“Even right in Howick, there are people with not enough to eat,” remarks Charlene Russell “I worry about the kids especially.” Realising that not everyone has the time or space to grow their own and hoping to inspire people to grow more food, she has created a Share Garden on the pavement outside her home where there are lots of passing feet. The cherry tomatoes are just over, the brinjals are plump and the dark green spinach leaves clearly packed with nutrition. “One morning early, I spotted two little boys picking spinach – I reckon their mom had sent them on an errand! Sometimes people seem a bit embarrassed to help themselves, but I think they will get used to the idea.” The sign clearly says Share Garden – Hlakula bese uyaka ukudinga, Food for Everyone! How much nicer than traipsing to the supermarket for some greens that may have been harvested the week before?
Every day, Charlene picks something from her garden to feed her family. Her baby, Darwin, has only ever eaten home grown food. “It’s so easy, I cook and blend whatever there is and freeze it into blocks to defrost when I need to.” In the future, she intends to only eat vegetables grown organically in her own garden. “The more you grow, the less you buy and you know it is organic produce. I wish all the babies could eat this good food.”
Charlene was inspired by the Guerrilla Gardening movement – planting food and flowers in nooks and crannies and turning sidewalks into veggie plots – unauthorized cultivation of plants or crops on vacant land. “I loved the idea of doing something unexpected and out of the ordinary”. So to celebrate her birthday, her friends all pitched in to a work party to help get her verge garden started, which made the initial digging a whole lot of fun. The rest has been pretty easy, a little planting, plenty of mulching and some watering when it doesn’t rain. Pavements are seriously underutilised space. Can you imagine how much food we could grow in the suburbs if everyone planted on their pavements? Even leaving room for pedestrians to walk, there is easily 20 square metres on everyone’s verge. Next summer, Charlene plans to plant a hedge of colourful heirloom mielies and sunflowers for everyone to enjoy.
In Pietermaritzburg Nicky Kretzman has a share garden on the road verge outside her home. Her motive is purely altruistic and her lesson is that one can care for others. ‘There is no need to ask. Just help yourself,’ she says. If that means the monkeys get some too, well she’s happy to share. She would rather support beggars in this way than give them money.
When verge planting catches on in a neighbourhood, it is a great way of cultivating community and there are examples where edibility in the streets encourages people to interact with their neighbours. Gifts inspire gratitude and generosity is infectious. In contrast to the age of money where we pay for everything, hopefully we will take stock of our busy lives and realise the rewards of sharing and that we need each other.