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26 February 2020 | Story Leonie Bolleurs
Vegetable tunnels
Two vegetable tunnels were recently established on the UFS Bloemfontein Campus to contribute to the fight against food insecurity.

Food insecurity is a problem on university campuses worldwide. The three campuses of the University of the Free State (UFS) are not exempt from this plight. Research findings indicate that more than 64% of students at the university go through periods of hunger.

Annelize Visagie, , from the Division of Student Affairs who is heading the Food Environment Office at the UFS, confirms that food insecurity at higher education institutions is not a new phenomenon.

In a study with first-year students as focus, Visagie found that academic performance declines and coping mechanisms increase as the severity of food insecurity increases.

“Students use different coping mechanisms, with an alarming percentage of students (40,6%) using fasting as an excuse to friends for not having food, 60% of students skipping meals because they do not have enough money, and 43,2% of students being too embarrassed to ask for help.”

Visagie states that various factors contribute to this alarming scenario, with the main reason being that the majority of students come from impoverished economic and social circumstances. This suggests that although students receive NSFAS funding or any other bursary, it is not a guarantee that they are food secure.

Focus on student wellbeing
Aligning with the UFS strategic goal of improving student success and wellbeing, UFS staff is working hard to implement initiatives and obtain sponsorships and food donations to ensure that students do not go hungry.

Members of the university’s Food Environment Project, Drs Johan van Niekerk and JW Swanepoel from the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, Rural Development and Extension (CENSARDE), and Karen Scheepers from the Division of Student Affairs who is heading KovsieAct partnered to move the existing vegetable tunnels on the UFS experimental farm to the Bloemfontein Campus.

The construction of the tunnels and boxes was financed by Tiger Brands. Professor Michael Rudolph and Dr Evans Muchesa who are involved with the Siyakhana Food Gardens, assisted with the training of students and consultation throughout the project.

The two tunnels (30 m x 10 m each) are covered with netting, and two water tanks with pumps are fitted to provide the necessary irrigation.

Vegetables add value
Dr Swanepoel explains: “In each tunnel there are 20 raised wooden boxes. Each residence received one box where they planted one type of vegetable crop, including Swiss chard, cabbage, carrots, beet, kale, and broccoli.”

Residence Committee members from all on- and off-campus student communities in civic and social-responsibility portfolios, as well as civic and social-responsibility student associations, received the necessary training to plant vegetables.

The vegetables were planted in mid-February and the first harvest is expected around mid-April.

This initiative, which will help students in the near future to keep the hunger pangs at bay in a healthy way, adds to the existing No Student Hungry programme. Visagie says it is important for the university to assist students in making healthy choices and to educate them on decisions to secure nutritional food for themselves.

In addition, the university also received food parcels from Rise Against Hunger, together with donations from organisations such as Gift of the Givers – providing 200 food parcels to students on the Qwaqwa Campus, and the recent donation from Tiger Brands – providing 500 food parcels to students.

News Archive

Free State University Choir wins competition in Prague
2009-12-15

This past weekend, the Free State University Choir, under the directorship of Mr Corné van Pletzen, won the Christmas Music Festival Competition in Prague in the Czech Republic. 25 choirs from amongst others Spain, Hungary, Slovakia and Russia also participated in the competition.

It is the first time in the 10 years that the Christmas Music Festival Competition is presented that an overall winner of the festival and the competition was announced.

The choir originally only participated in the festival part of the Christmas Music Festival. Later, at the end of the competition, they were asked by the judges to prepare a song for the prize-giving ceremony, not knowing that the judges were judging them for the competition.

Mr Van Pletzen said, “Finally, after all prizes had been handed out, a trumpet fanfare announced the Free State University Choir as the overall winner of the competition. Our choir was also requested to close the competition with a song; that we did, whereupon our students sang the National Anthem with pride and with tears in their eyes.

The choir’s presentation was unique as they included a great variety of songs in their programme, amongst others some of Mr Van Pletzen’s own compositions and a song from Africa, Wana Baraka.

According to Mr Van Pletzen, six of the choirs obtained more than 90% during the competition. The Free State University Choir was however overwhelmed with positive feedback on the standard of their presentation from the audience, other participating choirs as well as the judges.

Most of the 38 choir members have already been members of this choir for three years now and this is the third time that most of them are singing overseas.

They will bring home a beautiful glass trophy.


Mr Corné van Pletzen.

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