COMMENT – Pushed a trolley round a supermarket recently? Were you not struck by how much, and how fast, prices of even ordinary groceries, fruit and vegetables have risen? Let alone the price of meat.

It’s frightening.

And while middle-class employed people may have some resilience to these increases by being able to juggle their incomes, the poor, pensioners and the unemployed have no such wriggle-room. (Let alone the fact that hundreds of thousands of social grant recipients ~ the poorest of the poor ~ have had their monthly payouts delayed, due to a “system glitch.”)

Have you ever contemplated having nothing ~ absolutely nothing ~ to eat or drink in your home, and absolutely no ability to buy even a loaf of bread or a small bag of mealie meal? Have you ever gone to bed on an empty stomach, or listened to the despairing crying of a hungry child who, likewise, goes to bed with nothing to eat?

It’s tragic. And terrifying. For that is the reality of daily life for hundreds of thousands of South Africans.

A solution to hunger

But there is a solution, and it behoves every one of us with the means and ability to do something to help. And that is simply this: Grow food. And teach your staff, families and children to grow food.

Learn from others on the continent, and you will be surprised at what can be done. In Malawi, for example, grassy roadside verges don’t exist. They are all planted with edibles: maize, cabbage, spinach, kale. All neatly and carefully weeded and tended, and none fenced. Just growing, and so available to anybody who is in need.

Plenty of space

You, as a smallholder, have plenty of space, somewhere on your plot, for a vegetable patch that could feed your family, and your family’s families – many times over. The same goes for fruit. You have plenty of space for a small orchard, which will produce enough fruit for you to have regular fresh fruit salads, fruit for freezing and cooking with, and fruit for jams, syrups and chutneys.

Or, if you live in the suburbs, even a modest garden has enough space somewhere for a small patch of vegetables, the care and nurturing of which can amount to little more than the application of home-made compost and, even, moisture from your waste water.

Sidewalk garden

And what about the sidewalk outside your house? It’s not your land, yet you are expected to keep it neat and tidy (if only because your local authority won’t).

How about, instead of simply keeping it neat, you turned it into a cabbage patch? For up and down your road, day after day, week after week, walk people who may have no income, and no means of supporting their families. Think how you could brighten up the lives of a passing bagerezi or homeless person simply going door to door looking for work, if he (or she) could harvest a cabbage, or pick some lemons off a roadside tree?

Not complicated or difficult to grow food

And here’s the thing: Planting and growing vegetables isn’t rocket science, certainly not for the most common veg. And it doesn’t need to be expensive either. A packet of seed retails for around R30, and will give you far more seed than you need to make a start (and if you choose heirloom varieties you can harvest their seed at season’s end and never have to buy seed again).

And while formulated fertilizer does indeed cost money there are ways around this expense, too. Firstly, no vegetable matter ~ peels, dead flowers, prunings, leaves, grass clippings etc ~ should ever go to a municipal dump. You should make your own compost at very least, or feed this material into a wormery for a potent liquid fertilizer.

Nutrients from manure

But if you are on a smallholding with livestock you have an instant and free source of plant nutrients in their manure.

The trick is not to start too ambitiously: Don’t try to outdo your local fruit ‘n veg shop. Just choose something you and the family like to eat.

And get started today. Hopefully you will change somebody’s life in the process.

For many articles on how to grow vegetables go to our horticulture section of our website.

Image: Ella Olsson, Stockholm, Sweden, via Wikimedia Commons

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *