Words: Kit Heathcock Images: Supplied
Urban farming project, the Neighbourhood Farm, grows fresh organic produce in the South Peninsula, with new shops recently opened at False Bay Hospital and Laerskool Paul Greyling in Fish Hoek. Justin Bonello, cook, filmmaker, author, and host of The Ultimate Braai Master TV series, tells us about creating a wellbeing economy through these community farms and shops.
How did the Neighbourhood Farm start?
Neighbourhood Farm was founded to right the wrongs of our food production system. It’s a registered NPO (Not for Profit Organization) whose primary focus is to grow food, minds and community by nurturing children and neighbours so that they become advocates for change. We wanted to connect children to their food and how our food should be grown, and to bring back the village of our collective memory, in a social enterprise that focuses on the wellbeing of our community.
Why did you choose this area for the farms?
I live in the South Peninsula and believe that doing good must take place in your own backyard first. The South Peninsula is a microcosm of what society faces in South Africa. Extremely affluent neighbourhoods (Noordhoek, Kalk Bay etc.), are bordered by severely under-resourced communities (Masiphumele, Red Hill and Ocean View) and we have a large middle class. Our solution needs to benefit all community members if it is to become a sustainable model for other communities.
How did you find the premises?
We identified suitable, available ground for our farms and stores, centrally situated in easily accessible neighbourhoods. You’d be amazed at how much under-utilised ground there is. When we started, there was a deep mistrust from community members worried about land grabs, but this revealed how broken our communities are, how important our goals are in mending them, and motivated us further.
How do the shops tie in with the work you do in the community?
They connect farm produce and neighbours, and provide the economic heart of the project. Ongoing overheads and operational costs are covered by the sale of produce. We now employ 25 previously unemployed community members, on its own a great success story. Neighbourhood Farm’s secret weapon is that customers get a nutrient-dense organic punch from our produce, a more subtle but really important contribution to society’s health as a whole.
How many people visit your business each day?
Just over a hundred neighbours a day, and steadily climbing. Our farms and shops are becoming little hubs for community engagement.
Do you have any expansion plans?
Our dream is that other communities will replicate what we’re doing using our learnings. We’re installing a 6000m2 training market garden at Ocean View Secondary school in 2019. We aim to open shops in Simonstown, Kalk Bay and Ocean View to support the training garden and to provide those neighbours with good produce,. Also to train our growers in the full economic loop from farm to farm shop.
What’s your most popular item?
Our fruit and vegetables, and we’re very proud of how our shops give a sales platform to local community members. Vincent the Baker from Masiphumulele, has increased sales of his real, preservative-free bread by 800% and now employs more previously disadvantaged community members to meet demand. Stories like this make it all worthwhile and help us realize our goal of a well-being economy that keeps community members’ money local and allows us to invest in each other.