By Garth Johnstone
There are shoots of spring renewal and optimism at Ntuli Farm in Rosetta, as community members get stuck in to establish some impressive-looking vegetable gardens.
The well-known settlement on the left of the R103 as you drive into Rosetta, like many other communities in SA during lockdown, struggled with food security. Though residents have been assisted by food schemes, such as Action in Isolation, the going has been tough as work opportunities dwindled. In the past few weeks they have been working hard to establish a sustainable solution, one which will produce food to be shared with the community and sold to make the project sustainable.
Ellec Sibisi, chairperson of Ntuli Farm Development Committee for the past 10 years, said: “We started talking way back, about five years ago, about doing a vegetable garden, but it somehow never came together. Now things are happening with the help of Rotary and Uthingo.
“The community is excited, the men and women are volunteering, and we believe this is something that is going to work. We see the potential.”
Sibisi said the plan was to give about 30% of the vegetables produced to the community and the rest would be sold, the money going towards purchasing seed, producing compost, piping water to the site and so on.
He said they currently had sufficient water, but still needed to produce lots more of their own compost to keep costs down.
Bill Pirrie, who is involved as a member of the Rotary Club of Mooi River Midlands, said they had surveyed and situated the Ntuli veggie gardens on land identified on the approved township layout for urban agriculture. The land is owned by the province and was bought for a housing project.
Rotary, he said, initially put in an investment for basic infrastructure. “We purchased a pump, water is piped in from the river up to the reservoir (JoJo) and we put a tunnel in and the fencing around it.”
Many rows have been prepared for seedlings out of the tunnel too and they are erecting coverage to protect from summer hail storms.
“Impetus came about with Covid,” said Pirrie. “There have been feeding schemes during Covid (that have been greatly appreciated). But one by one they have stopped because it’s difficult to sustain forever. This veg garden project is all about getting the community food security so they can start growing their own food.”
There have been a lot of donations of fuel, grass and materials to make compost, from farmers and others.
“We’ve managed to recruit 15 volunteers, all from the community, who are doing the work and planting. I am involved in a training school in Pinetown, focused on organic vegetable growing, to get urban agriculture going. It’s called Uthingo Organic Academy. I enlisted the help of Zama Ngubane and her team to come up here and do training and help establish the garden. Uthingo, through funding from the department of agriculture during the Covid period, has been able to donate the first lot of seedlings for this garden.”
The quality of seedlings and compost, and availability of water from the reservoir, suggest the venture will, unlike some similar projects, succeed. All the produce is organic and there are plans to develop a local market for the sale of the vegetables.
While there are many challenges for this community, among them water supply and a long-term battle to get houses built for dozens of families (a story for another day), the vegetable garden project is a sign of confidence and belief in a brighter future. There have been some complaints about litter and rubbish that is going into the Rosetta wetlands, but Bill assures me this is on the agenda to be tackled by the community in the near future.
Last year we wrote that an ECD learning centre had been established at Ntuli with the assistance of Ward 2 councillor Bheki Khumalo, Mooi River Rotary, local businesses, farmers, donors and the Midlands Community College. This early childhood learning facility allows moms to go out and work while their children are safe and cared for in a stimulating play and learning environment.
There’s renewed optimism that with everyone pulling together, things can and will change for the better for this Midlands community.