Durban - A GROUP of homeless people in Durban, who started a vegetable garden during the Covid-19 lockdown, have secured a deal to supply fresh produce to a large supermarket.
The Elangeni Green Zone, which is situated on a plot of land behind the Elangeni Hotel at North Beach, began as a project by the eThekwini Municipality to encourage the homeless to create their own jobs.
Those involved in the project had been moved into a shelter at the start of the lockdown to curb the spread of Covid-19.
With the hope of changing their bleak circumstances, the previously homeless and unemployed men planted their first seedlings on June 16, 2020.
The Elangeni Green Zone project team recently signed a deal with Boxer Superstores to supply spinach, tomatoes and peppers.
Sizwe Mbatha, one of the gardeners at the Elangeni Green Zone, said they had been working hard to make the project a success.
“We are very excited because we never thought that within a few months we would get a deal like this, it doesn’t happen all the time,” he said.
Deon Wessels, who is the head of fresh produce at Boxer, said the superstore was proud to be the first retailer to buy produce in bulk from the Elangeni Green Zone.
“We are thrilled to see these entrepreneurial farmers make something out of nothing. This ground was just a park and now look at it, farmfresh produce is being harvested and incomes are being generated,” he said.
Boxer said the deal would generate continuous income for all the men and nourish Durban families with fresh organic vegetables.
Mbatha said the issue of space was the only challenge they currently faced.
“We need a bigger space now because our clientele is growing a lot,” he said.
The Elangeni Green Zone was also supplying their produce to residents, NPOs and churches, he said.
Mbatha said that as the project grew, they would like to bring in other homeless people because it was difficult for them to get employment.
“We are willing to rope them into our project,” he said.
Boxer is also donating seedlings, drums, gumboots, custom-created food safety guideline booklets, cleaning and hygiene products, among other items, to the project.
Boxer group food safety manager Joshua Ponsami said the superstore was committed to helping the communities they served and were backing these entrepreneurs 100%.
“As we work with them and our relationship grows, we will walk with them on this journey from their challenging beginnings to success as citybased farmers,” said Ponsami.
EThekwini Municipality said the city was grateful that the project was beginning to pay handsome dividends for the homeless gardeners, who had been living on the streets and faced difficulties, including drug addiction.
Municipality spokesperson Msawakhe Mayisela said Boxer had already started to procure fresh produce from the project, and the gardeners were making a meaningful contribution to society.
Mayisela added that the city was working tirelessly to secure other markets for them and to ensure that in every season they grew vegetables that were compatible with the weather of that season.