A food garden in Parys has given a group of people living with disabilities a renewed sense of purpose and pride. With support from Shoprite, the Epilepsy SA Free State/North West branch started an organic food garden in September 2019. They now grow a wide variety of vegetables – from brinjals, to tomatoes, cabbage and butternut – that are used in the meals served at the residential care centre.
Project coordinator Keri Steyn comes from a farming family and approached Shoprite after seeing their investment in similar food garden projects. She was delighted when Shoprite came on board and provided the Epilepsy SA food garden with seedlings and gardening equipment including wheelbarrows, rakes and forks.
She says that around 15 residents from the care centre tend to and love their time in the garden: “Now that we’ve started harvesting and the vegetables make it on to the table, our gardeners are even more enthusiastic. They have a real sense of accomplishment, knowing that they can explain the process from seedling to harvesting to fellow residents.”
It was a steep learning curve at times, but according to Keri the ongoing permaculture training provided by Shoprite has helped the residents a great deal. “We’ve learnt about organic farming, pest control and harvesting amongst other things.”
Keri says working in the garden also seems to have had a therapeutic effect. “It helps to focus their minds so that they have fewer seizures.”
While the Epilepsy SA food garden’s priority is to supply the kitchen at the care centre with fresh produce, any surplus is sold to the local community. Keri says they’ve even branched out into making sauces and jams. “Recently we had a very good tomato crop. We had too much, we couldn’t eat or sell it fast enough. So, we started making tomato jam, a relish and a tomato chutney. One of the local coffee shops actually stocks it for us now, they sell from their premises.”
It is important for the Epilepsy SA Free State/North West branch to also give back. Through their food garden project, they identified ten beneficiaries to join Shoprite’s ‘garden in bucket’ initiative. Recipients of these gardening starter kits – which include seedlings, hand tools and fertiliser – included a soup kitchen, primary schools and old age homes in the area.
“The ‘garden in bucket’ recipients came to our garden and joined Shoprite’s training workshops. Our residents really enjoyed being able to help outsiders. Being a charity one can sometimes become very dependent, but we firmly believe in giving back and paying it forward.”
Shoprite has been supporting food gardens across South Africa since 2015 and has partnered with more than 130 community food gardens and 675 home gardens, benefitting more than 32 000 people.