Northern News last year visited an urban farm in Kuils River, a farm where hope and the opportunity to change dovetails well with growing vegetables sustainably, (“Hope at Leca farm,” Northern News, September 2, 2015).
Leca farm, which stands for Learn.Excel.Conquer.Appreciate ,gives people who were once on the streets temporary employment in their transition to finding full-time positions.
Located in Sarepta, just off Van Riebeeck Street, Leca forms part of the Christian-based NGO Mould Empower Serve(MES) Grow project. The farm is a shining example of their job rehabilitation programme and is a source of funding for MES.
Only three people work on the small-holding full-time; but it provides the formerly homeless with jobs and trains them.
But as farm manager Johan Barnard, who has been at the farm since the start, told Northern News, sadly, despite selling its produce to a large retail outlet and a producer of pesto sauces, it is still not breaking even; thus they are concentrating their efforts on increasing production as far as possible in a bid to generate more funds.
“At the moment we are not yet economically sustainable, and that’s why we are doubling up on production,” said Mr Barnard.
The farm has four hothouse tunnels. Last year in summer they were filled with healthy-looking basil plants (many of which now grow outside the tunnels) and spinach; for winter there’s equally healthy-looking Italian flat leaf parsley and Mr Barnard, with his three workers, are experimenting with green hothouse-varietal climbing green beans.
Doubling up on production means setting up two tiers of vegetable rows in the 20m tunnels.
The “ground floor” is made up of plastic grow bags while the second tier has PVC pipes, with 36 plants dotted along the cut-out holes in each pipe stretching along the tunnel, from which the parsley leaves are popping out.
“The grow bags now accommodate four plants as opposed to the previous two, getting, as Mr Barnard told Northern News, “maximum capacity for each tunnel”.
After just three weeks of planting, the beans are thriving, their curly stems held up by a savvy system whereby nylon strings attached to an overhead wire eventually form a green “bean screen” when they reach full maturation as the beans climb further and further upwards.
Demonstrating a fast production turnover, they will be ready for harvesting at the beginning of June. And that’s the key, say Mr Barnard and MES intern Arthur Mukhari, to upping the ante in the production cycle.
The farm uses hydroponics to grow herbs and vegetables; and in the past few months has had a 10m deep underground well point installed to deal with the severe drought. Water is fed into four water tanks and, extracting the damaging iron which is prevalent in the water, is an electrical float valve.
As far as the drought is concerned, Mr Barnard expressed huge relief that last weekend brought much needed rain.
“At this time of year we use 3 000 litres of water while the hot summer we had saw us using double that amount,” he said.
The farm has been in full production now for 18 months and, during harvest, more workers come to the farm from the Grow project.
The small holding also has a “halfway house” where 11 people employed by MES live for three to six months, overseen by house father, Calvin Enselen.
The residents used to live in the Bellville night shelter, but Hilke Erasmus, senior resource developer at MES, says since they are all now permanently employed, “it’s all about growing back into society again” for those who are accommodated there until they find their feet.
Charles Paulse, who used to work at Leca, told Northern News: “MES helped to integrate me into the community.
“I didn’t actually know I was into this whole plant story, but I really love it.”
Roger Viga, the Grow operations manager, said: “Those who progressed come here with the opportunity to go further. We offer them further training and a second chance to get on with their lives.”
According to MES’s latest news sheet, “over the past eight years, MES Cape Town has been able to establish a very strong outreach, social relief and help desk component that serves the immediate and short-term needs of the homeless and unemployed community”.
It cites its dream for those it helps as they should “use and implement the tools they have received and were taught; take responsibility for their lives; make informed decisions; and inspire further development due to a positive self-awareness”.
Their latest stats demonstrate that 407 people took part in GROW programmes from the areas it serves in Parow, Bellville, Durbanville and Brackenfell and, out of these, 70 were from Brackenfell. Out of the 304 people who attended workshops, 16 were from Brackenfell.
“What we are doing is training people to stand up again,” says Mr Viga.