Garden of Eden provides hope in Westbury

While Westbury might be synonymous with crime, drugs and gangsterism, all hope is not lost as two young men put their passion for farming to good use.

"There is no growth here. Everything is becoming a norm. Drugs, gangsterism, crime are all normal here," said Shaquille Essack, 26, who refused to focus only on the negative aspects in his community in the west of Johannesburg.

Passionate about farming, Essack and his friend Darion Petersen are adamant that planting vegetables will yield positives for their community.

Through their Tuin van Eden, which translates to Garden of Eden, they supply fresh vegetables in their suburb. "Once you plant a seed you see growth. It is not like there is a bigger accomplishment, but when it is growing we know there is growth, and maybe out of that we will also get what we want in life," said Essack.

He said young people see unemployed elders in their community driving expensive cars and are influenced to become involved in crime and drugs. "They don't have the exposure to start growing vegetables in their backyards. If we can give them instructions then many young people can get involved," he said.

Essack and Petersen supply vegetables at low prices and even free to some residents who cannot afford to pay. They believe their project will help many people in their community to have affordable and fresh vegetables.

Maya Cousin, who started buying vegetables from the two early last year, said their project is helping many citizens in the suburb. "Their vegetables are fresh and delivered straight to us," she said.

Petersen and Essack were introduced to hydroponic gardening by Essack's mother, Fiona Essack, who has since registered the Kwintsimi Yase-Eden co-operative. Fiona, who is director of the co-operative, initially got an opportunity from the city's development department's food programme to help in her community and teach people how to plant vegetables.

Essack and Petersen focus on the agriculture aspects of the co-operative. Two other members focus on catering and one on the garden, which produces fresh vegetables that are then used for a feeding scheme at Westbury Secondary School.

"We have lots of people in our community who need extra help. You might not make a lot of money but at least you can feed someone," Fiona said.

The city's manager for urban agriculture, Gladness Boikanyo, introduced them to hydroponic gardening, a method of growing plants without soil by using mineral nutrients dissolved in water.

"Fiona was part of our programme and she then registered a co-operative and asked the young men to be part of it. That's when we requested them to assist because we could see they are already committed," she said. Boikanyo said the two were part of the greenhouse at Westbury Transformation Development Centre (WTDC).

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