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Gardening grandmother cultivates hope

From Nkepile Mabuse, CNN
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The business that keeps growing
  • Grandmother creates a series of community gardens in Cape Town township
  • Sixty-three-year-old Christina Kaba turns wastelands into thriving farming plots
  • "Harvest for Hope" program helps community farmers sell their produce to larger markets

Cape Town, South Africa (CNN) -- Christina Kaba is a grandmother, and a confident farmer. She says no matter where she is, she's able to grow a garden.

It doesn't matter if it's on scrubland or concrete, she says -- if there is water there, she can prepare the soil.

"You just put down a lot of newspaper, cardboard, grass, a little bit of compost and then plant!" Kaba said.

The 63-year-old community farmer has lived in lots of places and grown many gardens. But none of them have had an impact like the thriving community plot in the heart of Cape Town's Khayelitsha township.

"We are feeding the nation's communities and schools -- that's why it's very important to us," she said.

We are feeding the nation. Communities, schools, that's why it's very important to us
--Christina Kaba, community farmer
  • Cape Town
  • South Africa
  • Gardening

The plot is one of 28 community garden projects in the township, but when she and other women began the project more than a decade ago it was just a sandy bit of land underneath power lines.

When she and her colleagues started it was simply a matter of getting food onto people's dinner tables.

Community farmer Nokwandi Nkgayi says the community gardens have transformed the area, and the lives of its residents.

"It was hard because we were buying vegetables from the shops -- maybe two, three weeks old -- and the cans are not good for our health. Here we get the vegetables straight from the ground to the pot," Nkgayi said.

From growing just a few fresh vegetables for their own tables, the community garden is now big business.

Each week, box after box of produce is packed up and shipped off to sell at various points around Cape Town.

Whether it's cleaning, bunching or packing, Kaba oversees the entire process.

At a sorting center, her vegetables are combined with produce from other community gardens which are packed into individual boxes and them sold as part of a program called "Harvest for Hope."

The initiative started in 2008 as a way for township farmers to sell their produce in the larger Cape Town market.

Since then, Harvest for Hope has gone from 80 orders a week to an expected 600 by the end of this year.

For Kaba, the added revenue means more jobs for more people.

"We train them, they train the others, we motivate them, they motivate the others, because they are out of poverty," Kaba said.

Another farmer, Nyaniso Matwa, said: "It's like watching your kids growing, each and every day. It depends on the love that you've got for exactly what you're doing.

"For instance, I'm planting a seed tomorrow and you're wondering how long it will take to grow, but each and every day when you are coming you are seeing it, it's growing and growing. And you're thinking OK, at least there is something with my hands that I can do, that tomorrow I can produce and sell."

Even with the extra help, Kaba has no plans to cut back on her own gardening any time soon.

"I'm planting the seeds, I'm looking after the seedlings ... I'm here on Saturday, I'm here after all my management meetings," Kaba said. "It's like a baby, I love it, I love to see it growing, growing, growing."

The Khayelitsha grandmother is determined to grow not just a garden but a community as well.