Nestled within the hustle and bustle of Constantia, Soil for Life (SFL) exists as a place of tranquility and spiritual grounding. Here, every part of the land gets utilised: from wood shavings to milk cartons. The site functions as a testing ground showcasing various gardening techniques that are taught in food garden training. Nothing goes to waste. Every scrap of land, item or seed has the potential to become something amazing.
As a non-profit organisation (NPO), SFL’s main goal is to empower people through training and cultivating unique skill sets in their own backyards. At the face of it, teaching people to grow their own vegetables is not particularly revolutionary. After all, people have been doing this for millennia! Within the city, grocery stores and farmers markets display hordes of food, ready for purchase. At the same time, the reality of Cape Town’s threatened food security trickles into our news: a tangible result of Cape Town’s rapid urban sprawl and global climate change.
SFL is meeting the issue of food insecurity head-on by reaching people who are economically vulnerable. Considering that the heart of food insecurity lies within adequate food production and distribution, SFL is filling a niche that, it would seem, is largely taken for granted. In practice, this means that SFL is expertly commencing a whole new way of doing business: one that emphasises an exchange of skills rather than goods and capital.
Take their seed packing parties, for instance. As a thrice-yearly event, SFL calls on volunteers to help pack seeds for the coming sowing season. Folk are given the opportunity to donate more than just their money (which remains necessary), but also to meaningfully invest their time and labour to ensure the success of another season. While having a bit of fun, these parties are transformed into an alternative form of crowd sourcing.
The seed packets produced during seed packing parties are used by trainers to teach people about growing foodstuffs. SFL trainers meeting regularly with home gardeners to cultivate a network of support, knowledge exchange and skills training. Nurturing relationships are established with SFL trainers and other Home Gardeners. This form of community networking takes on a life of its own, enabling people to support one another in collaborative work.
From here on, home gardeners are able to expand as far as they wish! SFL encourages community collaboration and growth, enabling home gardeners to utilise their skills in order to achieve personal goals. These goals can be small-scale, providing extra food for family and friends, or larger-scale, selling one’s crops in small business enterprises. The primary objective is to provide people with the ability to grow their own food and to generate income. Home Gardeners continue the skills exchange that SFL began, becoming a source of knowledge and advice for other home gardeners and, thus, completing the circle.
The Soil For Life shop on the premises offers keen gardeners tire planters, vertical planters, worm farm equipment, bug houses, mulch and composts. Also on sale are the delicious fresh veggies, as well as chutneys and jams, healthy food supplements as well as eco-friendly beauty and household products. All funds always go straight back into the work done by SFL.
In the face of rapidly changing social and environmental climates, the word of the day is creativity. This very much includes the business of food. SFL has effectively and ingeniously met these challenges by training people to do more than simply cope in difficult circumstances. SFL has created a sustainable system of skills exchange that extends beyond their own input. By combining elements of entrepreneurship and alternative food production, a catalyst for change has begun right here in our own backyards.
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Anelia de Waal is a Media Intern at Fetola and achieved an honours degree in Social Anthropology in 2015. For her final project, Anelia worked with graffiti artists in Woodstock in order to understand how city policies influence the movement of people, and how people reclaim cities through meaningful and subversive action. In her spare time, Anelia volunteers at Soil for Life, grows her own vegetables, takes photographs and makes wooden things. Follow Anelia (@LadyRedBeard) and @SoilForLife on Twitter. Like Soil For Life on Facebook too.