Environmental Ponderings-24

Food Gardens – Food for the Body and the Brain


We are living in difficult times. Money is short, jobs are scarce, and many people are looking for alternative sources of food and income. Some of us are desperately trying to keep to our sustainable living principles. Others, like UK Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, are not.


Let’s use Kloof as a case study. Many residents have larger properties and could easily create space to establish small gardens to grow food, or at least herbs, to supplement their food requirements. Small gardens are not going to threaten biodiversity or introduce alien species. They will, however, bring us closer to the realities of sustainable living.


In an article in the Financial Times Weekend Edition recently, John Aglionby said that the economics of the allotment (small gardens rented by groups of residents in the UK) made little monetary sense, but in terms of health and well-being, they reap many returns.


Some 40 years ago, when I was involved in community work in Soweto, we worked with an organisation called Food Gardens Unlimited. Their premise was that it was possible to establish small gardens (at that time, we worked with “door-size” plots), which could supplement food sources and aid in mental and physical well-being. I can still remember the immense joy and satisfaction of grannies and grandchildren alike, achieved from preparing their beds, sowing their seeds, weeding the beds and watching the fruits of their labours turn into food for the table.


The size of these gardens is immaterial. They can be as small as you wish, with the option of growing the size, as you get better at managing the growing space. At the lower end, one can grow herbs in circular pots that hook around gutter down-pipes. I have seen so-called, postage stamp gardens dedicated to growing a range of fresh herbs for their adjoining kitchen. The “door-size gardens” can produce bunches of carrots, cabbage, green beans, and other vegetables. The sky is the limit, depending on your available space and how much time you are willing to devote to managing it.


I can hear some of you muttering and pointing a finger at the destructive and devilish ways of our resident vervet monkeys who delight in scouring any attempt at gardens. Yes, they are a problem, but there are many ways of deterring them: Sturdy shade tunnels can make gardens more productive and keep the monkeys at bay. Grow your crops in vegetable bins protected by wire netting. Sprinkle chilli peppers on the vegetables to make them less palatable. Google is a wonderful source of informal ideas to grow vegetables and protect them from pests.


Tending a garden, no matter how large or small, is a therapeutic and mentally relaxing pursuit. There are many stories and accounts of how sick, battered and exhausted individuals have been encouraged to take up gardening with great success. The results have far outweighed the benefits of anti-depressants, “uppers and downers”, headache and migraine pills and other pharmaceutical aids. It is not a universal problem solver or the panacea of all ills, but it is a start, if only a small one, in practising sustainable, healthy living.

Think about it and make a start this weekend!

Arend Hoogervorst is an environmental scientist with 40 years of experience in South Africa in environmental management and sustainable development in local and central government, commerce and industry and private practice.

© Arend Hoogervorst, 2023.

Text Box: The Food Gardens Foundation also known as FGF was established in 1976 under the name of Food Gardens Unlimited, as a result of the June 16 riots in Soweto, Gauteng. At that time there were no food supplies going to Soweto as vans were overturned at every opportunity available. Two ladies, Pauline Raphaely (a geologist), and Joyce Niland (a farmer's wife), saw a need and started the organisation with R100 to introduce Food Gardens in Soweto. These gardens were later called Peace Gardens and as a result of this, the organisation won several awards. In 1977 the organisation was formerly registered as a socio-economic project to teach people to help themselves by growing essential food according to sustainable organic principles. The FGF method of organic gardening not only revitalises the soil but also deals with constructive recycling, energy and water saving and conservation.

Food Gardens Foundation
PO Box 41250
South Africa Tel: 011 342 6967, Fax: 011 342 1986, Email: fgf@global.co.za 
Contact: Hilda Pheto