Buy Organic Veg And Support Food Outreach Through FoodXChange Urban Farming Initiative

Urban Farming Network Is Set Up At The Italian Club
Jan Carstensen with an eggplant from the The FoodXchange garden.

Jan Carstensen, a qualified business project manager who is passionate about well-grown food, has set up The FoodXchange urban farming network at The Italian Club Johannesburg (ICJ) in Bedfordview. The initiative offers organic food for the community to buy and donates food to outreach programmes.

Current trading hours for farm stall sales from FoodXchange’s pilot garden at the ICJ are Tuesday and Thursday from 08h30 to 16h00 and Saturdays 08h00 to 12h00. They are also available for contact from Monday to Saturday. 

According to Carstensen, the network is a collaborative urban farming system aimed at creating a circular economy that is robust, attainable and which leaves a lasting legacy, being the reconnection with the food and the earth through the establishment of organic, poison-free food gardens throughout their urban footprint, one garden, one square metre at a time.

This is done by pushing reset on the last 60 years and returning to growing food the way our grandparents and great grandparents used to – as our subsistence farmers still do. The concept of an urban farming network has been on Carstensen’s mind for the last 15 years. She spent much time observing the ‘organic’ start-ups and food box delivery systems and so on, most of which have not been sustainable, as the uptake of the concept has not been sustainably supported by the public over the years.

‘The lockdown and the pandemic have changed that, because people now consider where their food comes from, how it is grown, as well as the overriding health benefits of poison-free, freshly harvested food on a daily basis,’ said Carstensen.

About The FoodXchange

During 2020, Basically Bedfordview and the Bedfordview Safety Forum (BSF) adopted the FoodXchange initiative. Its purpose was to encourage urban farmers to farm organic homegrown food on a wide scale across the suburb and region.

The urban farming network consists of vegetable gardens established on residential properties from the individual household to complexes and estates, unused sporting facilities, schools, churches and business premises. All farms are linked to a central hub according to areas. In Bedfordview, the urban farm is sponsored by and falls under the oversight of the BSF. A portion of all food harvested is returned to the FoodXchange either for resale or donation to the food outreach programmes that remain after lockdown and which were formerly known as the food parcel system.

FoodXchange has grown and donated approximately three tons of harvested food – creating up to 10,000 meals in the past year for impoverished community members. Community members involved in the initiative included Residents Action Group (RAG), who helped collect leaves for compost, while other community members donated resources and funds to help build the farming infrastructure.

What The FoodXchange needs

Each garden established is designed according to need, and is based on commercial principles. When successful, this allows for increased donations of fresh produce paired with donated non-perishable items to the various food outreach programmes increasingly being called upon daily for assistance.

Carstensen said, ‘Someone has to provide funding, donations and/or make payment for the food produced in the garden – a portion of which goes back into the system to allow for more production and harvest for food outreach. Lockdown may almost have gone away but its legacy and the dire need for food aid has not and it continues to increases consistently.

That brings me to the need for food safety and security at a community level, that shortens the logistic chain and makes farm-fresh, pick-today-to-eat-today organically grown vegetables available within the community. A well managed urban farm, which is a collection of numerous gardens throughout each node, creates a circular economy, employment, education and knowledge exchange through training initiatives and work exchange and provides at source properly grown vegetables – the way your grandmother used to do it.’

The success of the gardens is not just in the growing but requires fine attention to detail and the support of the local and surrounding communities, including business and industrial complexes.

The Bedfordview Urban Farm has numerous volunteers working on funding initiatives to grow the farm through the establishment of individual gardens through Bedfordview and the adjoining suburbs. Each Urban Farm has a central hub where a ‘barn’ is to be set up, thereby reducing the need for the duplication of refrigeration, storage and farm stall/market sales.

Donations, therefore, range from access to land, water and power and items for establishment, planning and design, to operational project management, maintenance, harvesting, sales and marketing, social media set up and maintenance, websites, online shops, cellphone apps and the ever-important wash and drying bay to the urgent essential cooling and refrigeration requirements,’ said Carstensen.

Other donations and needs:

  • Compost is an essential donation and can be donated at 1 cubic metre at a time.
  • Plants, seedlings and seeds.
  • High-value logistical items such as suitable transportation and heavy-duty moving equipment, like tractor-loader-backhoe (TLB), bakkies and trailers to move recycling and grass cuttings.
  • Recycling and composting stations, wormeries, refrigeration, compost, irrigation and plumbing supplies, petrol lawnmowers and trimmers, gardening equipment, gazebos and sheds for protection from the sun and elements for the gardeners and storage of equipment, garden bed edging such as planks and gum poles, old tiles and waste steel, various protective netting and sifters of various sizes, both fixed and portable.
  • Fencing and droppers, gum poles and bamboo for making vertical growing tunnels, panels and trellises. Twine and fixers. Pallets for making raised beds. Wash bays and drying stations. Buckets, containers, dustbins, barrels for rainwater harvesting and/or Jojo tanks. Pumps or raised tank stands for gravity feed.
  • Buckets and crates for harvesting and storage, shelving and racks, boxes and packaging materials, pallets and wood for making composting areas, screening and bins, propagation and growing tunnels, PPE, PVC conduit and hosepipes, grow bags for fruit trees and food forests.
  • Security lighting and camera systems and beams, fencing, gates and partitioning.
  • Labour and/or funds for labour and permanent gardeners.
  • They need handy community members to step forward to assist with set-up of the central hubs and satellite gardens as well as a partnership with churches, sporting facilities, schools, colleges and universities to assist with the establishment, knowledge exchange, work exchange, outreach and maintenance.
  • Chefs and cooks, bakers and jam makers to preserve part of the harvests and to provide and establish support for soup kitchens, containers and bottles for preserving and canning.
  • Funding and/or cash donations for operating costs are also welcome.

Donations received so far 

The project has R6000 in funding.The start-up and initial six months have been mainly self-funded with direct support from local community members and local business owners as well as our amazingly supportive Bedfordview Ward Councillor Jill Humphreys, who is a champion of the Bedfordview Urban Farm,’ said Carstensen.

What has been raised is outweighed by the invaluable lessons learnt, as well as the three tonnes of fresh vegetables we have harvested, sold and sent out to food outreach and which includes a few missteps that ended up in the compost and that will be returned to the gardens soon, suitably repurposed.’

They have further recycled 5000 bags of leaves, 30 cubic metres of grass clippings and prunings, 20 cubic metres of cardboard, 1 cubic metre of vegetable peelings, coffee grinds, eggshell and weeds. 18 people have been also been given casual employment.

We received a donation of 60 cubic metres of compost from Saheti School, which was dug out by TLB and transported by truck to us – sponsored by Bedfordview community members – which got us underway. The lessons of our first season have been well learnt and the planning and market establishment for the next harvest is in full swing.’ 

How you can donate:

– Donate items either new, secondhand or recyclables for reuse or repurposing and any other resources and funding directly to the FoodXchange.

– Donate money – banking details will be provided on request.

All items and donations will be logged and reported on unless the donors wish to remain anonymous and items allocated where required. Should donors wish to ring-fence their donations for the establishment of an urban farm in their town, or in support of a specific outreach, soup kitchen or organisation for supply from the FoodXChange gardens, then this should be stated when donating. The FoodXchange will soon be able to issue Section 18A Certificates for tax rebate purposes.

‘These first six months have been very informative, exciting and at times a physical, mental and emotionally daunting experience. Yet that is completely overshadowed by watching the transformation of a flat bowling green burst into abundant life and buzzing activity while maintaining an overwhelming sense of peace and tranquillity only nature can provide. We have pushed reset and are looking forward with renewed energy to what the gardens will produce in the next season,’ concluded Carstensen.