Growing a better future for Manenberg

Butternut, squash and pumpkin seedlings were among the vegetables planted.

Food gardens are helping to heal Manenberg, a community long plagued by unemployment, drugs and gang violence.

A Manenberg couple, Mario “Gatto” Wanza and Amelia “Tara” September, have been using the gardens to help those who can’t afford fruit and vegetables and to teach young people useful skills.

The couple prefer to be identified by their chosen names and regard their original names as “slave names”. They believe food gardens unite people and show them how to work together.

“This will allow food to become available and people to get in touch with nature and, ultimately, for everyone to be able to share what there is among each other,” Gatto said.

The first food garden was planted at the Manenberg taxi rank in December last year and has spread in the neighbourhood with more people creating their own food gardens in their backyards.

The couple’s own garden boasts pumpkin, strawberries, squash, herbs, spinach, butternut, chillies and green pepper.

“Now that there is a drought people are afraid to water their gardens, but we tell them that they need this; it is a source of food for them,” Tara said.

Starting a food garden was easy, she said, because it thrived on the things most people threw away or saw no value in – rotten fruit and vegetables, for instance.

“Take the seeds and save them and dry them out and put them in a plastic container. There is a lot of horse manure laying around here to mix with the sand because our soil is not rich enough with vitamins. Our soil is good for potatoes, but with other things we need to treat the soil to get a better fruit or vegetable.”

Manenberg’s women had taken to the idea well after realising how food gardens saved money. “They want to know when they can start and where they can find the seeds,” Tara said. “My challenge is that we need to get the children involved in this because there is a big disregard from younger people towards nature. They need to understand that this is where their food will come from. When they eat an apple, I tell them to save the seeds so that they can replant it.”

Childrenweresometimes shocked, she said, when she spoke to them about fruit and vegetables and how to work with nature because they were not hearing about those things from their parents. Two years ago, Gatto and Tara started a potjiekos programme. Together with fellow community activists, Inshaaf de Bruyn and Fieroza Alexander, they taught children how to cook,what spices to use and how to cut and clean vegetables.

“The food gardens can support that programme, which happens on a weekly basis, and about 100 children attend regularly and we’ve reached over 900 children,” Tara said. “Other cultural programmes have also stemmed from that such as dancing and singing and carpentry. And this year, we will focus on health and sport.”

Two weeks ago, Gatto and Tara came up with an idea for everyone to cook food and share it on Sundays. The cooking, once again with help from Ms De Bruyn and Ms Alexander, happens at the Manenberg terminus every Sunday and everyone shares their food.

For more information, call Gatto at 072 711 6622.