Maverick Citizen

Food Justice

FIELD WORK

Makers Valley: Joburg children follow the food journey — from the farm to their plates

Light Malungani educates children on plants during their tour of Mam Refiloe’s downtown farm in Bertrams, Johannesburg. (Photo: Michelle Banda)

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 2, relating to hunger, says ‘children and young people should be at the heart of food systems’. The goal’s aim is to collectively strengthen food systems to promote healthy diets and improve nutrition for children and young people. Are we doing enough?

On Saturday in Johannesburg, the Makers Valley Partnership (MVP) People’s Pantry, in collaboration with Safe Study and Skills Village (both incubated by the MVP), hosted a World Food Day Celebration.

MVP, with Safe Study — an educational support programme for children in Makers Valley, and Skills Village — an organisation that promotes the socioeconomic and environmental health and wealth of communities — welcomed about 40 children aged from five to 17 to the event. The children, from neighbouring areas, had all come from poor socioeconomic backgrounds and communities, blighted by unemployment and hunger in the inner city. 

Maverick Citizen was invited to witness the celebration.

Held at local organic farmer Mam Refiloe’s downtown farm in Bertrams, the food activists met to educate children on how their food gets to their plates, highlighting the importance of farming and “being part of the food one eats.”

Sandra van Oostenbrugge, coordinator of The People’s Pantry, an independent organisation formerly known as the MVP Food hub, said improving children’s nutrition required children to be part of food systems. 

“In the future, it is more important that children understand the entire food value chain — from growing crops to bringing food to the table, not only to fill their stomachs, but also to instil the culture of healthy eating habits that prevent stunting, malnutrition and obesity,” she said.

makers valley people's pantry
People’s Pantry coordinators (from left) Mthabisi Sithole, Joseph Mafa and Sandra Oostenbrugge at Mam Refiloe’s farm in Bertrams, Johannesburg. (Photo: Michelle Banda)

The event was divided into sessions where children learnt and shared their experiences with food. Children were given a tour of Mam Refiloe’s farm, wading through crops of kale and spinach, while learning more about the phases of growing vegetables from Light Malungani, an honours graduate in crop science who is working at the Bertrams Inner City Farm.

Coordinator Lungile Qhakaza said, “As Safe Study, we recognise that every child deserves to grow up well nourished physically and mentally. But for most of the children and young people in South Africa, and specifically the Maker’s Valley area, hunger is their everyday reality. That’s why they need to understand how food gets to them.”

Children are not passive recipients of the kind of food households buy and eat; they influence purchases and are the most affected by food insecurity.

Janet Landey of Skills Village and her team taught the children about social enterprise and the importance of sharing skills to acquire income as means to access food. 

Landey said, “We support the vision of feeding ourselves through food sovereignty and want children to also understand and be part of this. 

“Currently, through the YES programme, a joint initiative by the private sector and government assisting South Africa’s youth to gain work experience through employment placement, we are working towards creating food gardens in the local communities, with a daily marketplace at the Skills Village. This marketplace will create a dynamic linkage system that will bring buyers and sellers together not only for food, but for a range of creative items.”

Reflecting on the event, Qhakaza said it was great to see young minds engaged in critical conversations and solution-based intervention. The event was informative, although it was clear they had no prior sense of how their food was produced.

makers valley children
Mbali Mthethwa, 11, reflects through an artwork on how food arrives on their plates. (Photo: Michelle Banda)

The children were amazed at the size of seeds compared with the fruit and vegetables they know and consume, as they’d never seen how food was grown. They enjoyed their time at Mam Refiloe’s farm, saying they’d never before realised that a farm existed in the inner city.

Qhakaza hopes for more food-related educational programmes to be brought to the Makers Valley area for the children to gain a better understanding of food systems.

“Being in Mam Refilwe’s space was good as the children got to do experiential learning on appropriate food choices and exercise.”

The event concluded with a drawing session at which the children reflected on their food journey. Some of the drawings will be submitted to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation’s World Food Day poster contest. DM/MC

Maverick Citizen pavement garden competition!
Maverick Citizen supports local initiatives to improve access to affordable and nutritious food. We are holding a competition to try and find some of the best examples of community gardens, pavement gardens and ‘edible’ streets. Send us your photos and stories about your gardens and who benefits from them and enter our right to food competition! We are offering a first prize of R5,000 for the best local food garden and R1,000 each for three runners up. We will also feature and promote your efforts in our social justice journalism. Send entries to: [email protected]

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