Cultivating Change With Journalism

Cultivating Change With Journalism
by Laura Durham

We gaze at the hard ground with wide eyes – we have a lot to do. We have just arrived at Grahamstown Primary School to help extend their vegetable garden. This is not how a group of journalists typically spend their Tuesday afternoons.

We come prepared in our takkies and hats and 11-year-old Gamat Borez is quick to direct us to the forks and spades lying around. He instructs us to start digging the ground and a few of us hurry away to our media equipment so as not to undertake in the manual labour. For most of us, the only regular exercise we get is lifting a draft glass to our lips in the Rat, so after just a few minutes loud panting can be heard. The seven Grade five and Grade six boys who are helping us snicker to themselves at our wheezy efforts at loosening the very hard ground.

We soon get into the strenuous work and it doesn’t take long before we tag team some of the onlooking members to do their share. 12-year-old Geoghan Loutz came back with a pickaxe and made our efforts look pitiful as he began to make serious progress on the designated area. The boys busy themselves with fetching water in giant blue watering cans from a nearby tap and the photographers amongst us get snapping. Gamat’s mom, Aloma, arrives with a bowl full of frozen juice packets to refresh us seeing as “we’ve been working so hard”. It would certainly seem like it judging by our red sweaty faces but the boys were still being much more effective in their digging! There is a constant chattering of Afrikaans between the boys, interrupted occasionally by instructions from Gamat. Aloma and Gamat are the garden’s caretakers and since they live just across the road, they weed and water the garden at least twice a week. Aloma is a housewife and spends much of her time looking after her daughter who was recently diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. She smiles as she explains how much she enjoys gardening and seeing Gamat blossom under the responsibility given to him as caretaker.

The current garden has spinach, cabbage, onions, beetroot and carrots sprouting happily and we’d brought along tomato plants, lettuce, beans and spinach to add some more variety. The vegetables grown in the garden are used by the school to supplement the feeding scheme that is already in existence. Principal Leon Coetzee explains how a garden was first started up as part of Umthathi’s schools project and the Umthathi facilitator, Xolani Mountain said how he “went there to do gardening with the kids and teachers but then they had problems with people of the community who stole poles and stuff”. The poles supported the fence that protected the garden from roaming goats. The failed garden was started up again by Brian Fitzhenry, a volunteer, and it is this same garden that we are extending today.

The problem with starting up any project is making it sustainable but as Coetzee says, if “pupils enjoy it and there is community involvement”, then the sustainability of the garden is insured. Even Coetzee gets involved in the extension project and begins banging bricks into the hole to support the fence pole. Funnily enough, while this is being done a nosy goat starts making his way towards us but two of the boys scamper off after him shouting abuse in Afrikaans, much to the delight of the photographers who have their cameras in hand. In the meantime, the different sub-groups of journalists present (TV, radio, writers and photographers) pull some of the boys aside to interview them for their various projects and a chorus of “Please Mr Carrot” permeates the cooling afternoon air. Eventually everyone gets ready for the final stage of the garden extension (which has taken a lot longer than any of us thought!)

It is now time for planting, and the journalism students are looking exhausted. The late afternoon sun is hidden by a foreboding grey mass of clouds and so we hurry to finish up the project. The boys poke holes with their fingers in the freshly turned soil and they sprinkle the tiny seeds into the moist pockets of earth. The fence is nailed shut so that no nosy goats get a chance to sample a vegetable appetiser. The final step in the garden extension is to wash off the mud from the tools and pack up our equipment. We promise to be back in eight days to witness the first few sprouts emerging from the soil(which will hopefully have survived the pummelling hail), and with a wave goodbye, head back to our normal lives.

But at least we can go to bed knowing that our tired limbs are as a result of hard work that will benefit a community in the long run, rather than just another meaningless late night on the Friar’s dance floor.


About Ukulima Grahamstown

Ukulima means 'to cultivate' in isiXhosa and we felt it was a very appropriate name for our project since we are exploring how food gardens are a local and sustainable solution to the global crisis that is food security.

We are a group of third year journalism students that were given the topic 'food gardens' as part of our Critical Media Production course. We are a multimedia group consisting of writers, designers, TV, radio and photojourn students and have been working together, as well as with various civic organisations and community projects on a number of media outputs.

Even though this project will only last six weeks, we hope to 'cultivate' some change in our community and make our media outputs sustainable in that we wish to leave behind knowledge that will benefit people and hopefully lead them in the right direction in creating a food garden that will make them self-sufficient.

We are creating a DVD of all of our visual outputs, which will come with a 'how to' brochure and packet of seeds. We plan to distribute these to various schools, clinics and community centres in the Grahamstown/iRhini area in the hopes that we can encourage people to build food gardens of their own.

We are exhibiting all of our work at Barratt Lecture Hall, Rhodes University on October 22 2008, and hope that members of the community take a look at our efforts in promoting the idea of food gardens.