By Ioulia Fenton
The Tlhago Primary Agricultural Cooperative has brought nature to the roof-scape of Johannesburg, South Africa. Since July 2010, the cooperative’s six organizers (two men and four women) have planted two rooftop gardens at the heart of the metropolis and, through outreach and educational activities, have transferred urban gardening skills to more than 100 people from local communities.
“When people come to the city to look for a job they struggle because all that they are used to [in the countryside] is planting vegetables. The city does not have any land, so we show them how to grow on the roof,” said Tshediso Phahlane, Deputy Chair of the cooperative. Everything is planted using sustainable, organic methods and the gardens produce a wide variety of vegetables and greens, including cabbage, spinach, carrots, mustard leaf, and CM Kale (African spinach). The produce is sold to the rooftop gardens’ local patrons and additional income is secured from the preparation and sale of traditional medicines such as cough syrups, massage ointments, and herbal creams.
At the heart of the cooperative’s skills transfer program is the organization’s desire to educate people about climate change and empower them to take practical action. “Not everyone knows about climate change and it is our responsibility to do something about that. Farmers can see it happening all around them; it is uncharacteristically hot right now and they are worried about losing their seeds and harvests if October—the planting month—is too cold. So people are very open to listening to ideas and doing something about the problem,” said Phahlane.