RIGHT at the top of Africa Diamond Building, on the corner of Goud and Kerk streets, lies the inner city’s very own Eden – a rooftop vegetable garden.

The garden, where a variety of vegetables, including spinach, carrots, beetroot and cabbage, is grown, is an initiative of the Johannesburg Development Agency (JDA) and the Affordable Housing Company, Afhco.

JDA contributed to setting up the garden as part of its corporate social investment arm, which focuses on communities in which it does business. The project’s purpose is to ensure urban food security and sustainability, according to Lebo Mashego, Afhco’s urban development manager.

Mashego said the rooftop garden model would be expanded to other buildings in the near future. “Currently we are only selling the vegetables to tenants for security reasons. But we are intending to derive a plan to make them available to all residents in the inner city,” he said.

All vegetables are sold in bundles for R10 each. Tenants at the building appreciate the initiative, such as Tshepo and Getrude Sekati, who have been in Johannesburg for some time. They are impressed by the rooftop garden initiative.

“We usually go up to the rooftop to buy vegetables because they are very fresh and are selling at a cheap price. This is a good initiative and I would encourage Afhco and the City council to continue doing more of them,” said Tshepo.

Getrude believes the tenants should not only be buyers, but should also get involved in working the garden and learning more about planting and the greening agenda.

“I think is important for us to learn about the importance of greening, so when the City council and Afhco rolls out such initiatives they must also include tenants. We do not want to be just be buyers only,” she said.

Another tenant, Xoliswa Zililo, said her family now ate a healthy diet. “Our meals now come with vegetables.”

In future, Afhco is also planning to sell the vegetables at local markets, but this will only happen after more gardens have been planted in other inner city Afhco buildings. Modern agricultural science was employed in setting up the garden; vegetables are grown under a greenhouse structure, which regulates the temperature and ensures the high quality of plants.

Air warmed by the hot interior surfaces is retained in the greenhouse as it has a roof and walls. In addition, the warmed structures and plants inside the greenhouse re-radiate some of their thermal energy. This helps speed up growth.

Being cost effective is also important; planters were made out of old car tyres, cut on the side. Tyres were also used to create earthworm beds. The worms ensure a constant supply of fertilizer.

With food prices sky rocketing, adversely affecting poor households, rooftop gardens are increasingly important. The subject was widely discussed during the Joburg 2040 Growth and Development Strategy outreach. The blueprint for Joburg over the next three decades was released last week.

In Joburg, 42 percent of households are food insecure, according to a study carried out by the African Food Security Urban Network.

Johannesburg is especially vulnerable to price rises because much of the food sold here is imported from other provinces, meaning transport and fuel costs are primary factors in determining food prices.

According to the Afsun study, Johannesburg imports 90 percent of its cereal and a high percentage of its fruit and vegetables. This, in turn, hampers access to quality affordable and nutritious food.

The rooftop garden was opened by the JDA’s acting chief executive officer, Thanduxolo Mendrew, on 2 September.

Source: Joburg.org.za