Harvest of Hope: Volunteering

Momma Lulama harvests spring onions. This land is rented from the utility company.

After seven months of preparing and waiting, I am finally set to return to South Africa. Having received the visa last week I go back to become the Production Manager for Harvest of Hope in Cape Town. This story begins, however, a year ago.

Just having completed my time with ECHO at Ukulima farm, I decided to spend the last two months remaining on my visa in some kind of useful way instead of going back to the US right away. The criteria I had was that I would spend the time volunteering, and that I wanted it to be based in a farming community. I also hoped it would allow me to experience another part of South Africa. It is after all Africa's rainbow nation, precisely for its diverse peoples and landscapes.

Vatiswa (center), a Harvest of Hope leader, and farmers from Asande garden with a  prized head of sorghum

I looked at a few options, mostly with WWOOF, but none of them were the right fit. It was ultimately Tim La Salle's recommendation of a small non-profit around Cape Town that won out. He had toured Harvest of Hope a couple years prior to see what they were doing with promoting biodynamic farming in the Cape Flats, speaking very highly of it. On inquiring with it's co-founder, Rob Small, there were many things on the list of to-dos that a soil scientist could help with. I was encouraged to come to Cape Town and figure out the rest as we went.
Donating vegetable bags to a food kitchen

Satisfied customers picking up their veggies

Harvest of Hope is a community supported agriculture (CSA) organization. CSAs sell boxes of vegetables, delivered weekly to you or your neighborhood, normally for a monthly fee. Many aspects make it the most unique CSA I've encountered. First, the produce isn't grown on one farm, but from over 40 gardens. Second, these gardens are in the middle of the former townships of Cape Town (next to schools and parks, under power lines, or assemblages of backyards). Third, these gardens are farmed by people in the townships, empowering many women and young people. Fourth, every garden incorporates conservation and promotes biodiversity through the use of wind breaks made up of native plants. Fifth, the profit that the organization makes goes back to train and enable new farmers. On top of all this, the produce is organically farmed.

The packshed assembly line to fill the vegetable boxes on delivery day

January and February went by very quickly, and more was accomplished than I would have thought possible. The organization had never had a soil scientist in their ranks, so the the first and main task was the organization and interpretation of soil test data. After reporting on the average fertility trends and issues in the gardens, I then went to work on that year's soil sampling and developed a guide for them to use in the future on proper sampling procedure and timing. Beyond this Dave Golding, a garden developer with a long history with HOH, and I wrote a Soil Sustainability report and then lead two training workshops with the farmers. The trainings included soil basics, intercropping, soil management, legume inoculation, composting, and more. After all this, I completed a detailed volunteer report that was in half a review of the farmers' practices, filled with observations and recommendations. All of this in seven weeks!

Volunteers helping to demonstrate compost making at a training workshop

The end of February found me setting off to eastern Africa, for mountain climbing and farm visiting. But I got to return to Cape Town one more time before I left. I squeezed in one more training workshop with Harvest of Hope farmers, and before I left, it was suggested to me to apply for the opening of Production Manager. While I had been ready to return home and begin other chapters, this opportunity was too good to let go by. Seven months later, I am thrilled to have the chance to get back to Phillipi, Nyanga, and Khayelitsha, to continue the work of training farmers to move past subsistence to profitable productivity.

The Harvest of Hope office crew


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