In the heart of Salt River in Cape Town, lies a space totally changed in a matter of just 10 days. A space transformed from a degraded piece of land dumped with rubbish, to a bright and joyful urban community food garden, now known as the Salt River Community Food Garden / Salt River Nature Park.
The project was a collaboration between Salt River community members, Progress London (Founder: Simon David Ghartey,) Baz-Art , UNICEF South Africa, Rainbow Warriors International (Founder: Ryan Fortune) and Luc van der Walt and Kimberley Cattaneo, founders of art2uplift.
Prior to becoming what it is today, the space had been used as horse stables, a storage facility, a motor vehicle workshop and a drug den, after which it burned down and became an illegal dumping site for the past 25 years. According to the Salt River Community Food Garden page: “for our core team of local youths and casual workers, it was a hard week of slogging away in wild wind, swirling dust and blazing sun, but we eventually broke the back of it, and things soon began to look much better. By Sunday, one section of this space had been transformed into a community food garden and learning centre, and the other was taking shape as a new children’s safe play area.”
I was invited by Ryan Fortune of Rainbow Warriors, one of the pioneers on the project, to pop in on the rainy planting ceremony day to show my support. I was already so impressed by the initiative taken to transform an unused piece of land into something so useful that could be owned by the community. But nothing could have prepared me for what I experienced. From the moment I walked in, I was inundated by the joyful energy the space was holding. An energy so tangible, it felt to me as though it was bouncing off the brightly coloured paintings and infecting all of us within its walls. I was pleasantly surprised to be invited to get my hands dirty and assist some of the people (young and old) from the neighbourhood in planting broccoli, cauliflower, spinach and bell pepper seedlings (Other food varieties had already been planted).
In this process of planting, we were learning. Learning to identify certain plants, learning how much space to give different ones as we planted, learning how best to prepare the holes for the seedlings – and importantly we were learning to work with one another while learning about and from each other.
The planting process was facilitated by guest urban agriculturist Clifford Caesar. Through his project Green Light Organic Gardening Projects, Clifford has initiated many food garden projects in his own community of Ottery and surrounds. He has seen first hand the benefits that community food gardens can have (when communities are included and engaged in the creation and throughout the entire process). From a reduction in drug-use and gangsterism, to improved health and livelihood, proven by improved blood work and medical results.
Clifford and I also discussed the power of the garden as a space to overcome other societal barriers and learn to find common ground for a shared purpose. It all reminded me of a quote I’d recently seen by permaculture Consultant Geoff Lawton. That “all the world’s problems can be solved in a garden”. And, you know what, I think he might be right.