ROOFTOP gardens are becoming something of a trend in Johannesburg. They green and beautify the inner city, and are a reliable model for small scale vegetable production in the city.

Another rooftop garden has been planted by the Johannesburg Development Agency (JDA), a subsidiary of the Johannesburg Housing Company (JHC) Makhulong A Matala and various partners at Douglas Village in Troyeville.

JDA staff members rolled up their sleeves on the morning of 20 March and got to work. Some prepared the soil for ploughing; others cut old car tyres to be used as planting pots, and still others prepared manure.

Helping them in their endeavours were staff from Makhulong A Matala and the Food Gardens Foundation. A few tenants also volunteered their time.

By its nature and resources used, the garden its cost efficient. Planting pots are made out of old car tyres, which are cut on the side to increase their capacity, and the crops are grown inside a greenhouse structure.

This creates a perfect temperature for crops to grow healthily. The structure helps to retain air warmed by interior surfaces of the roof and wall, allowing the crops to get the energy they need to thrive.

Corporate social investment

The project falls under the JDA’s corporate social mandate, in which the agency gives back to the communities in which it works, through creating sustainable projects designed to benefit and uplift. It planted a number of similar projects in 2011.

Speaking on site, Sharon Lewis, the agency’s executive manager of planning and strategy, said the rooftop garden initiative was its contribution to the greening agenda and to food security in the city. “We want to increase the supply of food,” she explained, “in the process reducing the cost.

“Because people will be buying food produced locally, they do not have to pay extra for transports cost. And also to widen the nutritional value of vegetable food gardens.”

The long-term vision is to develop a market where the vegetables will be sold. The JDA has donated a small grant towards the project; the finances were increased through donations from participating organisations, and seedlings, garden tools and manure were bought.

Elize Stroebel, the chief executive officer of the JHC, said the garden should generate income for its sustainability. A portion of the donations was used to train tenants who volunteered to take care of the garden. “They will benefit a great deal from the project; they can feed their families and sell to other tenants and locals as well.

“Here at Douglas Village, a group of 11 tenants has taken up the challenge. They have already shown their commitment in setting up the garden and planting their first seedlings.”

Lindi Malinga, General Manager of Makhulong A Matala, said her organisation believes that nutrition is key to good health. “Good health for all can only be achieved by improving the environments in which people live. Therefore, Makhulong’s work seeks to eliminate the social and environmental barriers that prevent people from accessing nutritious foods and leading an active, educational and healthy lifestyle,” she said.

Food Gardens Foundation

The tenants were trained by the Food Gardens Foundation. “They have the knowledge and skills they need to tend to their plants day-by-day, to harvest them when the crop is ready, to replenish the soil with organic compost, and to plant new seeds and seedlings for the next harvest,” she said.

JHC has two similar rooftop gardens at its developments at Brickfields, in Newtown, and at Hlanganani in Cosmo City, in Joburg’s northwest. The JDA, in conjunction with the Affordable Housing Company, planted another in the inner city in 2011.

The chief executive officer of the Food Gardens Foundation, Hilda Pheto, said promoting the green agenda was their mandate. “We train people in primary agriculture level one, herb training and many other fields of agriculture.” The organisation is accredited as a training institution by the Agricultural Sector Education and Training Authority, Agriseta.

For the past 37 years, it has worked with schools and government institutions such as the national Health Department to promote the growing of food gardens. Pheto said the goal was geared towards increasing the national footprint.

It had also been working with HIV/Aids support groups for many years. “We helped them to run a number of campaigns to promote healthy living and helped in setting up food gardens.”

Organisations and persons interested in starting rooftop gardens and that need skills training and mentorship can contact the Food Gardens Foundation on 011 342 4440. Its offices are at Walter Sisulu Square of Dedication in Kliptown, Soweto.