Impact In Person: The Value of Food Gardening in Low-Income Communities, with Jessica Kannemeyer



By Marlena Niedl

A 64 x 39 x 39 cm food gardening pod may seem small, but this food garden can enrich the daily lives of families. The community members from Christel House South Africa are an inspiring testament to this. This food garden fosters nutrition, gardening skills, as well as entrepreneurship skills!

On 16 November our Greenpop team got the chance to attend this year’s special assembly at Christel House South Africa in Ottery. The event was full of drumming, dancing, blossoming young talent, inspiring speeches, and awards! All around the world, Christel House changes the lives of impoverished children by providing them with an excellent education, guidance, healthy meals and much more, helping them to create a better life for themselves and their families.

As I walk around the premises, a colourful flower mural catches my attention. On one of the school’s walls, it says “We bloom where we are planted” and I believe there is no better way to describe these learners’ ambitious, resilient and sweet attitudes. To broaden the students’ and their parents’ horizons, even more, we have teamed up with Urban Harvest to bring our Family Food Gardens programme to Christel House. The programme teaches the families the skills needed to start a thriving vegetable garden and worm farm, as well as how to create a business around this. 

Christel House South Africa

An inspiring message on the walls of Christel House South Africa. Photographer: Marlena Niedl  

After this very special assembly, I get to talk to Jessica Kannemeyer, Christel House Junior School Social Worker, and the Family Food Gardens programme coordinator at Christel House. “I am not going to lie”, she says showing me her stunning, manicured nails and laughing,

 “I’m one who likes to get my nails done so on the first day I was a bit hesitant to get my hands dirty, but I’m loving it. I never liked gardening but now we keep expanding our veggie garden at home.” 

To get selected for the Family Food Gardens programme at Christel House, the student’s parents need to earn a specific number of points by volunteering at different school functions.

It Does Not Take Much to Become Self-Sufficient!

Being inclusive of not only the students but the whole family is a very important component of Christel House’s philosophy. “Once a child goes to school here, this is not just a drop-off centre, the parents have to work with us as well”, Jessica adds. Although this is primarily a school for children, the parents are also able to receive lessons on gardening, sustainability, business and related topics with Greenpop’s Family Food Gardens programme. However, when it comes to harvesting, feeding the earthworms and, of course, eating the vegetables, the kids love to get involved too.

The curriculum is structured in a flexible way, making it accessible to many families: After an in-person workshop with Urban Harvest, the participants receive a 64 x 39 x 39 cm gardening pod with freshly planted seedlings, which they get to take home to grow and harvest their own food. This is accompanied by a one-year digital curriculum delivered via WhatsApp with new information and weekly check-ins by Greenpop’s Urban Greening team. 

Greenpop Family Food Gardens

One food gardening pod has the power to positively impact families and ultimately communities. Photographer: Juliette Bisset

Providing Food Security and Healthy Nutrition

The Family Food Gardens programme does not only aim at teaching gardening skills: 

“In our low-income communities, buying fresh produce is not something that you do daily since it’s very expensive. You would rather buy maize meal or other carbs. So, the programme really helps the parents to provide nutritious, organic meals for their families and even their neighbours,” Jessica tells me. 

Through entrepreneurship lessons, the participants are able to also explore new ways to make money on the side by selling their vegetables or extra worms: “For example, they have to do research on how they can sell their earthworm farms for others to build a Food Garden pod.” 

In addition, being closely connected and learning to grow their own food makes the participants value sustainability more. “These parents are growing with their gardens”, Jessica says, 

“A lot of them are incorporating recycling and composting now. They are even making their own compost from the vegetable remains and feeding that to the earthworms. One of the participants also started a community garden in the townships, which is amazing!” 

– Jessica Kannemeyer, Christel House South Africa 

family food gardens greenpop

Christel House community members learning to plant vegetable seedlings at the Family Food Gardens workshop with Ben Getz from Urban Harvest, in January 2022. Photographer: Juliette Bisset

Making an impact, one family at a time

One of Greenpop’s impact philosophies is to activate change in communities. This change starts with the individual, which then ripples to impact the community and society. Jessica emphasizes the value this project has for impoverished communities as not only a means to grow fresh food, but also gaining knowledge and skills.

 “I can see that there is a real sense of community now because we’re all in a group. In the way they interact with each other, it’s like a little family itself – everybody supports each other. One of our parents wanted to expand her garden so everyone provided her with the material she needed, and helped. You should see the messages in the WhatsApp group! They encourage each other, and support each other – it’s so beautiful!” 

– Jessica Kannemeyer, Christel House South Africa 

Being added to a WhatsApp group with our Urban Greening team, especially our Urban Greening Manager Deon Louw, allows the participants to ask questions and receive an added layer of support with their projects. “The communication with Deon has been wonderful and the parents love him to bits. They’ll always send him pictures and ask which kind of insect that is and he would look it up and reply within minutes. When someone is not at their finest moment he’s always there to support and encourage them. It’s been a beautiful, beautiful relationship.” Jessica adds with excitement: “We’ve already got so many parents saying that if this program continues, they want to sign up for next year!”

christel house south africa

 Jessica Kannemeyer, Christel House South Africa Social Worker. Photographer: Marlena Niedl

Food Gardening is for Everyone

Although Jessica says she was a bit hesitant to get her hands dirty in the beginning, food gardening has grown on her and she finds it to be very relaxing, almost therapeutic. Not to forget, the harvesting and cooking part has been a delight for her and all the other participants! “I don’t know how many batches of spinach we’ve harvested this past year. And that is something we can use every day,” she says. 

Once again, the participants’ lovely feedback shows how gardening can be enriching for everyone. 

“I never in a million years would’ve thought that I would someday grow my own vegetables and to think that such a small, 1-meter container is all you need to become self-sufficient. I just needed somebody to teach me how to get started. I would love to implement this at the school as well as to start with our children from an early age on. It teaches you such great values! Once you grow your own veg, you don’t want to waste anything and want to interact more mindfully with nature. Just the fact that everyone can do this is my biggest takeaway from the program!”

– Jessica Kannemeyer, Christel House South Africa  

Learn more about Urban Greening and Greenpop’s Family Food Gardens program below:

“Live Life Well” From the Inside Out

“Live Life Well” From the Inside Out

“Live Life Well.” What images does this phrase bring up in your head? Greenpop and Wellness Warehouse revamped Reforest Fest’s Food Village with a focus on sustainable, ethical, local, and seasonal produce.

Greenpop Foundation NPC is a registered non-profit organisation. Registration Number (NPO): 151-411 NPO.