Teacher Farmer in High Heels, Miss Boniswa (uMa’am weGarden), as she likes to be called, is an educator at Boitumelong School in Tembisa. This month we spoke to her about her experiences as a woman teaching young girls in Food & Trees for Africa’s EduPlant Programme.

How did your journey and interest in agriculture practice start?

I remember the day I was introduced to this project at school by one of the ground staff. He said “Ma’am, they need someone for an Agriculture project and you eat vegetables so I told them that you will join the project”. I am a vegan and everyone knows that at school, and so by default they thought I must know something about agriculture. Initially – I only agreed because he had asked me to stand in for him. If I am asked to lead a project I certainly will do what I can to lead the project. At this point I knew absolutely zero about planting vegetables and maintaining a garden. After attending a workshop and being introduced to the concept and practice of permaculture, I fell in love with the movement and made a vow to the school, the learners and myself that I would learn as much as I can and do as much as I can to revive the agriculture initiative at the school. Also, it made sense that since I am plant-based to get a better understanding of where my food comes from and how it is grown. That’s the short story of how I started my journey as “Teacher Farmer in high heels”. 

What do you think the significance is of you teaching young girls about agriculture which is traditionally a male dominated industry?

Fortunately on my end, the learners that took more interest in getting involved with the project are young women. By default they had more interest and were the ones teaching the boys a thing or two. I think that once girls have just a small amount of access to new knowledge and the opportunity to learn, they will take charge in the field. Perhaps agriculture is more dominated by men as a result of them being given more access and fewer obstacles. For example, I found that teachers were more understanding of the boys needing extra time from classes to tend to the garden, whereas I had to make extra special arrangements for the girls for their teachers to understand. As with any industry, I believe that when you empower a female you empower an entire community. The importance of more girls having access to agriculture increases the potential of communities being able to feed more people and spreading the reach of agricultural skills and knowledge much wider and further. If the need for food security is as serious as it is said it is then it is vital that young girls are given access to these spaces so that the impact can be compounded. The ladies in my team are quite versatile, they also participate in other extra mural activities like Debate & Public Speaking and they find a way to balance it all.

What do you wish women knew about agriculture?

Agriculture is not as ‘crusty’ as we may think it is. On a serious note, I wish women knew how having agricultural skills can potentially make them a lot of money. It’s a great outlet for many side hustles. Agribusiness is the new slay.

What do you wish men knew about women working in the agricultural sector?

In the wise words of my intelligent learners, “if a boy can do it then a girl can do it even better.” If I may add to that, “she can do it in heels too”. Respectfully, the boys agreed. 

What did the EduPlant programme teach you and continue to teach you about agriculture?

EduPlant taught me that permaculture is a more sustainable way to do agriculture. I did not know anything about permaculture until I was introduced to it at the first EduPlant workshop that I attended. I have learned that you can maximise whatever space you have to create an abundant garden. I majored in Environmental Science at University and we would learn a lot about the potential damages that agriculture (and other industrial activities) can cause to the soil quality. EduPlant taught me that we can use agriculture to replenish the quality of the soil. This for me is close to my heart because with all the environmental issues that we face these days, we often think that we need major mitigation strategies. Being involved in the EduPlant permaculture school gardening project I am continuously learning that small efforts by a community of people can actually mitigate some of the major environmental issues that we face.

What can you tell other schools about EduPlant?

Join the movement ASAP! Join for the potential food security it can provide for your school’s stakeholders, join for the genius knowledge that you’ll uncover through the training, join to give your learners an opportunity to be exposed to an industry which is otherwise viewed as a dying industry, join for the technical skills that your staff members and learners will get, and for the sake of community development. Get on the bus and do not get left behind. The self sufficiency skills you’ll get from this programme can completely change your schools and communities. 

From your perspective, what has been the most significant change in the involvement of women in agriculture over the years?

Contrary to agriculture being known as a male dominated industry, when one reflects, we can see that more and more women are getting involved these days. When I listen to the learner’s conversations when we are doing work in the garden, they always refer to ‘Bo Mma’ and ‘Bo Koko’ and what they remember seeing them doing in the garden back at home. The EduPlant workshops are facilitated by a woman. The agriculture project at my school is led by a woman. When we have the EduPlant workshops you’ll find that it is mostly women teachers present. The young women learners are always teaching the boys something. I think since women have had the door opened for them, they just need to walk through it. 

What has been your favorite memory in the EduPlant programme?

There are so many it really is hard to choose one. Each day something significant happens. I remember there was a time when there was so much chaos at school and the garden space became my escape and sanctuary. I felt a sense of gratitude for the privilege of having such a space to calm down and relax in the midst of all the turmoil. Any other memory that tops that has to be just seeing the learners be so happy and unified working in the space. When I arrive in the morning I mostly find them being responsible and independent working in the garden and just having so much fun before heading to class. Each day, the joy seems to grow.

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