The shop stocks produce harvested fresh from the school garden. It is a new and unusual concept, unlike most school tuck shops across the country where fast foods and sugary drinks are the big sellers.
The Healthy Living Alliance (Heala) is currently advocating for a healthy food environment in schools. The organisation’s recently released School Nutrition Audit Report shows that one of the common foods sold at school tuckshops and vendors is the kota, sold alongside excessive quantities of sugary drinks.
The opening of vegetable tuck shops in schools is a positive step by Neighbourhood Farm towards changing the school food environment.This project is committed to the development of community market gardens for the growing of organic crops at schools in the deep south of Cape Town stretching from Muizenberg through to Kommetjie.
The 17 schools in this area represent the full economic spectrum – from well-resourced, to critically in need. With close to 15 000 children at these schools and over 100 000 community members, Neighborhood Farm believes that all of them have the right to access nutritious food and the knowledge to grow if for themselves.
“Not only do we grow great, wholesome food, create local employment, utilise renewable energy and give our teachers real edible educational resources, we lobby for essential change to be implemented at all schools in South Africa,” said Justin Bonello, the director of Neighbourhood Farm.
This project is more than just providing vegetables. Each school will build an outdoor classroom that suits the children’s needs.
“Here geography, science, biology and economics can be brought to life. Around these classrooms, we aim to design, install and manage sustainable permaculture gardens complete with fruit-bearing trees, butterfly havens and perennial vegetable gardens and spaces for children to feel safe in,” he said.
“The outdoor classroom is a space homed in a biologically rich environment where we can give children edible education. Where we can bring an education syllabus to life. Geography, science, biology, even economics and mathematics – all have their roots in nature and the outdoors,” Bonello added.
Why do School food gardens always fail?
According to Bonello 90% of food gardens at schools fail for two reasons: they rely on the parents and teachers to run and maintain them and, secondly, none of them are economically viable ventures.
“This is where the Neighbourhood Farm project hopes to do things differently by involving the community closest to the school,” he said.
“Our children need to take ownership, and we must provide them with the tools, resources, education and information that allows them to make informed decisions about how they live their lives, now, and into the future. Schools need to become the beating hearts of all communities,” Bonello added.
“For every generation that grows up in an urban environment, the disconnect between how food is grown and eventually reaches the dinner table has become so wide, that children assume food comes from shops,” he said, adding that they needed to learn the real process.
According to Bonello the Department of Education is not doing enough in terms of nutrition education.
“A large portion of affluent schools are banning processed and sugary foods from school tuckshops, but at the schools in poorer communities there is a lack of knowledge about the value of nutritionally dense foods and their benefits. It is causing a situation where children may be getting a meal every day, but are nutritionally starving,” he said.
He said it was important for the DOE to include nutrition education into the syllabus.
“In our heart of hearts, we want to reach every school and community in South Africa,” Bonello said.