Where did it start?

When Justin Bonello started his career as a cook and presenter for Cooked, he learned a lot about food, ingredients and cooking almost anything, anywhere. A few years on, and he was left with more questions than answers. “Where does my food come from?” and “What’s in it?” were the two that stood out.

Fast forward a few years – and with three gorgeous children by his side – Justin realised that his commitment to good food went deeper than just preparing great meals and dynamic TV shows. He wanted to be involved in how the food was grown and provide other people with nutrient-packed fresh vegetables that they were able to grow themselves. And so, together with a powerful team who share his vision and bring their expertise to the project, the seeds for Neighbourhood Farm were sown. 

“Urban food production is the cultivation, picking, cleaning and packaging of food crops in urban environments,” Justin explains. “Healthy food plays an important role in community lives and has a positive impact on the environment. This is central to health and well-being, social connectivity and community identity, and when you consider that most of our children are disconnected from where our food comes from and what’s in it, the urgency and importance of Neighbourhood Farms at our schools comes to light.”

From kids to kale

Neighbourhood Farm is a project committed to the development of community market gardens for the growing of organic crops at schools in the Deep South of Cape Town stretching from Muizenberg through to Kommetjie. The 17 schools in this area are representative of the full economic spectrum – from well-resourced, to critically in need.  With close to 15 000 children at these schools and over 100 000 community members, the Neighbourhood Farm believes that all of them have the right to access nutritious food and the knowledge to grow if for themselves.

“Not only do we grow great, wholesome food, create local employment, utilise renewable energy and give our teachers real edible educational resources, we lobby for essential change to be implemented at all schools in South Africa.” Justin Bonello

Dig deep/Digging deep

The mission of Neighbourhood Farm is to build sustainable market gardens at each school. The vision is more than just providing veggies, though; each school will build a beautiful outdoor classroom that suits their needs. Here geography, science, biology and economics can be brought to life. Around these classrooms, we aim to design, install and manage sustainable permaculture gardens complete with fruit-bearing trees, butterfly havens and perennial vegetable gardens and spaces for children to feel safe in.

We are all responsible for producing a positive impact in the urban biome and leaving a living legacy for our children’s children. It’s a world where our children help to realise the spirit of Ubuntu and can flourish.

But, it’s not as easy as it sounds. Ninety percent of food gardens at schools fail for two reasons – they rely on the parent/teacher body to run and maintain them and, secondly, none of them are economically viable ventures. This is where the Neighbourhood Farm project hopes to do things differently by involving the community closest to the school.

Money and mangetout

The Neighbourhood Farm project doesn’t just aim to grow veggies and community spirit, there’s an economic heart to the project as well. Beyond showing children how food is grown, the market garden provides a small revenue stream from distributing and selling healthy food to both the school and the local community. This not only makes the gardens sustainable, but empowers the community through skills-based training and experience. In turn, these create further economic and entrepreneurial opportunities for marginalised community members.

Putting down roots – Neighbourhood Farm pilot project

So far, eight schools have committed to launch the Neighbourhood Farm pilot project – Bay Primary with campuses in Fish Hoek and Kalk Bay, and Marine Primary, Kleinberg Primary and Ocean View High School in Ocean View, Kommetjie Primary, Simonstown School, The Star of Sea Convent in St James and Laerskool Paul Greyling and we’re working on getting the rest on board.

Getting your hands dirty

If projects like these warm your heart, there’s plenty of scope to get involved. Please contact us or the school and find out what help they need. You can also garden and lend your support by buying produce directly from the school farm. You might also have a wonderful garden at home and surplus veggies. If this is the case, you could sell your produce at the farm market.

The more community members involved in this project, the better as your positive energy will add much needed impetus to the venture and encourage other people to get involved. Remember that we are growing the community spirit as much as we’re growing vegetables.

“If you think in terms of a year, plant a seed; if in terms of ten years, plant trees; if in terms of 100 years, teach the people.” – Confucius

Heard it on the grapevine

We plan to keep you informed about what we’re achieving every step of the way. Like our gardens, our website is still taking root. Watch this space for our news, school updates and success stories and use the contact form to get hold of us.