A demand to grow organic fruit and vegetables has resulted in agricultural enthusiast Trevin van der Walt initiating a project known as Urban Gardens.
Operating at a workshop in 9th Avenue in the Walmer township, as well as from his Walmer home, Van der Walt teaches urban communities how to produce their own food by using shade cloth tunnels and natural resources.
A former geography teacher in Kimberley, Van der Walt grew up on a farm near Springfontein in the Free State and has always had an interest in the natural environment.
“I came to Port Elizabeth in 2000 hoping to create a Bird World in Happy Valley as I have had an interest in aviculture since the age of six,” he said.
Although his idea for Happy Valley did not materialise, Van der Walt maintained his interested in agricultural matters and developed an organic cultivation process which helps clients create their own vegetable gardens.
“We receive requests from individuals or organisations for vegetable gardens, with the demand being huge.
Van der Walt said the aim of organic farming was to get the “flavour and nutrients back in our vegetables and fruits”.
“Organic vegetable growing addresses the problems of flavour and nutrient value.
“This way of farming also upgrades the soil in a natural way, making it more sustainable, with minimal impact on the environment.”
Van der Walt said crops were grown by clients mainly to feed themselves and their families.
“Some grow vegetables for feeding schemes, and sometimes there is an excess sold to members of the community.”
Van der Walt has created gardens at schools, clinics, churches, community centres and in rural areas around Port Elizabeth and as far as Lusikisiki in the Transkei.
The project has a community objective as well, striving to assist those who are impoverished.
“My experience of working in the field of food scarcity among the poorer communities has led me to believe that one of the most effective ways of uplifting desperate people is to involve them in growing their own food,” he said.
“We need a planned and committed drive to roll out community gardens in all our impoverished areas.”
Van der Walt added that anyone who wants to pursue organic farming needed to be committed and patient because “nature has its own pace”.
“You need to be selective with information you may access and not fall into the trap of gimmicks or claims of ‘miracle’ ways to do things,” he said.
“We recommend that you seek advice from reliable sources. Anyone dedicated to organic planting and concerned about the environment will be more than willing to assist.”
Van der Walt said organic farming was all about creating a natural growing environment in a mostly artificial, altered urban landscape.
“You need to create conditions and processes which closely match or mimic natural earth processes.
“Many natural resources which occur in rural areas are often scarce in urban areas, like water, soil, manures, sunlight and fresh air.”
He said his team of three workers could build an average garden in about a week, with the first harvest occurring within two months.
Van der Walt added that funding was one of their big challenges as they worked with many unemployed people.
“As a social entrepreneur I am dealing with the poor in addressing food scarcity and job creation,” he said.
“My work in the field of construction and training is totally dependent on social funding and, as a small organisation, the raising of funds is a major area of concern.”
Caption: Trevin van der Walt, of Urban Gardens, assists communities to produce their own organic crops in an urban setting. Photo: Supplied