Midlands Food Hero – Engonjeni

Food Heroes christopher mbele and his spinach nov ed134

Christopher Mbele in his garden. Article and photo: Nikki Brighton

“I don’t see the point of selling food to hungry people” Percival Gwala tells me. His neighbour Christopher Mbele agrees, “We like to help those around us who are needy.” Engonjeni is a newish settlement in Lion’s River – one where you might imagine that community spirit is not that strong. However, meeting these men who are enthusiastically growing and sharing food dispels this idea, entirely. They have no formal gardening training, simply having learnt from their parents and grandparents while growing up – one of the very best ways to learn! Christopher has just harvested a great crop of carrots which his wife, Phumele, looks forward to cooking in stews. In their place he plans to plant green beans, which he particularly likes, along with spinach. His madumbis are slow, something he puts down to the dry spell early in Spring. Next door, Percival is harvesting lettuce and cauliflower – his favourite veggies. “My health is not good, so I need good food” he says. “I can see that this fresh food is also making my family stronger and making a difference in the community.” Despite having full time jobs, they look forward to days off to spend time in the garden. “Gardening is so relaxing” they tell me.

As usual in township gardens, chickens and goats are a real problem, meaning good fences are essential for growing anything. There are a number of other gardens dotted about – evidence of the great growing conditions (perhaps because this earth is only recently been tilled). “This place, Engonjeni, is rich” I am told, “when you plant here you get big cabbages.” The Mpophomeni Conservation Group has offered to show the gardeners in Engonjeni how to make nutrient rich compost to ensure that the soil continues to produce food that builds strong bodies and strong community. Percival hopes to fence the ground around the small building beside the soccer pitch, where he holds daily prayer groups, to improve food security and health in the community he cares about. The peach trees in Phumlele’s garden are full of tiny fruit. Does she bottle it I ask? “No, we like to eat it fresh” These are real food heroes – saving seed, sharing surplus, eating well – who understand the true value of food.