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UFS community garden project addresses food insecurity in higher education

By Xolisa Mnukwa 

Food environment

The UFS Community Garden Project provides
students with additional support by supplying
fresh produce, rich in natural nutrients, that can be
added to their complete food parcels.
Photo: Supplied

Food insecurity is one of the many challenges experienced by students at institutions of higher learning. At the university, research findings indicated that 59% of students go through periods of hunger; 60% skip meals because of financial reasons, almost 41% use fasting as an excuse; and 43% are too embarrassed to ask for help.

To address this problem, members of the University of the Free State (UFS) Food Environment Project, in collaboration with the Kovsie ACT community garden project, the UFS Division of Student Affairs, and the university’s Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, Rural Development and Extension (CENSARDE), with support from Siyakhana Food Gardens, aim to turn the existing garden project into a vegetable production and training programme for students.

Community garden project makes a difference

The project consists of two large food tunnels providing an educational intervention that addresses food insecurity on campus, and by extension, food insecurity challenges students experience in their hometowns, at home, and in their villages.

The tunnels, irrigation system, vegetable boxes, seeds, and seedlings were sponsored by Tiger Brands, Sakata Seeds, and Kwaggafontein Nursery. UFS Facilities Management also contributed additional funding, with assistance from the UFS Department of Groundwater Studies for the boreholes.

The gardens are equipped with two water tanks, water pumps, and fruit trees that will be further cultivated in the future. Together, the two tunnels provide proficient shelter for forty vegetable boxes. All residences on campus, some student organisations, and off-campus communities were given one vegetable box where they planted one type of vegetable crop, including beetroot, broccoli, carrots, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, peas, and swiss chard.

Also supporting food-insecure families

Due to COVID-19, management of the boxes was taken over from students by the UFS Department of Sustainable Agriculture, with help from Kovsie ACT, the UFS Food Bank, and residence heads to help harvest and deliver the vegetables to people in need.

Swiss chard was harvested first and distributed to the UFS Food Environment Project. As more vegetables were ready for harvest, it was also distributed to Towers of Hope and the ROC Foundation to support food-insecure families. These vegetables include cabbages, carrots, beetroot, kale, and peas. Fresh vegetables distributed to the UFS Food Bank were well received by students, including those affected by HIV and AIDS.

Hundreds of students received food parcels containing non-perishable food items from the UFS Food Bank, which is managed by Annelize Visagie from the Student Affairs Wellness office and the UFS Community Garden Project.

Dr Jan Swanepoel, Senior Lecturer and Researcher in the UFS Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, stated that, “This project could be extended in order to facilitate the educational and food security needs of a larger group of students. Additional food tunnels and food storage facilities could triple the impact it currently has.”

Food tunnels
Food tunnels carrot
food environment 3
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