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Food gardens at Cape Town area schools grow food and teach farming skills

The SEED Organic Classroom Programme at 21 South African schools teaches sustainable farming techniques while feeding students.

By Matt StyslingerNourishing the Planet / August 16, 2011

SEED is working with students and teachers to establish permaculture food gardens in 21 schools in Cape Town, South Africa.

Matt Styslinger

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Southeast of central Cape Town, South Africa, is a large, flat swath of land known as the Cape Flats. The area is home to around 4 million people and unemployment is around 40 percent. As many as 25 percent of students in the Cape Flats are undernourished.

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South African non-profit organization School’s Environmental Education and Development (SEED) has established its Organic Classroom Programme in 21 Cape Flat schools. The project aims to improve food security in the Cape Flats by engaging students in environmental sustainability and teaching them how to practice permaculture – a holistic agriculture system that mimics relationships found in nature. SEED’s Organic Classroom Programme is a winner of the 2010 Sustainability Awards presented by Impumelelo – an independent awards program for social innovations in South Africa.

“Permaculture looks at ecological habitats and applies them to human habitats,” says SEED permaculture designer Alex Kruger. Ms. Kruger says that sustainable food gardening is a starting place for students to learn about larger environmental sustainability issues. “It addresses an immediate need. And it also brings biodiversity back into these schools, which are quite barren,” she says.

The Cape Flats environment can be harsh on crops. Soils are sandy and high winds are prevalent. But by planting windbreaks around the perimeter of food gardens, planting in formations that channel rainwater to crops, and adding organic compost, SEED is encouraging students to take on the challenge of growing their own food.

“We learn about perennial winds and climate, and we plant thick, indigenous windbreaks, which are needed for the Cape Flats,” says SEED director Leigh Brown. And SEED also teaches students how to use mulch and compost to transform the soil.

SEED says the project starts as a living laboratory that offers hands-on learning opportunities for underserved schools.

“[The Organic Classroom Programme] first seeks to assist education by bringing practical education into the schools,” says SEED's Theophilus Oldjohn. “Secondly, it seeks to support the nutrition and feeding scheme of the school.” Food grown in school gardens is used in the preparation of school lunches. The gardens are also used as a community center to teach the community about growing and selling produce locally.

“We’re opening in communities now workshops that we’re running in the schools to train communities on how to generate a small income,” Mr. Oldjohn says.

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