Rundown land turned into food garden

Deputy Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform, Mcebisi Skwatsha hands over seedlings, gardening equipment, compost and protective gear and shoes, to Miriam Booi, a community worker who, with the help of volunteers, turned a bush into a food garden at Rosewood Primary School.

Miriam Booi, 59, a Netreg community worker familiar with the challenges of poverty, saw an opportunity to feed hungry children when she spotted a bushy piece of land people used for dumping.

The land is on the far end of Rosewood Primary School, towards Modderdam Road.

Another community worker who is active at the school, Pastor Ike Basson, told Ms Booi to approach the principal, Fahema Meyer, and ask her if she could use the land for a food garden. Ms Meyer agreed, and in October last year, Ms Booi took on this labour of love.

Ms Booi, without proper protective wear and with the help of her three sons, Harold, Johane, and Dimitri, as well as her nephew, Darren Bellelie, and other volunteers, cleared the bush and started gardening. Ms Booi didn’t know much about gardening at first, so she went to workshops to learn.

On Monday July 18, the Deputy Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform, Mcebisi Skwatsha, dedicated his 67 minutes on Mandela Day to donating seedlings, gardening equipment, compost and protective gear to Ms Booi’s food garden project.

The garden has already produced tomatoes and soon its spinach will be harvested.

The school hopes to start a soup kitchen, supplied with fruit and vegetables from Ms Booi’s garden, to bolster its own feeding scheme and also nourish the needy in the neighbourhood.

Ms Booi said she had met Mr Skwatsha at one of the many workshops and meetings she had attended, and the deputy minister said she ha persistently appealed for his help.

“Today I am so excited that he finally came. I will be 60 in November, but today I feel like 16,” said Ms Booi.

Deputy principal of Rosewood Primary, Patricia Arries, said the school is very grateful for the food garden project.

“Because of the needs of our pupils, we always have to feed them,” she said.

The school had a garden at its old premises, but it was vandalised when it moved into a new building on another site.

“Our new garden already produced beautiful tomatoes, which Ms Meyer bragged about. … We want to applaud Ms Booi and thank her for all her labouring, and we pray that God with strengthen her every day,” Ms Arries said.

Yasser Splinters, known as Parker, heads up a non-profit organisation, Ekuhlaleni Development. It was launched in 2014 and offers mentoring and support to food gardens and co-operatives.

“Gang violence is heavy in this area, and when you called on us to support this initiative, we brought in volunteers from Khayelitsha, Elsies River, Bonteheuwel and Manenberg,” he said. “This was a bush, and the volunteers worked without protective gear. We acknowledge all the organisations, like the Labon Foundation (which also produces food gardens), and we are glad that the youth are involved, because poverty affects us all. We are here to make a difference in our community’s lives.”

Mr Skwatsha said the work done by “Mam Booi”, as he calls her, is noble.

“I like simple activities like this. Tata Madiba was a man of deeds, not just words. When he left his prison cell, he left it without hatred. He promoted peace and asked everybody to help build the country. The person we are honouring and remembering today is not just about his name, but about this heroic international icon’s deeds,” Mr Skwatsha said.