“Growing vegetables started in childhood because my grandmother used to grow veggies, like tomatoes, spinach, cabbage and carrots. We used to carry them with a dish and sell them around Mbekweni in Paarl. At that time we were just doing it as kids not knowing what the future would bring”, said 61-year-old Hazel Nyaba from Uzophakanini Kitchen. She is the owner of the organic garden in Mfuleni.
“I discovered that I can do gardening in 1997 while I was residing in Idutywa Eastern Cape where I was staying with my husband. Most of the people were using tractors and cows to plant, but I enjoyed using my own hands. I realised that the miellies that I planted with my own hands were greener than those who used planting machines.” she said.
Ms Nyaba came back to Cape Town in 2016 to look after her grandchild. She started a small garden at her RDP house which caught the eye of a representative of Soil for Life — an NGO that helps people to grow nutritious, organic food using simple, low-cost, earth-friendly methods.
“He asked where did I got umgquba (compost). I told him that I collected dry cow droppings and put them in water, then kept them underground for a few days before I put them in my garden,” said Ms Nyaba
The representative invited her to join their training programme and she agreed.
“So when I started training they were already in progress. I trained for one month and they were surprised to see progress in my garden within one month of training and I was nominated as Best Home Gardener of the Year. Then the following year, 2017, I was selected to be a trainer. I had six groups that I trained around Mfuleni.”
Ms Nyaba says her organic garden paved way for Uzophakanini Kitchen. Uzophakanini means to When are you dishing up?
“The reason for starting this kitchen is that some of the veggies here have holes caused by snails, so I can not send that product to the market. So the aim was to introduce nutritious food to ECDs (Early Child Development). I supplied six of them on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. But I stopped working with them because they could not give the report backs that I requested from them,” she said explaining that the reports were necessary to secure funding.
Now she dedicates her time to cooking for the community. She starting serving nearly 200 people but slowly this number has doubled, due to the high unemployment in Mfuleni.
Ms Nyaba has not been without challenges.
During the pandemic, land invaders erected shacks in her garden, which caused her to lose funding which had been promised for a borehole. Load shedding has also impacted the nursery, she said.