Tucked into an inconspicuous corner of West campus at the University of Witwatersrand (Wits) is the Wits Food Garden – a beautiful area filled with vegetables and herbs. Providing food for needy Wits students, the garden is part of a larger project with the Food Sovereignty Centre to fight food insecurity.
The Daily Vox team visited the garden and centre.Aiming to address the widespread hunger challenges faced by Wits students – the project wants create a space for students to grow, prepare, and eat their own food. Managed by the Wits Inala Forum, a climate justice organisation and Wits Siyakhana Food Project, the garden and centre is a collaborative project between the Co-operative and Policy Centre (COPAC) and the Wits Citizenship and Community Outreach Centre (WCCO) – which is about getting students to work volunteer and develop responsible citizenship says the organisation’s Karuna Singh.
Identifying that there was a hunger and accomodation problem at Wits was the inspiration for the project. Students might be receiving food from the university or other organisations but often Morgan says: “Students who were growing food back home but couldn’t afford food at campus were given a pack of pasta which was not culturally appropriate.” The project was to ensure students have a choice in what they eat.
Having been in existence since 2015, the vegetable garden was developed by Inala and is entirely student-run. Activists and people interested in growing vegetables help in the garden with watering, planting and harvesting with a knowledge-sharing network happening between students and the Wits ground staff who have their own garden next to the student garden. Once the vegetables are harvested, it is taken to the centre where it’s filled in crates for students to use and cook with.
Entering into an agreement with the university, COPAC have been given three years – 2018 being the first – to develop the Food Sovereignty Centre: a space with communal kitchens where students without accommodation can prepare and eat their food. “They have to eat on the side of the road and it’s not a dignified space so giving them a communal kitchen is a space of dignity where everyone come to learn about food sovereignty and culturally appropriate food and how to cook with indigenous materials,” says Morgan.
Situated near the Cricket Pavillion on the Wits East campus, the centre and its surrounds are a quaint space. With the jacarandas dusting the outside seating area, it’s easier to imagine the tables filled with students eating and having that space to themselves. At the moment, there is only one kitchen, with plans for two more to be built. Funds are a deterrent to the project being fully realised. [You can donate to the project here]Developing the centre and garden is a not quick-fix solution to a problem; rather it is about the process Domingo says: “It’s not like you build the solution and it’s going to solve everything. You start building that pathway and it starts being the culture and the norm. If meat becomes a vital part of people’s diet, we can have that eventually. It’s about the process.”
The project wants to create a sustainable pathway to the city: of developing small scale farming and indigenous methods of growing. It shouldn’t be enough to just have food – people should have choice and control over what they eat. Once the project is firmly off the ground, Morgan says: “We want to create a market where different urban food gardeners can come together. One of the issues with small scale farming is that people don’t trust it – they see a woman selling her vegetables – they think that’s dirty as compared to the supermarket ones but the one on the side of the street is healthier. We want to show that small scale farming is viable in the city.”