Whenever I visit the township, I stop at the Vuka Wenza veggie stall on Mandela Drive to buy some freshly picked food. Usually interesting greens – imifino, or a pumpkin. In summer there are peppers and chillies and in winter lots of cabbages and sweet potatoes too. On this visit I decided to stay and chat a while. Mr Ntshali, Chairman of the Vuka Wenza Co-op invited me to visit the plot where they grow their vegetables and told me the story of how they began while we walked. Set up in 2004 as a paprika growing initiative, with 10 members and government funding – the heavy rains that year completely destroyed the crop. Realising that paprika might not be the most sensible crop for the area, they diversified into other crops and began selling at the pension pay out points. In 2006 the group took over the little wooden structure on Mandela Drive to trade daily.
Their plot is well fenced and has a big compost heap, barrels of manure tea brewing and lots and lots of vegetables in various stages of growth. On the edge is a pretty little office, a turquoise painted corrugated iron structure, were they hold meetings and change into their gardening gear. There are lots of peach trees which were about to burst into bloom.
Like all gardeners, their work is governed by the seasons. In summer they start at 5am, stop work in the fields to set up the stall at 11 and trade until six. In winter, work in the garden only starts at 7 and they close the stall at 4.30. Being on the Main Road is great as many people stop on their way past, teachers going home to the cities or people visiting relatives in the country. Apparently, when they started, locals were a bit suspicious of buying their food on the street.
Fortunately, free roaming goats and cows (the bane of township gardens) can’t get in, but crows are a bother and Mr Ntshali quipped “Scarecrows just don’t work!” He reckoned they have plenty of snakes around too and they love eating the strawberries! They have stopped planting carrots because the local boys always climb the fence to help themselves.
Excess produce goes to the local Children’s Shelter and they help passersby who are hungry too. The Co-op hopes to grow garlic and peanuts to expand their range and possibly even have a stall at the Karkloof Farmer’s Market in Howick one day to expand their market.
Before I headed home, I stocked up on Mr Ntshali’s favourite greens – intofeshe (kale) and bought a few pumpkins, a bright orange one called amajale njingi and a very wrinkly green one. Am having the green one for supper tonight.