Growing from strength to strength

Stalwarts Penny Neethling, Di Irish and founder, Jenny Findley, at the Tuesday morning market at the Somerset West Village Garden.

Jenny Findley’s dream of making a difference in the lives of street people has become a reality, through the community garden that she and a group of hard-working, dedicated volunteers pioneered just over three years ago (“Village garden helps the homeless”, Bolander, October 18 2017).

It’s hard to miss, located as it is on the corner of Drama and New streets, yet a surprising number of people are unaware of it, and what it has to offer.

Each Tuesday morning, the gates open to the public, and the freshly harvested organically grown seasonal vegetables go on sale to the public, for what seem like ridiculously low prices.

Homeless people are able to work in the garden for up to four hours per day in return for which they get one token per hour, which they can exchange at the Helderberg Street People’s Centre (HSPC), for a hot meal, a hot shower, or they can save up 20 tokens to get a replacement ID. The tokens are donated to the project by HSPC.

“Many people who sleep on the street have their ID books stolen. The Helderberg Street People’s Centre will also help them get an ID, which they need to go to the next level, that is getting a job,” says Jenny.

“Three years ago, we started with one person, and today we are up to 20 people a day who are working here and who benefit from the project. I’m pleased to say that at least six of the people who started off working here, have been placed and have jobs. One of them works in a bakery, some have gone into painting, and others into gardening (which skills they learn while working at the village garden) on a casual basis.

“We feel that we are making a difference to the lives of people on the street who work here, and helping them to regain their dignity.”

The garden is now self-sustaining, according to Jenny. “After fully developing the area, we started selling the vegetables and have actually managed to keep going the whole time with the money we make from selling the vegetables, to keep the garden going, for the fertilisers, the seeds and general day-to-day expenses we have for the garden,” she says.

“Everything that comes out of the garden after harvesting, is reused to make our own compost, so it’s a closed cycle.

“We are totally organic as well, we use no pesticides or herbicides,” says Jenny.

But the project has not been without its problems, and the biggest challenge is a sustainable water supply.

Jenny explains: “We have applied to the Department of Agriculture for a borehole. The department has agreed that we can get a borehole but it has only given us R82 000 and it’s not easy to put a borehole in for that amount of money.

“We have had a dowser in and there are a couple of spots where we know there is water.

“We’ve had GEOS Groundwater consultants in and they tell us that we are on the Lourens River alluvial plain, which means that we will have to drill in rocky ground, many large boulders. So whoever drills the borehole needs to have an Odex drill bit.

“That does make it more expensive, but that aside, we also need a borehole pump and the piping from the borehole into the tanks.

“In the meantime, Helderberg Village is bringing us non-potable water on a weekly basis, and we
are using watering cans to water so that we can keep the gardens going.”

Anybody who would like to help Jenny and her team can contact her on info@swvg.co.za or 082 901 2636, or Di Irish on 082 376 0377.