On 6th November 2007, Soil for Life joined a record number of entrants (all environmentally aware organisations, groups and individuals) at the Mount Nelson Hotel for the prestigious Cape Times / Vodacom Environmental Awards. These awards were first established in 1976 in association with the Cape Institute of Architects as the Cape Centenary Awards.
The criteria on which the nominees were judged were that they were operating in the Western Cape, and that they had made a significant and sustainable contribution to environmental challenges in the province. There were four award categories, namely for the Urban Environment, the Natural Environment, Environmental Education and for a Youth Environmentalist, all aimed at raising public awareness to environmental issues.
Because of the outstanding contributions that nominated entrants had made to a variety of environmental challenges, two special awards were also presented – the Editor’s award and a Lifetime Achiever’s award. Soil for Life staff were present in full force and were totally overjoyed when the organisation was announced as the winner of the Urban Environment category.
The other finalists were Footprints Environmental Centre, Cape Flats Nature, The ‘Beyond Expectations’ Environmental Project, Zeekoevlei Environmental Education Programme, and many others. The Bonteheuwel Environmental Forum with their “No messing around in Bonteheuwel” project won the Editors Award, and Betty Dwight won the Lifetime Achiever’s Award for her work over many years on behalf of Rondebosch Common. Caleb and Swanepoel, Grade 5 and 6 learners from Prince Albert won a merit prize for their “Think Global – Act Local” project.
Soil for Life is committed to helping communities to help themselves by growing their own safe, fresh, nutritious food using low-cost, soil-building, water-conserving, rubbish-disposing environmentfriendly methods that produce ‘quantity and quality’ in small spaces. Soil for Life’s small team visits communities in and around Cape Town (and travels much further afield when called upon to do so) and shows people how to bury their rubbish to enrich their plots of ground, how to fashion effective gardening aids from bits and pieces lying around, safe commonsense ways to control pests and disease – and, in a short space of time, to put fresh, pesticide-free vegetables on the table all year round.
Exercise, open air, good food and reduction of stress all help in the fight against AIDS and poverty-related diseases. The food garden as a classroom stimulates original thinking and creativity. For novice gardeners it’s a new chance in life and many can’t get enough of it. Yet we still have a lot of work ahead of us. The festive season has come and gone; the supermarket shelves were crammed with food, and so, very often, were our dustbins.
Yet, nearly half of our rural people and twenty-six per cent of urban dwellers did not have enough to eat. Some time ago, projections were that by 2008, sixty-six percent of the population in Sub- Saharan Africa would be undernourished.
It’s now 2008. What will happen this year?
The challenge that we face in the coming year is not to produce more food. The world produces enough food. We need to deal with the real issue, which is for the food to be produced by the people who need it most, for the people who need it most. This is the mission that Soil for Life has embraced – to impact on the lives of the urban and rural poor and hungry; to make it possible for all people at all times to have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to enable them to lead healthy, active lives.
Soil for Life is entering its sixth year in business and, in this short time, has managed to cover a great deal of turf, in more ways than one. Not only have there been many productive vegetable gardens set up in Cape Town, but the team has travelled far and wide in the Western Cape, and has even ventured into the Northern and Eastern Cape, to show people how easy it is to grow their own food. We have established partnerships with a number of organisations including the Earthchild Project and Mamelani and the City of Cape Town and have been working closely with the Provincial Department of Social Development to set up clusters of food gardening projects.
Our project for 2008 is to set up the first of a series of Food Gardening Enterprises, based on the model set up at our organisational base. If we can do it, and turn over a substantial amount of money through sales of vegetables, herbs, seed, seedlings, memberships and training courses, then surely it can be replicated in the areas where these services are sorely needed. That is our mission for the future; to empower people in the most powerful way possible and to reduce the vulnerability of communities to food shortages.
Regular workshops at the Soil for Life Resource Centre based at the Constantia Waldorf School are popular with people from all walks of life who want to change the way they live their lives, reduce the size of their footprint on the planet, and who seek a deeper connection with themselves and the divine. The following extract, from one of many letters from workshop participants, reflects the connections that people have made with Nature:
‘My little urban veggie patch is doing so wonderfully! I’m picking marrows and yellow patti pan squash every day! My tomato and green pepper plants are laden, the red cabbages are heading and my gooseberries are flowering. It has been so, so exciting! My 2 hens are laying enormous eggs with bright yellow yolks every day and the shells are crushed and sprinkled around the base of my plants to help prevent snail problems.
And my dear, fluffy bunnies are composting all our veggie and garden scraps into rich manure that is added to the compost heap to rot down. The hens do a wonderful job of turning the compost heap and de-bugging it as they scratch through it each day. All this 100% organic and in the suburbs of Johannesburg! Who would have ever thought it possible?’
I also believe that through the vegetable patch, a whole new life is possible for each and every one of us. In a recent workshop we discussed the features that one would consider including in a kitchen garden. One of them was, of course, a pond. The obvious reasons for including such a feature are so that one creates a space for water-loving plants such as water cress and water blommetjies, but also to attract predators – frogs, dragon flies – to control the pest population in your veggie patch. There is, however, a more subtle reason for including a pond in your garden: The Looking Glass Spring
‘Why do you call the source of water in your garden “The Looking Glass Spring”?’ the woman asked the gardener. ‘So that when you drink from it you look at yourselves in the mirror of its depths,’ the gardener replied. ‘And why do you want us to look at our reflection in the water?’