanted to do something because we refused to accept that our food system is about making money, not feeding people. That’s when we felt determined to become active and we as very close friends, had already had an idea what we were going to do!
What idea did you have?
Our journey started here at our primary school, a place that means a lot to all four of us. It is a safe place very close to our hearts, that we all know very well. There used to be a barren piece of land outside the primary school here and we decided to approach the school principal to ask him if he would mind if we cultivate it into a food garden. He responded very positively and said he wouldn’t mind at all. This was when the seed for Ekasi Project Green was planted. The seed had to be watered, so it could start growing. (read this interview with Eco Atlas here)
What has happened since then?
The last two years have been extremely exciting and educational for us and we are thankful for the opportunity to meet many people who have helped us to shape our dream of a just food system for South Africa. We did not only cultivate this piece of barren land into a fertile food garden, we also cultivated and formed friendships with other food and environmental national and international grassroots groups and institutions who invested in our education as activists. During an internship at the Environmental Monitoring Group we were lucky enough to work with an academic who is one of South Africa’s leading environmental activists, Muna Lakhani. We can’t put in words how much we learnt from him, but it is fair to say that he deepened our knowledge and put all the things we were suspecting was wrong with our food system, in relation to our environment and our communities into perspective. Our friend Zayaan Kahn, who took the Slow Food Youth Network to South Africa, took also a big part in our growth because through her, we became part of the global Slow Food Network. This is when Ekasi Project Green was officially established and our initiative became one of 10.000 gardens of Africa. As part of the Slow Food Network, we connect with others who care in the same way for the environment and believe that our food systems need an urgent transformation. The Swedish educational program of the ABF, sent us volunteers last year because they choose to partner with us and support our initiative.
How has your idea evolved since you started?
Our main goal is to make gardening cool again and make education fun! Here at the Isikhokelo Primary School, we form an integral part of a course called “Living things and
non-living things”. Every pupil gets a little pot plant with their name tag on, which has to stay here at the garden and they have to come back daily to look after it. In this way we teach pupils how to cultivate a seed and demonstrate the relationship between natural soil fertility and seed germination. We also show the kids that anything that was once living can be transformed into a nutrient-rich soil amendment called compost. We have two big compost heaps, where we collect compostable waste material from the school and surrounding neighbours. The wooden grates for the heaps have been donated by Stephan from Innovate Cape Town. We created a food garden designed with permaculture principles, which is why we only grow either edible or companion plants. Companion planting is the art of taking advantage of the symbiotic relationship between different plants for the sake of an organic and chemical free garden. One can for example set out rosemary or lavender tackle pest control naturally or nitrogen fixers to help with soil regeneration. There’s a vast variety of different edible plants in our garden such as gooseberries, marigold, spinach, watermelon or chilies. Our seedlings are supplied by Abalimi, the “people’s garden centre” to whom we have a close friendship with and who provide us with extra training where needed.
Is there anything you guys need in case people want to support your project?
1. We are in urgent need of nets to provide more shade to protect our plants from the sun.
2. As it takes quite a while for waste to decompost, we badly need a more consistent supply of compost soil.
3. If anyone could help us build our own nursery that would be amazing, because we would like to start growing our own organic seedlings.
4. We need an irrigation system.
5. We have quite a nice variety of vegetables in our garden, but we are in need of more herbs and fruit trees.
What are your plans for the future?
We are currently involved in a food event in Cape Town in collaboration with Xolisa Bangani from Ikhaya Garden, which is called “The Eat In”, which was inspired by an African Indibana, where people come together and have a conversation. People get to showcase their food and everybody who wants to can taste. The event happens at the old military base in Tamboerskloof, Tyisa Nabanye. We would be delighted if more people start coming to “The Eat In” and encourage everyone who is interested to like our Facebook page to stay up to date. We want to make even more connections to facilitate more knowledge sharing and grow our circle of friends and supporters. That’s why we would like to ask everyone who likes to connect with us and get to know us better to reach out to us. Best would be to send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. A big part of what we still want to achieve refers to our education and growing our knowledge. Lonwabo want to study agriculture management and ecology and we want to start seed training with Brian Joffin. We also want to specifically learn more about growing trees and hut culture.