Above: The team at Klapmuts. Photo: Lizelle Lötter Photography.

– Danie Keet

In celebration of Arbor Day 2020, an early childhood development (ECD) centre in Klapmuts became home to twelve new trees.

The African Data Technologies (ADTech) team and members of Stellenbosch-based NPO, Ranyaka Community Transformation, planted apple, lemon, elderflower and indigenous Celtis africana trees at Klapmuts Junior Academy (KJA), where the two organisations launched the Farming for the Future initiative in 2019.

The children at KJA planted their own Celtis africana tree in the middle of the sandpit in front of the school building. In two to five years’ time, when those little hands are writing and drawing in “big school”, the next round of learners at KJA will be able to play in its shade.

Some of the cultivated vegetables grown at the centre. Photo: Lizelle Lötter Photography.

Some of the cultivated vegetables grown at the centre. Photo: Lizelle Lötter Photography.

The vegetable tunnel in Klapmuts. Photo: Lizelle Lötter Photography.

The vegetable tunnel in Klapmuts. Photo: Lizelle Lötter Photography.

After spending months of lockdown at home, the children are elated to be back at their ECD centre – and spirits were high as all celebrated the sunshine and the prospect of new growth.

The Klapmuts Junior Academy is one of 60 early childhood development centres that is part of the Nedbank Proud of my Town programme, for which Ranyaka is the implementation agent. The food gardens project at the ECD centre is co-sponsored by Nedbank, ADTech, donors from the United States and, through donations-in-kind, BUCO.

In 2019, Ranyaka, in partnership with African Data Technologies (ADTech), launched the Farming for the Future initiative – an idea where seedlings are grown and nurtured by the children at the local centre, under the guidance of a full-time caretaker from the local community.

Once the seedlings are established, these are either purchased by Stellenbosch residents to plant in their own gardens or else allowed to grow to maturity and be harvested to supplement the food provided by the centre itself. Where possible, seedlings are also donated to those in the nearby local community, who have been identified as potential “agripreneurs”, for them to nurture and harvest for their own income.

The jewel in the crown of this initiative is a brand-new vegetable tunnel at the centre. The construction of the tunnel was completed towards the end of June 2020 and was co-sponsored by international donors, Nedbank and a national building supplies company.

The tunnel was recently completed. Photo: Lizelle Lötter Photography.

The tunnel was recently completed. Photo: Lizelle Lötter Photography.

But the real beauty of the project lies in how it can benefit both the direct and broader community in so many ways. It not only addresses food security, but it also serves as an income generator – both for the centre, as well as those “agripreneurs” who grow the vegetables and herbs for resale.

Wihan Bekker from ADTech explains: “This model not only improves food security. It also empowers households by providing high-grade compost, educating children at ECD centres that farming is not about someone working in a field for 10 hours a day – you can ‘farm’ in your own back yard to supplement your dinner with nutritious fresh produce. In addition, the model assists communities to become increasingly self-sustainable and more resilient.”

Through the sale of seedlings, the centre can receive an additional income. Through purchasing the seedlings, local community members are given the opportunity to “make a difference”, to support the ECD centre and to receive something in return. Through growing the seedlings to maturity and harvesting the fruits of their labour, the children not only contribute to the food provided at the centre but also develop a great sense of pride and responsibility from an early age.

Not only do the children learn about life cycles of a plant, but through this, they can also learn more about themselves through developing an awareness of what it takes to be resilient in times of trial. Imagine the impact of bringing up children who have such rich experiential learning in times such as these, and how they can grow the spirit of self-sufficiency, breaking cycles of dependency by becoming the farmers of the future.

What makes this project that much more special is that it testifies to the power of generosity amidst grief – and the joy of transformation despite tragedy.

When Kristin Carlin lost her husband, Todd, to illness in November 2019, she requested that family, friends and colleagues make a donation to Ranyaka to launch an initiative that would honour the memory of Todd rather than sending flowers to his memorial service.  Despite her own loss, she reached out to others in need.

“We first crossed paths with Kristin when Ranyaka director, Johan Olivier, met Kristin’s business partner, Sandra Myburgh, in 2018. We immediately realised that we were fellow travellers – pursuing the same destination, albeit from opposite ends of the world.”

“Today, Kristin and Sandra’s New York-based investment management firm, Fern Impact Partners LLC, collaborates with Ranyaka to help bring positive and sustainable impact to South Africa. The brand-new greenhouse at Klapmuts Junior Academy ECD centre in the Western Cape, province of Sandra’s country of birth, is a fitting milestone in this journey – a place where new life begins. A place of nourishment and nurturing. And a place of healing,” says Sonya Olivier of Ranyaka.