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Garden of Eden provides hope in poverty-wracked Westbury

11 February 2020 - 07:00 By Phathu Luvhengo
Darion Petersen and Shaqille Essack from Kwintsimi Yase-Eden, a community-driven greenhouse project providing fresh vegetables to residents in Westbury, Johannesburg.
Darion Petersen and Shaqille Essack from Kwintsimi Yase-Eden, a community-driven greenhouse project providing fresh vegetables to residents in Westbury, Johannesburg.
Image: ALON SKUY

While Westbury might be synonymous with crime, drugs and gangsterism, all hope is not lost as two young men put their passion for farming to good use.

“There is no growth here. Everything is becoming a norm. Drugs, gangsterism, crime are all normal here,” said Shaquille Essack, 26, who defied focusing on the negative aspects in his community in the west of Johannesburg.

Passionate about farming, Essack and his friend Darion Petersen are adamant that planting vegetables will yield positives for their community.

Through their Tuin van Eden, which translates to Garden of Eden, they supply fresh vegetables in their suburb.

“Once you plant a seed you see growth. It is not like there is a bigger accomplishment, but when it is growing we know there is growth, and maybe out of that we will also get what we want in life,” said Essack.

He said young people see unemployed elders in their community driving expensive cars and are influenced to become involved in crime and drugs.

“They don’t have the exposure to start growing vegetables in their backyards. If we can give them instructions then many young people can get involved,” he said.

Essack and Petersen supply vegetables at low prices and even hand out to some residents who cannot afford to pay. They believe their project will help many people in their community to have affordable and fresh vegetables.

Maya Cousin, who started buying vegetables from the two early last year, said their project is helping many citizens in the suburb.

“Their vegetables are fresh and delivered straight to us,” she said.

Petersen and Essack were introduced to hydroponic gardening by Essack's mother, Fiona Essack, who has since registered the Kwintsimi Yase-Eden co-operative.

Fiona, who is director of the co-operative, initially got an opportunity from the city's development department's food programme to help in her community and teach people how to plant vegetables.

Essack and Petersen focus on the agriculture aspects of the co-operative. Two other members focus on catering and one on the garden, which produces fresh vegetables that are then used for a feeding scheme at Westbury Secondary School.

"We have lots of people in our community who needs extra help. You might not make a lot of money but at least you can feed someone," Fiona said.

Shaqille Essack and Darion Petersen are growing vegetables in Westbury, and selling them at lower prices to residents. They are also giving vegetables to some who can't afford to pay.
Shaqille Essack and Darion Petersen are growing vegetables in Westbury, and selling them at lower prices to residents. They are also giving vegetables to some who can't afford to pay.
Image: ALON SKUY

The city’s manager for urban agriculture, Gladness Boikanyo, introduced them to hydroponic gardening, a method of growing plants without soil by using mineral nutrients dissolved in water.

“Fiona was part of our programme and she then registered a co-operative and asked the young men to be part of it. That’s when we requested them to assist because we could see they are already committed,” she said.

Boikanyo said the two were part of the greenhouse at Westbury Transformation Development Centre (WTDC).

Essack, who grew up in Mthatha in Eastern Cape in a family who own a huge farm, moved to Westbury as a child, but says farming was always embedded in his DNA.

“When you plant a seed and see how it grows, it feeds your soul in many ways. Whenever you are playing with sand it makes you feel like a kid again,” he said.

Essack said as they started learning about the hydroponic method, there was a need to give back and teach other people to plant vegetables in their backyards.

“Last month we harvested carrots, onions and potatoes which we sell to our people at a minimal price. We also give to others who cannot afford to pay,” he said.

Petersen said he was introduced to gardening by his mother when he was young. He recalled that they always had a garden in their backyard to grow vegetables.

“I always wanted to learn how it is done. Vegetables take time to grow but through this method, it is only a matter of weeks,” he said.


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