Communal vegetable gardens are popping up around the Londolozi staff village, and before you turn your attention elsewhere, know that:
“if you ‘aint a gardener, you ‘aint gangster”.
Inspired by a remarkable TED Talk
In February 2013, Ron Finley shared his vision for transforming much of the landscape of “South Central” (South Los Angeles) into communal gardens. He shares a scary fact: 26 sq. miles of South Central is made up of vacant car lots. That’s 20 times the size of Central Park in New York. Finley asks – why isn’t that space being used to grow good food, or to bring together communities? Why isn’t gardening cool? Why isn’t it “gangster”? Why can’t gardening be used to empower and sustain communities?
Why Londolozi neighbourhoods are turning to gardening
The Londolozi staff village is made up of several small “neighbourhoods” and slowly, we have started to see the emergence of communal gardens. Finley’s TED talk was part of the inspiration, but here are three reasons why we think our neighbourhoods are turning to gardening:
1. Access to healthy food:
Finley mentions that, in South Central, fast food is ubiquitous. Hamburgers, fries and MSG is what people know. If Finley wanted to buy an organic apple, he would have to make a 45 minute round trip. Finley’s view is that communal gardens normalise “healthy” and “organic”. Activity in a garden leads to a greater appreciation of natural, seasonal and sustainable food, and that’s a trend that’s taking the world by storm.
2. It’s a tool for the transformation of neighbourhoods:
The success of a garden is a goal shared by the entire neighbourhood. But that goal leads to other goals. Suddenly there is less junk and litter lying around. A couple of people start thinking about reducing electricity usage. There is an upsurge in recycling. In general there is a shared eco-consciousness that takes root.
3. Gardening is social and therapeutic:
Finley compares a garden to a work of art. In his case, he gathers community’s and “grows” art. There’s something special about walking past a Londolozi neighbourhood and seeing some of the residents working in a garden in their free time, chatting, spending time together outdoors. This is community and camaraderie built around an ethos of teamwork, sharing and engaging with the land.
Every path has a few puddles
A problem unique to Londolozi gardening (and I can hear many readers chuckling already) is the wildlife. Baboons, ververt monkeys and bushbuck are as eager to see the success of vine tomatoes as their “farmers” are. To counteract this problem, large cages and in some cases, wire netting is built for protection. Bear in mind that the barrier needs to penetrate below the ground as well to prevent wildlife from burrowing. Of course, the heat has been another challenge. On days that race past 100 degrees Fahrenheit (or 40 degrees Celcius), “whither” is a word that comes to mind. So chuckling readers – where-ever you are in the world – if you have a garden that you’re looking after, what are your puddles (or baboons)? We’d love to know.
The best sermons are lived, not preached
Ron Finley has inspired us to live his sermon and become more “ecolutionary” in our own Londolozi backyards. We know that we are going to make mistakes. There will be crops that fail and gardens that are “pillaged”. But we have to start somewhere, and we’re ready to learn. We would love your feedback and suggestions. What vegetables do think would work best in our warm, lowveld climate? We have very hot, wet summers, and then mild, warm winters.
Have you had any garden successes that you can share with us? Any tips, words of warning, seasonal advice? Pointers from our extended community would be very welcome…
* Note: In originally writing this piece, I repeatedly wrote “Ken Tinley” in the place of “Ron Finley”. Dr. Ken Tinley – another “ecolutionary” – had an incredible understanding of the ecology of Londolozi and guided Londolozi’s land management strategy. In I Speak of Africa Dave Varty writes “In him we found pure, distilled wisdom. He was an ecologist decades ahead of his time. A visionary genius.” Uncanny how similar those two names are!