Garden looks to grow a brighter future

One of the gardens project organisers, Mishka Bassadien, getting the site ready for the opening.

Caring for the earth, caring for each other – this is the slogan of the new Bo-Kaap community garden which is scheduled to be blessed at an opening tomorrow.

One of the aims of the garden is to encourage youngsters to get outside and get their hands dirty – in a good way. They are hoping the garden at Upper Leeuwen Park will be the first of many in the historic suburb.

The project, in which the Bo-Kaap Civic and Ratepayers’ Association as well as the Bo-Kaap Neighbourhood Watch are also involved, was started last year after the group received funding from the Western Cape Department of Agriculture. It is currently on a five-year lease from the City of Cape Town’s City Parks department and is being sponsored by the non-profit Neo Foundation.

One of the organisers, Mishka Bassadien, said one of the drivers of the project was that there was no space for gardening in the Bo-Kaap. She said the group envisioned the project to be used for youth development, economic empowerment and about building positive relationships.

“It is about a positive space for the kids to play and to keep all the negative elements out of the park. It’s also very beneficial to get kids outside. Kids are becoming cut off from the natural instinct which is a love for people and the earth.

“What’s very important for us is pride and identity and to sustain it for future generations. It should instil pride in the community and have kids want to continue to live in the area.”

Ms Bassadien said there were many challenges facing future generations of the area, the main one being gentrification. “We would like this to be a platform for other gardens to flourish in the open spaces and for women to take them over. It is also a form of income so they will be able to afford their rates. A lot of people are forced to move because of the economic situation. All the new developments which are happening are in the media’s attention but this is cool because it’s the opposite to the concrete jungle. It is about bringing greenery and to have a space for the community to evolve.

“We are different races and cultures in the community but it is about sustaining that core heritage. At the same time it is about adapting to the new neighbours and encouraging dialogue.”

She said it was important for men to get involved in the project as well. “Some men love gardening but because of society might think it is uncool. We want to break that mould as well.” She added that this was going to be a great way to clean up the park, bring in positive energy and encourage healthy eating.

Ms Bassadien said they had also already started building relationships with some of the schools in the area.

She said that general reaction from members of the community had been positive.

Ms Bassadien said the main challenge of running the garden would be the water restrictions, which were announced last week. The water restrictions were raised to level three by the City of Cape Town last week. But the group is looking at alternatives such as using fresh water tanks. “We are going to have to think about plants that don’t use much water and all of those environmental logistics.”

Another one of the garden’s founders, Megan Adams, said it was important to encourage healthy living and to get people outside. The Bo-Kaap resident said she had always been keen to start a garden. “Many people in the area don’t have space to have a garden. It’s about changing a mindset and getting the community outside. People spend too much time inside watching television.”

Ms Adams said they were already being affected by the City of Cape Town’s level three water restrictions and the project was not yet off the ground.

Ms Adams, who works as a graphic designer in Observatory, said she was positive about the success of the project. “It’s about slowing people’s lives down. There is this instant gratification when going to a supermarket and buying vegetables. But nothing in life ever comes that fast.”