Midlands Foodies: Engonjeni’s Secret Garden

Engonjeni’s Secret Garden

Thembisile Zuma’s dog, Puppy, loves veggies, so do the dozen grandchildren that live with Margaret Ngcobo. Little surprise then that these two women have joined five others in a communal food garden project called Phila ufunda – ‘Be healthy and learn’.

Irene Moshoeshoe, Dora Ndlovu, Neo Moshoeshoe, Thembisile Zuma, Margaret Ngcobo, Anna Ngubane and  Sindi Khumalo

Irene Moshoeshoe, Dora Ndlovu, Neo Moshoeshoe, Thembisile Zuma, Margaret Ngcobo, Anna Ngubane and Sindi Khumalo

In 2010, Neo Moshoesahoe and other young people who live at Engonjeni in Lion’s River, were distressed at the dumping sites growing steadily amongst the houses and set about cleaning them up. “We gathered the community, shared ideas about the issues that dumping caused and encouraged everyone to make use of the Municipal refuse collection on Saturdays.” Next step, was obviously to put the newly cleared areas to good use. Vegetable gardens seemed a good move, but the idea didn’t flourish until 2016 when these determined grandmothers began gardening on the vacant ground in earnest.

Early in the morning the Gogos walk the children in their charge to crèche and then gather in the garden tucked between the football field and Lombard Road. The physical work keeps them strong, but most of all they enjoy the camaraderie and chat happily amongst the cabbages all morning until it is time to fetch the children home. Every day someone pops in to buy something – spinach and intofeshe (kale) are the most popular. This year they have planted rows of green peppers at the request of the community and plenty of green beans.
“It is good to have a bigger space to plant than we do at our homes,” Chairperson Irene Moshoeshoe says, “Here we can grow much more to sell in our community.” They particularly enjoy being able to donate fresh veggies to those in need. Dora Ndlovu is adamant that this is a great community to live in, where there is no crime and everyone knows each other.
“We don’t use fertilizers. We prefer the old-fashioned ways we learned from our mothers and grannies. Compost is better and cheaper,” says Anna Ngubane. Neighbours now drop off grass clipping and dry leaves, but as no one keeps cows in Engonjeni they rely on local farmers to bring them bakkie loads of cow or chicken manure.
Supper always involves fresh veggies, of course. Sindi Khumalo likes to make a salad of grated carrots, while Margaret Ngcobo prefers thinly sliced beetroot and onions with vinegar. One of their members, Cynthia Jones, is not well, so someone will be making a cabbage and potato stew for her this evening.
They dream of supplying the local trading store with surplus and turning their small venture into a thriving business. Quiet determination and good food is flourishing in ‘the secret place’ – Engonjeni.
Can you contribute mulch, manure or seeds? Contact Neo on 076 441 9434