Growing Knysna’s children – one garden at a time!

We all know how hard it is to get the kids fed and out the door to school in the mornings, and most of us don’t have to leave before sunrise to get to work on time!

Around 65% of Knysna’s school-going children do not have breakfast before leaving home in the mornings. As a result, hunger makes concentrating very difficult and negatively impacts a child’s physical health and emotional well-being. Fortunately, most of Knysna’s schools have feeding schemes that ensure that all children at least get a nutritious breakfast porridge when they arrive at school, and lunch at midday break time, usually soup or stew or similar.

Unfortunately, about 30% of Knysna’s total school-going population are reliant on these meals with no guarantee of a meal at home. While these two basic meals may stave off hunger, they can’t possibly meet all the nutritional demands of growing bodies. As things stand, South African school-going kids generally only receive about half of the recommended daily intake of fresh fruit and vegetables.

KILT supports children’s nutrition

KILT is committed to leaving no child behind. In 2020 we supported school feeding schemes with additional protein and fresh vegetables since the beginning of Covid19 to help alleviate the pressure when many families’ livelihoods were impacted by job losses and salary cuts associated with the pandemic. In 2021 we continued to support schools where there was no additional government support for feeding. We also provided 7000 meals per week through 18 soup kitchens and are continuing this support in 2022.

We also looked for ways to make the support sustainable, which led to the establishment of vegetable gardens at several schools. We’ve established seven school veggie gardens so far, and the school cooks are excited about the fresh veggies being harvested that extend and improve the meals they can offer. Since the start of Lockdown, KILT has also helped over 170 families set up and sustain backyard food gardens. These gardens are also used as contexts and metaphors for “Growing Families” through our Parenting Programme.

With a nearly 19% unemployment rate in our area, the children of the under-employed, seasonal, or casual workers often bear the brunt of an irregular income. The queue for meals is generally longer on Mondays and Fridays. No one has the heart to turn away hungry children, and the addition of vegetables from the school gardens has been a welcome relief.

These gardens would not have been possible without the generous donations of seeds and seedlings from enthusiastic gardeners in the greater Knysna community. But, of course, this meant that some less-common vegetables were among the harvest. At first, there was some reluctance from the kids to eat unfamiliar vegetables, like brinjals, and the cooks felt stuck about how to incorporate these into their regular meal plans.

“The produce from the gardens not only feeds kids at schools but also the greater community through  s20 KILT-affiliated soup kitchens!”

Salina’s Restaurant in Wilderness stepped up to the challenge. They provided some top-class culinary workshops for schools and soup kitchens, which have led to renewed inspiration and creativity in the kitchens. During school holidays, the produce from the school gardens gets shared with the community soup kitchen network, which enables children in need to access food even when they are not attending school daily. In addition, the produce from the gardens feeds kids at schools and the greater community through the now 20 KILT-affiliated soup kitchens. A big win for all!

Food gardens are trending in Knysna

The knock-on effect of the schools’ veggie gardens is a plethora of thriving backyard food gardens that have sprung up as well as new community gardens and gardens for soup kitchens, pre-schools, old age homes, and orphanages. KILT has also supported these community gardens with expertise, seedlings, fertiliser, gardening tools, irrigation systems, and voluntary labour.

The food gardens have been a tremendously successful project with a far greater reach than we ever imagined.

Eco Clubs have been started in some schools to bridge the gap between the child and the garden by teaching them about the environment, and their place in it, through practical, skills-based lessons focussed on gardening. Some schools have even started using the gardens as outdoor classrooms during life orientation lessons, much to the children’s delight, to whom gardening brings a wonderful sense of fulfilment, validation, and personal responsibility.

Community gardens hold the power to unite people behind a common cause, to give people hope and create a sense of freedom with the ability to reap the harvest of collective labour. Gardening also improves physical health, psychological well-being, and a sense of connection to the earth, and it has also been known to significantly lower stress.

Every Knysna resident can be part of this movement to ensure that no child is hungry or malnourished. There are many ways to get involved by investing time, energy, or money in creating a food-secure community. We are fortunate to have a great climate with plenty of space and water to grow our own food.

“It works better if we work together,” says Shireen Nkosi, KILT’s community liaison committed to strengthening individual efforts through cooperation.

Looking ahead

Good nutrition is essential to healthy brain development and physical growth in our children.

By establishing community-based nurseries with dedicated employees, we can create a source of healthy seedlings, compost, seed banks and provide a space for training and workshops to carry this life-changing knowledge forward to the younger generation.

We believe that improved networking and sharing between gardeners will result in a long-term sustainable healthy food supply and contribute to economic growth.

Gardening equipment needed

You may even have some of these gathering dust in your garage or backyard. We always need gardening tools, seasonal seeds/seedlings, and skilled labour in the garden. We are also planning a vermicomposting workshop and need seven bathtubs to make their own worm compost for each of the seven school gardens.

A water tank (of any size) is needed for Knysna Secondary School’s small student garden as there is no available water source nearby. Please get in touch with David Thesen via Whatsapp on 081 875 2054 if you are willing to donate.

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