How a lockdown hobby turned into a food programme that intends to feed generations to come
The Covid-19 lockdown spurred many people to reinvent themselves, and this could not be more true for construction company owner turned farmer, Jaco Erasmus.
What started out as a lockdown hobby for the Kempton Park resident has turned into a food programme aimed at feeding people for generations to come.
Erasmus started 21 greenhouses and joined forces with community members to grow their own food. He said his family lived in a very small house and when the lockdown came, he decided to make a small greenhouse at the back of his garden from a few pieces of wood and old shade netting, to grow veggies and to become more self-sustainable, eat clean and organic while having fun.
“I posted a few pictures of my tomatoes, beans and spinach that were thriving. A few people were very interested to have the same, but no one had space at home, or needed guidance on their farming adventure. Coming from a farming background, I learnt from my mother that you can literally grow any plant from seeds. I decided to help others with the same ambition as myself and share my knowledge. I searched for a plot to rent and was lucky to find one very close to where I lived,” he said.
Almost a year after planting that first seed in his makeshift greenhouse, Erasmus now rents out greenhouses to 17 would-be farmers in his area and the children are involved too.
“I hope to expand, there is clearly a big demand for people to farm their own crops. I hope to go out and build this module or greenhouse infrastructure in towns and rural areas. With the right help and guidance we hope to ensure healthy crops and 100% harvest rate. I grow fruit and nut trees from seeds to 18 months old. I use Aquaponics grow systems with fish (and their waste) as fertiliser to feed the plants. I grow anything from herbs to strawberries to leafy vegetables,” said Erasmus.
And it seems the surrounding community have bought into Erasmus’ idea too.
“It's in a person’s DNA to plant a seed and grow food. People feel earthed when they work with their hands in soil and very satisfied to harvest their crop. This project makes that possible for people to enjoy,” he said.
Erasmus admits that being a farmer is not for the faint-hearted.
“I get up early and make sure my plants get water. The earlier the better. I make sure that our 25000 lire water storage tanks are full and ready to be used for the day. I install irrigation systems, build greenhouses for other farmers, and do general maintenance to make sure the system works perfectly,” he said.
Word of Erasmus’ green fingers spread and caught the attention of The AfriCAN Child Leaders Programme which was launched in March 2019 at the Nelson Mandela Foundation in Houghton with the aim of coaching future leaders.
Founder Anthea Thyssen-Ambursley has now partnered with Erasmus to teach young people from five to 25 years, how to grow their own food and become self-sustainable.
"Entrepreneurial education from primary school age is crucial to eradicating socio-economic challenges with the high employment among our youth in South Africa," Thyssen-Ambursley said.
She believes that ubuntu leadership teaching is the only liberated way to teach young people to become impactful future leaders.
“You become an Urban Farmer member and have access to all the farmers to learn from, to share with and to help each other. This collective effort of wanting to produce food has become a purposeful journey for all members. From Mandy the florist to Nasser the organic chilli farmer, Erasmus was able to unite passionate amateur farmers to become the urban farmers’ family,” she said.
Ambassador for the programme, Barbara Lawrence-Strydom, says the sad reality for many South Africans is that they never inherited seeds to allow them to reconnect with the earth.
“If we don’t plant, we will always need to buy. We must not turn food into a commodity. There is no need for anyone to be hungry. We have the land. Let’s leave seeds as an inheritance for future generations,” she said.
Lawrence-Strydom said as people we need to own what we eat.
“The land is calling us. We have to imagine land. We have to liberate the next generation,” she said.
Farmers rent the greenhouses for R2500 per month, and sell and eat what the land offers them.