The Lenin Street Market Garden in Alexandra recently held a planting day. The community garden – which used to be a dumping site – is a beneficiary of the sales from The Great South African Cookbook, published by Quivertree Publications.
Partners and sponsors of the garden include the Nelson Mandela Foundation, City of Joburg, Food & Trees for Africa (FTFA), Quivertree and Urban Fresh, the two-man company in charge of garden sales.
Started in 2011, the Lenin Street Market Garden has received various support from a number of organisations and held different farming and gardening initiatives. But it was time to “kickoff” intensive training, said Robin Hills from the FTFA food garden department. The training would do two things, Hills said. Lessen the garden’s dependency on outside sources and increase output.
“A lot of these activities continue, but they continue in separate little silos. The cookbook has kind of brought it all together. Because it’s like now we’ve got to focus. So this is the kickoff.”
Among the book’s contributors in attendance were former True Love food editor Dorah Sitole and Johannesburg-based chef David Higgs.
The response the cookbook was receiving has been “amazing”, Higgs said, adding that, “I love the simplicity of the book. It’s easy reading. And everybody can do it.”
Urban Fresh, the garden’s brains and in charge of sales, joined the garden in April. And had done a lot of work to transform the place.
Co-owner Fazlur Pandor talked about the actions they had undertaken since joining. The garden had been a dumping site before.
“We’ve gone to a lot of effort to clean the soil first. When it started, it wasn’t like this. We’ve come a long way. We do soil tests. And we make sure it’s actually safe. We add compost and manure.”
Business partner Rogan Field outlined Urban Fresh’s future plans – packaging and processing tomatoes “properly”.
“Eventually, we want to look into value adding, making chili sauces.”
A cold room in the garden premises gave them an advantage over other co-operatives in their network, Field said. However this was no reason for Urban Fresh to “outcompete” them, he said.
“Rather to say that this project now must outcompete the other projects, how do we incorporate this project so they can support each other?”
At the garden’s initial opening in 2011, former Joburg Mayor Parks Tau said that communities had no excuses not to utilise land for their own benefit.
“There can be no justification for anyone in Johannesburg to go to bed hungry when there is space that people can use to produce vegetables for their own consumption,” he said at the time.
Five years later, the garden now supports 28 employees.
While Urban Fresh talked about expanding their network – currently they supply crops to surrounding establishments – Pandor said “building the trust of the community” was more important than maximising their production levels.
“It’s about building the trust of the community,” Pandor said, “It’s about developing a little bit of skills. So we’re not hugely focused right now on achieving maximum production. For the last six months it’s really about just engaging and solidifying our space.”
Pandor’s brother Haroon criticised people who loved calling for “land grab”. If the people were serious, they would, perhaps, plant tomatoes, he said.
Lungile Sojini (@success_mail) tweeted live from the event: