16 July 2021 | Story Xolisa Mnukwa | Photo Supplied
Improving student well-being through collaborative food provisioning initiatives.

In commemoration of Nelson Mandela and his commitment to justice, human rights and fundamental freedoms, a profound belief in the equality and dignity of every woman and man, the University of the Free State (UFS) reflects on the university’s food gardening project, a collaborative initiative established to address student food insecurity in a sustainable manner. 

As stipulated in the 2021 UFS Food Environment task team report, food insecurity among students in the higher education sector has emerged over the past decade as a global threat to student success. According to the internationally accepted definition of food insecurity, these students experience limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods or have limited or uncertain ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways.

The UFS Food Environment Office, in collaboration with Kovsie ACT, the UFS Department of Nutrition and Dietetics, FARMOVS, Tiger Brands, Siyakhana Food Gardens and other businesses, has embarked on an 18-month journey to address this problem within the university. 

The project kicked off with the building of two large food tunnels that aid students with fresh produce on a regular but controlled basis. The project has received financial support from organisations including Tiger Brands, Siyakhana Food Gardens, and Sakata Seeds.

A recap of the UFS gardening project and food harvested

The gardens produced foods such as Swiss chard, beetroot, carrots, and cabbage that were consistently distributed to vulnerable students from March 2020 up until now. Onions, lettuce, and spinach also formed part of the food parcels prepared for students, accompanied by food donations from UFS staff and students, Tiger Brands, and the Shoprite Group through the UFS food bank.

In November 2020, a brainstorming workshop was held to reflect on the status quo of the UFS gardening project and the value it adds to a larger integrated food provisioning system at the university. The workshop addressed topics including the planting and production of relevant crops; processing and distribution of products harvested; and the creation of a training curriculum pertaining to the activities of the UFS gardening project.

“By creating our own food gardens, we share valuable knowledge with the rest of the team involved with this project and further uplift our communities. After all, small-scale sustainable food production could lower one’s environmental footprint and contribute to a healthier lifestyle,” stated Carien Denner from the UFS Department of Sustainable Food Systems and Development. 

Denner goes on to explain that the mutually beneficial relationship of all stakeholders involved in the maintenance of the food gardening project has the potential to expand in the future to further combat student food insecurity in a sustainable manner. 

What the UFS food garden project anticipates for the future

According to Denner, the food tunnels at Lengau will be moved to the Paradys experimental farm. One tunnel will be converted into a hydroponic system covered in plastic, and the other will be covered in netting and will be planted directly into the ground. Financial aid for the moving of the tunnels was provided by the UFS Dean of Natural and Agricultural Sciences and Prof Rudolf from the Siyakhana Food Gardens. 

The produce from these two tunnels will be sold to UFS staff and some will be distributed to students through the UFS No Student Hungry Programme (NSH). Denner mentioned that the team are further looking to empower students to grow foods at their own homes by involving them in the planting and harvesting process of the gardening project. 
The continuation of the food gardening project and other support initiatives facilitated by the Food Environment task team thrive through collaborations with businesses, NPOs, UFS staff and students, to address food insecurity and malnutrition among students. 

Staff and students are encouraged to contribute by collecting non-perishable food items for the UFS Food Environment Office.

Contact Annelize Visagie at VisagieA@ufs.ac.za or call +27 51 401 3258 to make contributions. 

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