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The wheel turns full circle as rooftop gardens feed Joburgers


Used car tyres are pretty well useless, but not to some city dwellers who are using them to grow vegetables. Stacked tyres have become veggie patches on the rooftops of several inner city buildings. These miniature farms are feeding families with organic vegetables.

"We need to necklace hunger instead of necklacing people," says Hilda Pheto, chief executive officer of the Food Market Foundation.

The foundation was started byPauline Raphaely and Joyce Niland in response to the 1976 Soweto uprising, when fresh produce trucks going into the township were being overturned and set alight.

With R100 the two women started food gardens in Soweto, teaching people to grow vegetables, using organic principles, in door-size gardens.

Three blocks of flat - Douglas Village in Troyeville,Towerhill Mansions in Hillbrow and the Africa Diamond Building in the CBD - now boast lush veg gardens on their rooftops. It's a joint project between the Johannesburg Development Agency, the Joburg Housing Company, the Affordable Housing Company and the Food Market Foundation.

Pheto enthuses: "It's working because of good planning. We have the buy-in of the tenants - they are sold on the idea of providing for their needs."

The gardens are cared for by unemployed women in the buildings. "These are women who are passionate about making a difference in their own lives."

The rooftops have to be prepared for waterproofing. They are lined with a rubber membrane, plastic is placed under each stack of tyres, which is then filled with kitchen peelings, newspapers and compost.

Then in go the seedlings - cabbage, lettuce, spinach, beetroot and spring onions are planted winter, and tomatoes, green peppers, leaf mustard or morogo and Chinese cabbage are planted in summer.

"At Douglas Village the women are selling their excess harvest to other tenants in the building," says Pheto, who received the Businesswomen's Association of South Africa's 2012 Social Etrepreneur award.

She tells the story of how women were able to provide comfort to a fellow tenant in the building who lost her husband, by harvesting vegetables and cooking for her.

The vision is first to plant for their own needs, then to generate income from the excess. Now when they go home in December, Pheto says, they can take these skills with them and teach others.

Lindelwa Mangwana, 26, lives in Douglas Village and is unemployed. She says she now saves her kitchen peelings and egg shells to use in the garden. And, with her fellow gardeners in the building, she raids the rubbish bins to suitable material for compost.

"A bigger garden is my dream," she says.

When she returns to her home in the Eastern Cape she is going to plant a veggie garden. "Now I know, with all the information I have now." That information includes measuring gaps between plants, interplanting, watering with grey water, and using manure. She plans to spread the message.

Mangwana says although she is unemployed she is eating health food, despite organic food being more expensive.

Fresh vegetables in the inner city are not new to city dwellers. Joburg was once a place of farms, whether cattle-herding Tshwane farmers, or vegetable- and fruit-farming Boers.

From its first days in the 1880s, wagonloads of fresh produce were brought into town from farms like Braamfontein, Turffontein and Doornfontein.

Market square, now Beyers Naude Square, was a place where oxen and wagons ruled.

The eastern side of the square was a produce and general dealers' market, while the western half was a cattle market.

Market Square served the townsfolk for almost 30 years, before the market was moved into the elegant Edwardian building in Bree Street that we now know as Museum Africa and the Market Theatre.

The market building consisted of a hall where fruit, vegetables, flowers, butter, eggs, fish and meat were sold. Behind the main hall was a grain and forage section, a poultry market and a meat market annex.

The building contained 41 shops, a restaurant, a bank, post office and railway office. Farmers outspanned their oxen and wagons on the large open space outside the building, now Mary Fitzgerald Square.

Housewives popped into the market to purchase their weekly fruit and vegetable supplies. The market even delivered to households. And a woman could buy a live chicken and have it slaughtered, plucked, dressed and examined by an inspector before taking it home to roast with her fresh veg.

Space constraints meant a new site had to be found. In 1976 the fresh produce market moved to City Deep, and is now a huge market serving not only South Africa but surrounding countries too.


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