SOCIAL IMPACT FUNDING REPORT 2019
Welgevallen Allotment Gardens Project
This project is conducted in close association with the Babin Schools “Living School Garden" project run by Ms Thanja Allison from the Department of Genetics, which forms our societal partner in the project. Babin Pre-Primary, Pre-School and Day Care Centres have been operating on the campus of Stellenbosch University since 1997. The Babin Schools are an obvious societal partner for this project, as the Living School Gardens project, run by Ms Thanja Allison, is based around these schools. One of the main aims of that project is to provide all of the learners with a nutritious meal on a daily basis, an aim that can be aided through the provision of additional vegetables from our gardens. Although the schools have small gardening projects on their premises, it is still necessary to supplement the output of these gardens as well as supply a greater variety of materials than the school gardens can supply. Furthermore, the Schools Garden project aims to educate the teachers, general workers and children from the schools on food farming, responsible use of resources, and innovative use of materials (i.e. recycled items) in cultivating the gardens, which can also take place in our larger allotment plot. Furthermore, Dr Paul Hills has also been consulting with Ms Thanja Allison on the setting up of the school gardens. These two projects thus act symbiotically, to provide opportunities to learn about vegetable gardening to a diverse selection of the Stellenbosch community, from pre-primary children right through to University students and staff. The societal partner has already been recruited and consulted during the establishment of the Living Schools Garden project, and interaction with the schools falls under the auspices of Ms Allison, who already manages the Living Gardens project.
Within the University, the Allotment Gardens Project has close collaborations with the Department of Genetics and the Institute for Plant Biotechnology, which administratively falls under the Department of Genetics.. Both Dr Paul Hills and Ms Thanja Allison, who are involved in the management of this project, are staff members within the IPB and Department of Genetics respectively. Both of these participants are heavily involved in the general organisation and management of the project, as well as managing the bi-weekly work sessions on the plot. The student volunteers who work on this project spend at least an hour each work, either on a Monday or a Wednesday evening from 17h00-18h00, working on the plot. This involves all of the preparation, weeding, planting, maintenance and harvesting operations, as well as watering of the plot. Ms Allison manages the Monday evening session, whilst Dr Hills manages the Wednesday session. Furthermore, Ms Allison acts as the liaison between this project and the Babin Schools, where she manages the Living Gardens Project.
Through her contacts at the International Office, Ms Allison has also been able to obtain the services of a number of international students who volunteer at the allotment gardens. Several of these students came from the EARTH University in Costa Rica, although they are originally from African countries such as Malawi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Uganda. At least 15 students and staff members of the university were involved in this project last year, although, since many of these members were international students, not all were involved at the same time. Although these students come from a wide variety of different backgrounds, ranging from Engineering to Sociology and Biology, they are all extremely keen to contribute and to learn more about growing their own vegetables on a small scale, which is one of the major goals of this project. The diversity of their backgrounds and study areas has added a welcome boost to the vibrancy of the atmosphere of our work sessions. It has been fantastic to see so many people with different views and skills working together and learning from each other.
Mr Willem Botes, the Head of Department of Genetics, has been instrumental in aiding the Allotment Gardens project. Because of the enormous and unmanageable weed seed burden on the plot of land previously donated to us by the Faculty of Agrisciences, we were unable to continue to use that plot, as all of our efforts were essentially devoted to trying to control the growth of weeds. Mr Botes allowed us to use an alternative plot located adjacent to his field where all of his growth trials are conducted. He also ploughed the plot for us and aided us in obtaining mushroom compost to use as a mulch to reduce water loss from the soil.
Currently, the Allotment Gardens Project is not aligned to any research-related activities at the University. However, prior to the formalisation of the project in its current form, several research-related activities were undertaken, including the growing of plant material and the collection of insects from the garden for research projects. It is certainly envisaged that further research-linked projects will be undertaken at the plot in the future.
The major impact that this project has had currently is on the health and general wellness of the students, as well as teaching them about the cultivation of crops. All of the students greatly enjoy the experience of working in the clean air and open environment on the farm, which they find an excellent way to relax after their academic day has ended. Since all labour on the plot is done manually, it is also an excellent physical workout. Most importantly, though, the students have learned a considerable amount about cultivating a vegetable garden. This includes even small ideas such as the use of two markers and a piece of string to enable the rows to be made straight and parallel, and the use of a mulch to protect the roots of the plants from drying out too quickly. On the negative side, the students have also learned how devastating the weather can be to crops. Immediately after planting, a large number of seedlings were lost in a torrential downpour, which resulted in runoff washing away about one third of the plot. Recently, the combination of strong winds and high temperatures scorched even our mature plants, despite irrigation. Unfortunate as these events were, they nonetheless provide for excellent teaching and learning opportunities. For example, during our next round of planting we will consider planting hardier plants as windbreaks to the more delicate ones, and creating berms to prevent any flooding of lower-lying rows. Furthermore, we have learned which crops will grow best in our new site, and how to maintain their productivity over an extended period, so that we can supply vegetables over longer periods to the schools.
Due to the need to move from our previous field to the new site donated by Mr Botes, our planting time was delayed. Consequently, we were unable to meet our goal of supplying food to the Babin Schools for their meals. The majority of the crops we planted reached maturity in early January. Nevertheless, a real highlight of the season was donating two 50kg bags of vegetables to the Stellenbosch Night Shelter (See photographs at the end of this report). The timing of this was greatly fortuitous, as the shelter had at that point almost completely run out of supplies and were delighted to receive our donation of marrows, patty pans, beans and spinach.
Mr Willem Botes has extremely kindly offered his continuous support in providing land for the allotment gardens alongside his research areas, as well as his logistical support in terms of ploughing the fields, etc. The major contribution of all members of the project team is their time and labour, which means that our input costs, once the project has been effectively set-up, will be relatively small. This setting-up phase is ongoing and is currently aided by the funding that was supplied by the Social Impact Committee in June 2019. So far, we have been able to purchase a number of tools, including dutch hoes, which have revolutionised our ability to weed the plot, and a number of hosepipes to allow for the irrigation of the plot. We have also purchased mushroom compost to mulch the plants on the plot.
We are in the process of developing a collaboration with Food for Life – Stellenbosch (FFL), which will also be highly beneficial to the Allotment Garden project. FFL will be hosting an extra-curricular course through Stellenbosch University, which has extremely similar goals to those of this project. This collaboration will allow FFL to present training sessions at our field on Saturday mornings, which means that their will then be a third day of labour on the plot each week, helping to maintain the plot. Additionally, we will be allowed to send our own members to the courses, including the teachers and gardeners from the Babin schools. This will then help to achieve our goals of creating learning opportunities for participants not only from the project itself, but also amongst our societal partners.
Alignment with SU themes
To what extent does the initiative directly align to one or more of the international, national, African or provincial goals and SU themes:
- No poverty: Participants obtain training and skills in producing nutritious crops, either for home consumption or for sale.
- Zero Hunger: Participants and partners will know how to generate their own crops to provide nutritious vegetables.
- Good Health and Wellbeing: Participants get healthy, vigorous exercise in the open air.
- Quality Education: All participants in this project share ideas from their different backgrounds, both social and work-related, and are able to learn new skills outside of their traditional study areas.
- Gender Equality: All members, regardless of gender, work and learn together and from each other, contributing to a deeper understanding of, and empathy towards, others.
- Decent Work and Economic Growth: All members develop a sense of pride in their hard work, and learn how to produce crops as a potential source of either saving money on grocery bills or earning money through sales of their produce.
- Reduced Inequalities: This project aims to help all members of society, and to teach all participants how to grow their own food.
- Sustainable cities and Communities: Participants will be able to grow their own crops using minimal land and resources, without using harmful chemicals.
- Responsible Consumption and production: Participants will be able to grow their own crops using minimal land and resources, without using harmful chemicals.
- Climate Action: Planting suitable crops and limiting the resources used from municipal supplies as far as possible.
REPORT PREPARED BY DR PAUL HILLS