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Growing Food In A Suburban Garden Restores Vital Connection To Nature

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All her life, Jane Griffiths knew that growing her own food made economic and environmental sense.

“My mom grew up on a farm in East Griqualand and I spent plenty of time there when I was young,” she says. “The farm was almost completely self-sufficient and I have many wonderful memories of food.

“On a hot summer’s day there was nothing more refreshing than pulling out fresh, crunchy carrots, rinsing them under the garden tap and munching them right there.”

Almost everything she ate was grown or reared on her doorstep. As a child, it was her job to pick and shell the bright green peas, many of which went into her mouth before she left the vegetable garden.

“In 1991 we spent a couple of months in Thailand and after that, everything changed. I came back hankering after the fresh tastes and fiery combinations I’d been relishing.”

Armed with Charmaine Solomon’s South East Asian Cooking, a birthday present from her husband, Griffiths made long lists of unfamiliar ingredients. She made forays to spice dens in Fordsburg in Johannesburg and to Commissioner Street’s Chinese supermarkets. Her addiction to cooking and collecting ingredients had started.

In the mid-1990s, Griffiths spent a year in the US and fell in love with Mexican food, particularly with the wide variety of chillies — anchos, habaneros, pasillas, serranos — that were essential for Mexican flavour.

At that time the only variety available in South Africa were “little hot red ones” while jalapeños were hardly on the culinary radar. Griffiths didn’t have her own vegetable garden, but was determined to grow chillies.

“I bought a packet of every variety of chilli seed I could lay my hands on,” she says. “Back home I removed a section of lawn, dug in some compost, scattered the seeds and sat back to watch my chillies grow.

“That summer I had about 20 varieties growing in my garden and quickly earned the nickname Chilli Queen.”

The chillies grew so fast and were so prolific that she felt obliged not to waste the harvest. Her Hot Diggedy Chilli Jelly soon became a firm favourite among her friends.

Every year, she dug up more lawn to plant herbs, tomatoes, lettuces, eggplant and more.

At last count, her urban orchard included 24 fruit trees and 10 different types of berries and vines.

“My actual vegetable garden is about 60m² and is filled with seasonal vegetables [such as tomatoes, lettuce, beans, eggplant, and squash] and perennials [turmeric, asparagus, rosemary and mint],” Griffiths says.

“I also have many containers filled with edibles. In every sunny flower bed I interplant herbs with flowers and in every available space are fruit trees, including ones in pots and espaliered against sunny walls.”

Griffiths visits heirloom seed company websites and chooses according to the season and what will grow well in her relatively small space. She prefers miniature pumpkins or a gem squash that can climb up a trellis or over a vertical tripod, taking up far less space.

She also likes to grow unusual vegetables that can’t be found easily in supermarkets, such as black tomatoes, yellow beans and purple broccoli.

“I love being inspired by what’s in season to create something fresh and interesting,” she says. “I love large layered salads filled with interesting and unusual ingredients such as asparagus sprigs or green coriander seeds.

“I’m also constantly bottling, drying and preserving produce to extend the harvest.

“I have a dehydrator that I use for excess summer squash, fruit, tomatoes and many other vegetables,” she says. “I make pickles in vinegar and jams and jellies. Plus I freeze a lot of produce,” Griffiths says

She’s equally prudent about storing herbs. The ones that don’t have a high moisture content, such as oregano, marjoram, rosemary and thyme, retain their flavour well when dried. But herbs such as basil, parsley, coriander and mint, which have a higher water content, are preserved better by blending with oil or chopping and freezing.

“In our 21st century of absolute convenience and consumerism, we have become disconnected from nature,” Griffiths says. “We somehow believe that we can not only live separately from nature but also take as much as we want, without giving anything back.

“That is not how a successful relationship works. We are a part of nature and if we continue to live as if we are a privileged and separate species, we risk losing everything.”

She’s learnt from her relationship with her garden that by giving nature the respect she deserves, “by placing her at the centre of things and by observing and learning from her every move”, everyone can become a successful gardener.

Despite publishing several books over the past decade, she’s having too much fun to call what she does work.

“When looking at the multitude of problems facing us as human beings, it can be overwhelming and daunting.

“But one thing each of us can do is cultivate a better relationship with the piece of planet on which we live. If I can do it, so can all of us.”

Source: Growing Food In A Suburban Garden Restores Vital Connection To Nature

A Retired Teacher Seeds Organic Farming in India

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Watching the graying man work for hours in the rice fields, you would never guess he is actually retired and has been for many years. Since 1998, retired teacher Natabar Sarangi has spent his days collecting native seeds across India. So far, he has collected over 350 seed varieties with the help of just a few employees.  By 2012, he hopes to collect 500 different varieties.

Why? To save India’s traditional farming practices.

In the 1960’s, the Green Revolution hit India and doubled crop productions.  For a country with a long history of famine, the increase in crop yields was much-needed. But the new agriculture practices had a dire effect on small farmers and the biodiversity of crops.

The high yields were the result of monocultures—planting just one cash crop each year and using irrigation techniques to grow crops even in the dry season.  Later, genetically-modified crops were introduced, endangering the already dwindling number of native plant species that were left.  Such a lack of biodiversity also made Indian farmers more susceptible to the effects of changing weather patterns.

Sarangi despises the high-yield farms that surround his own small, organic farm.  He prefers to grow crops using seeds that have been around longer than he, and he’s nearly 80 years old.

In 2010 Sarangi used a small grant from Global Greengrants Fund to collect seeds from farms all over India. He hired people to travel to different regions and increase the number of varieties he could conserve.  He also hired 100 women to help clean and store the seeds in a seed bank.

Each year, Sarangi gives the surplus of organic seeds to local farmers. In turn, they promise to return 4 kilograms of seeds after their harvest.

Upwards of 100 farmers come each year from local districts to get their seeds from Sarangi.  He trains those farmers on organic farming techniques, allowing the whole process to be sustainable and expanded across India.

Sarangi also uses his skills as a teacher to speak with students at local schools about conservation and organic farming.  Natabar Sarangi is an example of what one individual or one group can do to create change on a local level with just a little bit of support.

For more information, check out this video featuring Sarangi and his work.

Source: A Retired Teacher Seeds Organic Farming in India

Solar-Powered School In Denmark Planned For Kids Grow Their Own Food

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A secondary school in Denmark hopes to be more engaging with students with a solar-powered building that teaches them how to grow and cook food in the rooftop garden.

Boasting a size of 105,690 square feet, this new school allows for up to 784 students with additional rooms for the staff and various activities. An additional 43,000 square feet around the building will feature an outdoor area with more gardens.

The central room of the school is a massive space that acts as a dining hall and a gathering point for student activities. Multiple kitchens will be in the area, including one geared for the outdoors. A large rooftop garden will also mesh with the entire building, being accessible from every classroom. There will be an additional biology garden and greenhouses in the outdoor area.

Focus isn’t limited to just teaching students how to grow fruits and vegetables and cook their own meals. The school will feature “ventilation with heat recovery, natural ventilation, day-light-controlled lighting, and a highly insulated envelope.” There will also be solar panels in the rooftop gardens to provide an energy source for the school.

The New Islands Brygge School is expected be completed by May 2020, in time for the following school year and to give school employees and children time to transfer over. This provides ample time for planning and construction while also trying to meet sustainable needs.

Source: Solar-Powered School In Denmark Lets Kids Grow Their Own Food

Goats, Pigs And Veggies Crop Up In Urban Tokyo

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PHOTO: PASONA GROUP

A lift takes you to the Otemachi Bokujyo (“Otemachi Farm”) on the 13th floor of a gleaming skyscraper. You step out into natural light streaming in from floor-to-ceiling windows. Tiny plywood picket fences in the 1,000 sq m space separate the animals from visitors.

Across Japan, city dwellers have been developing quite the green thumb. Urban “citizen farms”, as they are called, grew in size by 36 per cent over 10 years, from totalling 641ha in 2005 to 877ha in 2015, according to the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF).

While much of this land has traditionally been greenhouses or fields located in city suburbs, there has been a push towards integrating the old-school farming concept into the urban landscape – both for commercial and community engagement purposes – by companies across industries from real estate to transport.

The MAFF in 2015 introduced laws to promote and regulate urban agriculture, citing objectives such as food security, landscape greenery and the provision of opportunities for urbanites to engage in agricultural activities.

The Tokyo Metro is growing vegetables at a facility underneath an elevated train track near the Nishi-kasai Station in eastern Tokyo, which taps hydroponics technology, with 400 plants across 11 varieties such as basil and lettuce.

Over in the glitzy Ginza shopping district, the 114-year-old stationery store Itoya reopened in 2015 after renovation with a hydroponic farm on its 11th floor. The vegetables are served at the 12-storey building’s cafe.

Real estate developer Mori Building grows rice in a paddy field in a rooftop garden atop a theatre at its Roppongi Hills property in the heart of one of Tokyo’s prime nightlife hot spots. Through community events, children and their parents can get first-hand experience of planting rice seedlings in spring and, later on, of harvesting the rice and threshing the plants.

Japanese telco engineering giant NTT Facilities, too, grows sweet potatoes on its office rooftop. It then transfers the ripened crops, with soil, into bags that are taken to be “harvested” by residents living at elderly facilities, as well as others in the neighbourhood. The sweet potato leaves covering the entire rooftop surface have a cooling effect during summer due to evaporating water, as much as 27 deg C lower than the area uncovered.

The huge interest in urban farms comes amid the twin threats of rural depopulation towards urban cities and an ageing demographic. MAFF statistics show there were 1.51 million farmers across Japan last year, which is a 40 per cent decline from 20 years ago.

Yet even as rural farming is in decline, going by the newfangled farms and agricultural activities sprouting in the high-rises and empty spaces of highly urban Tokyo, it seems that the old ways of the land are getting a new lease of life – city-style.

Source: Goats, pigs and veggies crop up in urban Tokyo

Tech-Savvy Kenyan Youth Head Back To The Farm

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When Francis Njoroge graduated with an engineering degree in Nairobi, he expected to earn a six-figure salary. Instead he found himself working as an electrician on a three-month contract, for 20,000 Kenyan shillings (about $200) per month.

He decided to move back to his parents’ farm in Kimandi, a village about 150km away, and start his own business planting and selling tree seedlings.

Kenya has the highest rate of youth joblessness in East Africa, according to the World Bank, with nearly one in five young people who are eligible for work not finding jobs.

Poor job prospects and low pay in cities are pushing thousands of unemployed young people to return home and take up farming, said David Mugambi, a lecturer at Chuka University in central Kenya.

Kenyan youth are not only turning to farming, they are bringing their digital skills with them to rural areas, according to Mugambi.

Knowing very little about tree seedlings, Njoroge joined a WhatsApp group of 30 fellow farmers to learn about issues like growing conditions and fertilisers.

Like Njoroge, Phillip Muriithi, a teaching graduate from Kenyatta University, left Nairobi to return to his parents’ farm about 200km northeast of the city, and nows grow tomatoes and cabbages.

Muriithi also uses his mobile to keep a record of costs, fertilisers and profit, and to market his produce on WhatsApp groups.

The Kenyan government is trying to promote entrepreneurship among young people by improving their access to credit, said Mugambi. The Uwezo fund, for example, provides youth with grants and interest-free loans of up to 500,000 shillings (about $5,000) to set up their own business.

Source: Without City Jobs, Tech-Savvy Kenyan Youth Head Back To The Farm

Mangaluru Man Shows Terrace Gardens Can Be A Boon

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Blany D'Souza (Source: Facebook profile)

After working in West Asia for six years, Blany D’Souza returned home to Mangaluru 20 years ago. A passion for growing fruits and vegetables led him to set up a garden on an area of 1,200 sq ft on the terrace of his home in Mangaluru. Now he has set up more than 40 such gardens in different parts of the city.

There was a time he sold around 100 kg of ivy gourd a month to a local shopkeeper, who marketed them as “from Blany’s garden” to his customers.

D’Souza grows around 100 varieties of fruits and vegetables, including grapes, on his terrace.

Previously he was focussing only on his garden. Then he went to help a friend in setting up a terrace garden. After that, the friend’s neighbour requested him to set up one on his terrace too. The word-of-mouth publicity has brought demands from different parts of the city, he said.

D’Souza (50) said that he has set up terrace gardens on individual houses, flats, schools and other institutions in the city.

Normally he plants 10 vegetables and 10 fruits on an area of 500 sq ft, meeting the requirements of a family. The number of plants may be more or less also depending on the budget of the family. Some grafted varieties of plants cost around ₹1,000 a sapling, he said.

After setting up the terrace garden, he supports them with required guidance for maintenance.

His daily schedule begins with exhibiting his garden to visitors and school/college students. His assignment to set up terrace gardens in other houses begins after 4 pm.

Stating that many children are unaware of the cultivation of fruits and vegetables, he said he has been delivering lectures to them in their schools/colleges and bringing them to his house.

Source: Mangaluru Man Shows Terrace Gardens Can Be A Boon

Black Farmers Reviving Their African Roots

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Xavier Brown formed a partnership with Boe Luther and Wallace Kirby, two gardeners from Ward 7 who started Hustlaz 2 Harvesters to offer people released from incarceration ways out of poverty into urban agriculture careers and other social enterprises. Brown, a certified master composter for the city, helped Luther and Kirby transform an empty lot into the Dix Street community garden as part of an urban agricultural initiative called Soilful City.

Only 1 in 10 Americans eats the daily recommendation of fruits and vegetables, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and people living in poverty have especially low rates of consumption of fresh produce. Access to healthy produce is difficult in low-income communities like Clay Terrace, because major chain supermarkets are reluctant to locate their stores there.

Yet Brown, Luther, and Kirby believe the community can grow its way out of food scarcity through the Dix Street garden and similar projects. They say crops that were staples of their African ancestors’ diets hold an essential key to restoring the community’s health.

“It’s not just about vegetables—we’re building a new way to rebuild neighborhoods,” Brown says. “Black people need to return to being growers, builders, and producers, so when we’re consuming, we’re also feeding one another, and we’re feeding our liberation,” he says.

For instance, to transform the food landscape in Washington, D.C., Brown, Kirby, and Luther helped a neighbor grow bodi, a long string bean indigenous to central Africa. The bean provides many nutrients that are routinely missing from most Americans’ diets, including fiber and vitamins. In Washington, it’s helping reconnect the local population to their cultural heritage.

At the same time, the work of planting and harvesting helps build an environment and community that can facilitate healing from the traumatic legacy of land-based oppression—from slavery to more modern practices of racist covenants and housing redlining—that Black people in the United States have endured.

Kirby says the neighborhood used to be filled with garden beds and chickens, because most of the families had come from the rural South and brought their way of life with them. A lot of that rural character was then lost, especially after the 1968 riots that tore through the city after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.

Brown hopes to mend that rift by looking to African roots. He has adopted a practice called Afro-ecology, a theory and practice created by fellow urban farmer Blain Snipstal to describe how Black people in the U.S. can reconnect with their African or Afro-indigenous past through traditional planting and harvesting techniques.

Using food and farming to overcome the trauma resulting from a history of land oppression and racism is work Leah Penniman knows well. She is a farmer and food justice organizer in upstate New York at Soul Fire Farm, where hundreds of new Black, Latinx, Native American, and Asian growers come to participate in agricultural training workshops that focus on healing people as well as the land.

Penniman sees delving deeply into the history of food injustice—effectively naming racism as the problem—as the first step in search of better solutions to structural realities of food injustice.

Similarly, Soilful City’s project connects recently released inmates and other community members of Clay Terrace to planting and harvesting methods rooted in the African diaspora, and their collective work authors a new story of self-determination and healthy food access for the neighborhood. At the same time, the farm is helping people develop work skills and producing needed revenue in the community, while also providing other urban agriculture businesses, like the legal marijuana industry, with composting and high-yield soil.

If the rates of obesity, diabetes, and lower life expectancy in the neighborhood are reduced as a result, that will be just one more sign of the success the project is having in the community in repairing the broken relationship between the urban population and the land.

Source: Black Farmers Reviving Their African Roots: “We Are Feeding Our Liberation”

A Rapper Grows Plants, Peace and Self-Esteem In Colombia

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Luis Fernando Alvarez looks more like a rapper than a farmer. “El AKA” as he is known in Medellin, Colombia’s second-largest city, has brought his two passions together with the initiative Agro Arte – agricultural art.

San Javier is a slum of mountainous Medellin, and one of the city’s poorest and most violent. But Agro Arte has turned its ragged patches of wasteland and roadside verges into fertile land.

El AKA and his band of local residents – young and old – grow carrots, greens, cauliflowers and herbs. In the late afternoons and evenings, once the plants have been taken care of, the group makes music together.

Hip-hop and agriculture might seem like a strange mix. But El AKA believes it’s the perfect partnership to unite the community. Hip-hop attracts young people, and agriculture the older ones. Once a week, residents meet to plant flowers and food crops.

San Javier’s memories are often painful. In 2002, the neighborhood was the scene of a military offensive that left San Javier in the hands of paramilitary gangs.

It was in the aftermath that El AKA launched Agro Arte. El AKA’s plan was to bring the community together again and make the streets and squares that had see so much violence bloom.

Fast forward 15 years, and San Javier residents still meet every Saturday to work the land together. Agro Arte is an active community project. El AKA describes how a man in his 50s once tried to donate seeds. He was asked to sow them himself.

“The people need to plant themselves. This is how we generate dialogue,” El AKA says, speaking as fast and rhythmically as he raps.

“The residents grow their own food. And when something doesn’t work they can say ‘Look, my salad died. How’s yours doing?’ And there you have the start of a conversation.”

In the beginning, residents were skeptical of a gangster rapper wanting to plant carrots and onions in their neighborhood.

Over the years, residents have changed their perception of rap, too. In the evenings, when the young hip-hop artists perform new songs, the entire neighborhood gets together – regardless of age.

Youth unemployment remains high in San Javier. Employers are wary of hiring young people from the infamous barrio. Teenagers in San Javier have a lot of time on their hands, and few opportunities.

For some, drugs and gangs seem like the only option. But Agro Arte offers something else.

Growing food takes time and care. Plants must be watered regularly, crops harvested. Agro Arte doesn’t provide jobs. But it does give young people structure, purpose and self-esteem.

Resolution still seems a way off. But in San Javier, the seeds of peace have been planted.

Source: Peace, plants and hip-hop in Colombia

Sowing Seeds For Social Good

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Founder of Ikhaya Garden, Xolisa Bangani, speaks about his passion for nature, and how starting a garden in Khayelitsha has helped change his community. Bangani started growing plants and flowers at home and says he was motivated by a friend to start growing vegetables. Bangani approached Isikhokelo Primary School, and asked if he could grow fruits and vegetables on a piece of land that was being used as a dumping ground.

Find out how the flourishing garden has impacted the community and the students.

This 11-Year-Old Girl Farms In Her Courtyard

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A Class 6 student from Ambalavayal, Kerala, India, has turned her courtyard into a vegetable garden.

11-year-old Shikha Lubna, daughter of Abdul Basheer and Nasriya, has been active in farming since she was in Class 1.

Shikha’s garden consists of almost all major varieties of vegetables and nearly 30 types of fruits. Shikha grows Chinese cauliflower, carrots, beetroot, cabbage, green chilli, spinach and other vegetables. Shikha also nurtures 30 fruit plants including fig, pulasan, durian, baraba, gooseberry, custard apple and sapota.

Shikha finds time for farming mornings, evenings and on holidays. After taking produce for her family’s use, she distributes the rest to neighbours.

Shikha follows organic methods of farming, using bio-manures such as cow dung, goat manure, coconut husk and wood shavings, and uses red pepper solution and garlic solution as pesticides.

Her father Abdul Basheer, who runs a bakery in Ambalavayal, supports her passion for agriculture.

The 11-year-old is determined to pursue a career in agriculture. Her ambition is to become a world renowned agriculturist and a social reformer.

Source: Meet Shikha Lubna, the 11-year young model in agriculture