The Manzimdaka Junior Secondary School sits atop a blustery hill in the Eastern Cape, South Africa. Here, children of all ages come to learn in tidy classrooms between brick walls. To each side, the views are astonishing; vast green fields littered by the trails of livestock – steep rock climbs marked by the etchings of rivers. The village sits at the foot of the Drakensberg Mountains in a part of South Africa that is vastly different from the hustle and bustle of Johannesburg. In January 2014 the students received something new to look at through their classroom windows –small seedlings poking their heads out of the ground in measured rows.
This ~1/3 acre revitalized school garden is the result of months of planning and effort by the LAND Project partners and the Manzimdaka school. It was established to promote diet diversity and address widespread undernutrition at the school and in the surrounding area. Ten University of Wisconsin global health field course students helped establish the garden, using their time, energy, and sweat to clear the land, remove refuse, design the garden, and plant both seedlings and seeds in the South African soil. The team worked side-by-side with community members, teachers, and students from Kumanzimdaka, engaging in cultural exchange while they worked.
Garden produce is intended to supplement student diets by providing a plethora of fresh vegetables and fruits year-round, thanks to the installation of a rainwater collection system for the garden on school grounds. With water, the growing season for many crops can be extended. Students and volunteers selected tomatoes, peppers, strawberries, carrots, beans, radishes, cabbages, and onions were planted to jumpstart the garden. The garden is managed by the school in collaboration with a local women’s cooperative that also benefits from the fresh vegetables. School children have the opportunity to participate in planting, maintenance, and harvesting from the garden. Students are encouraged to replicate what they learn at home if possible. Along with produce from the garden, school children receive nutrition education from both the school and the LAND Project, ensuring that students understand the value and importance of eating a balanced diet inclusive of fresh produce.
We want to see the garden working for itself and producing for the learners. At least our learners are going to get some fresh vegetables from the garden… we are planning to integrate the school garden project into the school curriculum. They will learn skills from the school, and we are going to give them some seeds … at least to have something, a small patch at home.
– School garden coordinator and instructor, Nobuntu Nkwezi
In August, a team of students from California Polytechnic University will return to the school to make garden improvements and updates. In the future, the LAND Project aims to integrate more perennial crops and water savings techniques into the garden design.