From a Garden in South Africa, to a Cafeteria in California: Sharing Meals and Good Ideas

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By Molly Theobald

Usually a conversation about world hunger conjures images of starving children in Africa. But while sub-Saharan Africa may be the epicenter of world hunger, the U.S. has a lot to learn from the agricultural practices in use there.

Right now there are countless organizations working on the ground to improve access to food, increase incomes, and provide nutritional education. And their successes hold lessons that we can benefit from right here at home.

Abalimi Bezekhaya is helping to end hunger in Cape Town, South Africa (Photo Credit: Marie Viljoen)

The organization Abalimi Bezekhaya, for example, a non-profit organization working in the informal settlements outside Cape Town, South Africa, is just one of many organizations that has found its own way to reduce local hunger in Africa.  Abalimi Bezekhaya is helping to turn the settlements into areas that produce food—and money—which in turn generates green spaces in order to alleviate poverty and protect the fragile surrounding ecosystem.  Providing training and materials, Abalimi Bezekhaya helps people to turn school yards and empty plots of land into gardens. Each garden is run by 6 to 8 farmers who, with support and time, are soon able to produce enough food to feed their families.

But while Abalimi Bezekhaya is bringing agriculture and food into the townships, it is also helping the townships to bring fresh produce into the city. With support from the Ackerman Pick n’ Pay Foundation, and in partnership with the South African Institute of Entrepreneurship (SAIE) and the Business Place Philippi, Abalimi Bezekhaya founded Harvest of Hope (HoH) in 2008. HoH purchases the surplus crops from 14 groups of farmers working in Abalimi Bezekhaya’s community plots, packages them in boxes and delivers them to selected schools where parents can purchase them to take home.

For families in Cape Town, HoH means fresh vegetables instead of the older, and often imported, produce at the grocery store. And for families of the farmers working with Hope of Harvest, it means a source of food, income, and improved quality of life.

There are similar projects in the Bay Area of the United States. Since 2001, for example, the Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF) has been helping to coordinate relationships between school cafeterias and local food producers. These relationships bring nutritious meals to students who might not otherwise be able to afford them, and provide a consistent source of income for local small-scale farmers who are struggling to make a living in the face of a national agricultural system that increasingly favors large, industrial farming operations. The Veggielution Community Farm is working with volunteers and youth to create a more sustainable food system in the Santa Clara Valley and in East San Jose.

Other cities are taking notice. In Washington, D.C., for example, the local farm to school program spent almost a year looking at programs all over the United States, including those in Portland, Oregon and others on the West Coast, as models to follow.  “There are so many people and organizations involved that it takes a lot of care and trial runs and screwing up to develop a successful farm to school program,” said Andrea Northrup, the Program Coordinator for the Farm to School Network in DC. “But it’s so valuable for the students, the farmers, and the entire community that we really wanted to get it right. So we looked to other cities and other programs for guidance.”

The DC program has learned valuable lessons and experienced success. Founded in 2008, it has already held a Farm to School Week in order to introduce farmers to schools and parents, and students to local food producers. This year the Farm to School Week plans to engage all 123 city public schools and all 70 charter schools and has plans for a more permanent program that would bring 60,000 meals containing fresh produce to the DC public school system every day during the school year.

In Cape Town, Washington, D.C., California, and all over the United States, successful programs are working on the ground to alleviate global hunger and poverty, improve livelihoods, and teach children healthy eating habits. Instead of viewing world hunger as a distant problem with no solution, we should pay attention to those fighting it all over the world. We just might learn a thing or two.

Molly Theobald is a Food and Agriculture research fellow at the Worldwatch Institute.

To purchase State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet please click HERE.

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