Open Arms of Minnesota

A Letter from South Africa: Gardening with Ikamva Labantu

By Kent Linder, International Program Director

As many of you know, I’ll be in South Africa until December, working with our partners here on various projects. Last week, I met Emisa and Champion, pictured here.

They are gardeners at Ikamva Labantu, a partner organization, part of a team of five very dedicated people who tend vegetables in townships outside of Cape Town, South Africa. For the past couple of years, Open Arms’ international program has been funding this program, including the gardener’s salaries, seeds and other supplies. They grow vegetables without the use of harmful pesticides, and even though the ground is sandy and not ideal for incredible gardens, they have some pretty incredible things growing.

The vegetables get used by the community in areas where food is scarce, especially healthy food. In a place where 20% of people are living with HIV, it’s essential that people have access to good vegetables. Many of the homes include caregivers who look after many young children, most likely orphaned because of illness or poverty.

So, just like at Open Farms, there was no shortage of prepping, planting, watering or weeding during the days I was able to “dig in” at Ikamva Labantu. When I asked Champion why he was doing this work, he answered: “Gardening is my passion.” We spent two days together, getting plots ready for maize (corn) and tomatoes. Before I arrived to assist them, the farmers had asked how old I and how fit I was; I don’t know if they expected me to be able to help them accomplish anything. But we filled almost every open plot of land. In addition to getting the vegetables planted, Champion made it clear that the garden was to be maintained to the highest level. It had to be spotless. He was proud of it, and rightly so.

While we were planting the corn, Champion was spacing the seeds very far apart. I asked him about this, stating that in the US we plant the sweet corn much closer together. Champion insisted that it was the way that would be best. “The plants want to be free. They must be free.” I thought that was a great explanation. We all deserve to be free, don’t we?

The vegetables will grow. They’ll certainly be enjoyed. And they made a big difference to nearly 200 families last year in the townships surrounding Cape Town.

It’s always amazing to realize the impact we have with our international programs.

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