EduPlant and Woolworths have enjoyed a flourishing relationship since 2004, when the retail giant came on-board as a partner. For its first decade, the EduPlant programme focused on food gardens and gardening. With the additional support from key strategic partners, the country’s leading school greening and gardening programme was able to grow.
Food & Trees for Africa (FTFA) created the EduPlant programme in 1994. It offers schools in disadvantaged communities the resources, training and support they need to develop or improve their food gardens. This is vital for learners’ nutrition and food security. On top of this, the gardens are living classrooms that teachers can base lessons on.
“When Woolworths came along, it was a defining moment,” says Bharathi. “EduPlant was then introduced as a co-curriculum at schools, as we realised the enormity of what could happen with the EduPlant concept and programme.” EduPlant is also endorsed by the Department of Basic Education’s National School Nutrition Programme.
“Our 16 year partnership with the EduPlant programme has been an inspiring and humbling experience. We commend the programme as it is a great example of schools and communities, supported by NGOs, government and business, taking action to improve food security by encouraging sustainable food growing, uplifting education in schools and supporting the movement towards a #zerohunger South Africa. Achieving #zerohunger means working together to ensure that everyone, everywhere can access safe, nutritious food they need for an active, healthy life.”Zinzi Mgolodela, Woolworths Director of Corporate Affairs
“It has become so much more, with its holistic approach to health and the environment,” says EduPlant facilitator Bharathi Tugh. She has been with the programme since 1995 and can see the changes. “Now, there are aspects of lifestyle, the nutritional aspects of food, climate change and food security.”
A programme for everyone
Today, Eduplant involves workshops for teachers, learners and community members. It offers season-appropriate resources, and materials for different age groups. Since Woolworths started as a partner, FTFA and its facilitators have reached almost 30,000 schools, training educators and learners on how to develop their own food gardens. Every two-year cycle, FTFA facilitators mentor more than 300 new schools to improve their food gardens.
The two-year EduPlant programme peaks in a competition to honour the best EduPlant permaculture food gardens. Coordinated by FTFA, EduPlant 2020 was supported by long-term partner Woolworths and new sponsor Tiger Brands. Winners were announced last month, and the 42 finalists’ video entries are available to view at www.eduplant.org.
“Everyone gets an education,” says Bharathi. “The entire school may not have been hands on with the garden, but every child is exposed to the concepts, from how a seed germinates and how climate change works, to mathematics and counting in the garden.”
Good stories happening around the country
“The best part about the EduPlant programme is seeing the good stories happening in the outermost reaches of the country,” says FTFA Executive Director Chris Wild, who began his FTFA journey as an EduPlant facilitator in the Eastern Cape.
The programme also allows facilitators to track schools’ progress and watch them blossom. In this year’s EduPlant finals, Seyisi Primary School in Port Elizabeth won the Best Mentoring category. “It’s amazing to see how far the schools have come,” says Chris, who once facilitated workshops at Seyisi.
Nutrition for the community
When schools closed during South Africa’s first hard lockdown in March this year, educators and learners couldn’t access their EduPlant food gardens. These gardens are a vital source of food and nutrition for many members of the surrounding communities.
“This year really highlighted the resilience of teachers and learners,” says Bharathi. “A whole new dynamic evolved – the skills transferred from the schools to the surrounding communities. People went home and started to plant.”
Fortunately, FTFA qualified as an essential service provider during hard lockdown. This allowed it to distribute more than 126,000 additional seedlings to help school gardens meet the greater demand for food in their communities.
“It’s not just a school programme any more,” Bharathi says. “The school is the anchor and we have all the waves going out to the community.”
Community interaction is at the heart of EduPlant, says FTFA Food Programmes Manager Robyn Hills. “We find that schools whose gardens incorporate community support also have better relationships with their neighbours.” She says, “You can imagine why – if your immediate community is invested in the school grounds, it reduces negligence, truancy and vandalism.”
FTFA plans to build on the groundwork laid during its 16-year partnership with Woolworths and to take EduPlant’s holistic approach into communities. “I think it will become more inclusive of not just growing schools, but also the broader community,” says Bharathi.
The partnership with Woolworths helped FTFA to mould the EduPlant programme into something that benefits entire communities. Chris hopes that the gardens will “evolve into food-security hubs in the communities who live around the schools.”
FTFA’s next step will be including local emerging farmers in the drive to provide nutritious food for those who need it most – South Africa’s learners.