Bellville garden growing food, hope and new opportunities

A food garden, at a homeless shelter run by Mould Empower Serve (MES) in Aj West Street, had it first spring harvest earlier this month.

Food isn’t the only thing that has sprouted from an urban garden in Bellville – it’s also led to two homeless men finding work and is becoming a beacon of hope for the community, say those behind the project.

The 300m² food garden, at a homeless shelter run by Mould Empower Serve (MES) in Aj West street, had it first spring harvest earlier this month.

The garden has come a long way since we last reported on it (“Bellville food garden offers hope to the poor,” Northern News, June 11).

Paul Barker, head farmer at the garden, says he was tasked in 2020 with developing a market garden that would produce fresh organic vegetables for the community.

“That time our team consisted of two homeless men who lived at the MES centre, one of the gentlemen was in his 60s and the other was a young preacher, Shane Grobbelar, who volunteered at the shelter along with myself,” says Mr Barker.

Under Mr Barker’s guidance, the pair did eight months of training, they learned the layout of the farm and helped with the seedlings.

Life has changed dramatically for the men since then, says Mr Barker. “They’ve both found homes, and the gentleman in his 60s is now running the farm. Mr Grobbelar is also still volunteering at the shelter.”

There are now three workers employed at the food garden.

The project not only provides a source of food, using land that might otherwise have become an illegal dump, it also offers employment and vocational training, says Mr Barker.

“The food garden will be providing water and food security, developing urban-farming skills, and providing affordable healthy produce for sale to the community to raise funds for the urban gardening project,” says Nadia Hearn, a spokeswoman for the Greater Tygerberg Partnership.

“The objective with this urban food garden project is to generate income, improve health, nutrition and food security at the MES Safe Space and to encourage and empower the surrounding community to start their own food gardens.”

The garden, which has its own borehole, produces spinach, lettuce, kale, coriander, spring onions and more.

There are plans to double the 16-bed garden in size, says Greater Tygerberg Partnership CEO Warren Hewitt.