“The Government had a plan like this, but it failed,” Ntombenhle tells me. “One Home, One Garden won’t fail in Mpophomeni,” she adds determinedly. It certainly won’t if Ntombenhle has anything to do with it!
It has long been her dream to turn Mpophomeni into a flourishing food forest. She started in her own back yard, leading by example, then turned a dumping site into an astonishingly productive garden and now, in partnership with the African Conservation Trust is creating hundreds of new gardens every month. “The reason it didn’t work before was that the Government didn’t listen to the people, talk to them about what they needed. They just handed out tools and seeds and didn’t offer real advice and assistance.”
In August 2014, Ntombenhle and a band of volunteers began work on clearing the piles of plastic, glass and builders rubble on the corner of Mhlongo and Stadium Roads in Mpophomeni. She believed that if she could turn this bit of unloved ground into a very visible flourishing food garden, she would be able to inspire others to do the same in their backyards. “At first people wondered what was going on, but many already knew me and my small productive garden at home, so they were not really surprised.” Within a couple of months the garden was producing food and attracting a lot of attention. https://mpophomeniconservationgroup.wordpress.com/2015/01/19/see-how-our-garden-grows/
Mpophomeni Conservation Group was invited to participate in an African Conservation Trust (ACT) workshop to discuss their Gigabyte Guardians Project and plans to create thousands of gardens across the Midlands. Ntombenhle’s enthusiasm and determination shone and within a couple of days a team of enthusiastic young people trained in permaculture principles had settled in Mpophomeni. To make things even better, ACT employed 19 local people who had previously been volunteering in the Community Garden. What a team this was turning out to be!
“Permaculture gardens can do many things to uplift the community. I would like to address the issues they face in a practical and sustainable way. This is also our chance to show them how to recycle, save water, eat healthily, make money, improve the environment and to teach young people about Values. This is an ongoing development programme where skills learnt will be passed to others to uplift everyone in the long term.”
It has not been all smooth sailing to spread their message. Sometimes people have locked their gates and said no, but after observing the work happening in their neighbours gardens realised that the team knows what they are doing and works neatly, and invite them to come back.
Many of the concepts are completely new in Mpophomeni. The idea of keeping the ground mulched has met some resistance, but now that the dry period is here, gardeners are observing how it helps keep the soil moist. Plenty of people think you can only grow crops in Summer, but the abundant green gardens on every corner are setting a great example of year round production, as are the veggies flourishing amongst other plants in traditional flower beds.
Everyone’s hearts sing when they see that they are making a real difference in someone’s life. Mpumelelo Kheswa “Thanks, I can’t believe these guys helping me for free. I always had a problem with the slope and erosion, these swales are a new thing for me. I will plant spinach and cabbage soon.” Nomsa Vilakasi was also astonished that they didn’t need to pay for the service. “I am so happy that you are here and you don’t want money because I don’t have money to pay you.”
76 year old Mr Moses Mthembu can hardly walk, but still loves gardening, even on his hands and knees. When the ACT/MCG Garden team offered to give his veggie patch a makeover he was thrilled. “I am not well, but growing plants is one thing I like. I am one of the oldest citizens of Mpophomeni but never before have I seen such things as all the young people working so hard helping the community. I give you my blessings.”
Often people simply want to be listened to, to share their stories. “I am 66 years old and have been taking care of this garden since 1976.” remembers Meggi Makhanye, “My parents laughed at me when I planted, but I like the fresh veggies I get. I don’t sell, but can help those who are unable to plant and grow for themselves.” Brightness Chagwe is determined she won’t be buying vegetables from town anymore and Gloria Gwala is going to start selling some of her produce to make extra cash, after feeding her family.
Not everyone understands the Permaculture way. A small group of volunteers have been following up on the gardens created by the ACT/MCG teams, visiting elderly people to see what help they need, give them gifts of seedlings and help them mulch and companion plant. “This is making a big difference,” says Ntombenhle, “the gardens are looking lovely and the old people are so pleased to talk to us about their gardens and ask for advice. Just digging the beds is not enough, we have to follow up – visit, encourage and help – especially the elderly. We go with a small gift of seedlings and talk to them about how they are doing. We explain the principles of Permaculture, the value of eating fresh food and how to save energy, water and money. If they build the soil and don’t keep turning it over, these gardens will last a long time.”
Ntombenhle is really delighted that her community is benefitting from this opportunity. “It is exciting to do these things in our community and see people experiencing new ideas. It feels good to listen to their views and needs and to give advice. I can see that now people are wearing new glasses and they can see everything that we have promised. We are here to do magic. Our team is hard workers and this project will benefit everyone.”
African Conservation Trust intends creating 4000 gardens and planting 4000 plum trees this year! “I am happy to be part of this great team. The effort everyone puts in is amazing. I am humbled and very excited. My dream is coming true.” concludes Ntombenhle. Thanks go to the Global Greengrants fund, N3Toll Concession, Rotary and many generous friends who have contributed along the way – every bit helps.
See more pictures of Mpop gardens at: