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The small-scale farmers who turned illegal dumping sites in Marlboro and Lenin in the City of Johannesburg’s Region E into productive commercial food gardens are scaling greater heights.

Produce grown by these farmers – many of them women from the nearby Alexandra township – is sold to Spar outlets, Food Lovers Market, Joburg Fresh Produce Market, Mall of Africa and a number of restaurants in and around the Sandton area.

On Friday September 30, the small-scale farmers turned the open area around the City’s Region E office block into a farmers’ market after five co-operatives were invited to sell their fresh produce – which included spinach, spring onions and carrots – and by-products such as atchaar to municipal staff and other office workers in the vicinity.

“People used to say nothing can be grown in Alexandra,” said Lerato Ndlovu, the City’s Region E Food Gardens Co-ordinator. “Look what is being achieved now. People are now able to put food on the table and there is income. That’s why as a region we support this.”

The move by the co-operatives to turn the two illegal dumping sites – which used to be crime hotspots – into productive food gardens was in line with the City’s Food Resilience Programme, which encourages residents to use available space in their homes and communities to grow vegetables and contribute to food security in Johannesburg. The City, through the Agri Resource Centre, provides co-operatives with training and seed.

Ndlovu said the region would host a farmers’ market monthly to contribute to the profitability and sustainability of the ventures.

Nora Moselakgomo of the Modimo Oteng Co-op said she and her colleagues started farming in 2010.

“I love farming,” said the former domestic worker. “This is why I got into it. To be at this market is a great opportunity for me as a small-scale farmer because it means growth. My dream is to have our produce exported one day,” said Moselakgomo.

Gogo Matilda Nkambule of the Gogos Co-op said she had been farming for the past four years. “It’s only now that we are seeing a profit. For me personally, this venture has helped to improve my health. Every time I go to the clinic I’m told my health has improved drastically, especially my high blood pressure,” she said.

“These gardens are also helping in terms of alleviating hunger in our communities. In whatever we do we must always strive to reach out to those less fortunate than ourselves. Our children should learn. I wish young people could take an interest in agriculture and consider it as a career.”