Potch gets pimped

2012-11-12 12:15

Guerilla gardening, crop mobbing, seed bombing, edible landscaping, plant activism: communal urban agriculture is constantly taking new forms as it becomes a global trend.

And now it has arrived at the university town of Potchefstroom, in North West.

As food resources dwindle and urbanisation increases, growing your own crops in the city is a sign of the times.

In New York, rooftop gardening is booming.

In London, projects are turning old parking lots into vegetable gardens. Basements in Tokyo are being converted into hothouses; and in Kenya, slum farms have been pioneered.

And now, in Potch, a group of lecturers is turning suburban pavements into vegetable gardens with the intention of allowing passing pedestrians to harvest vegetables for free. They call it Pavement Pimping.

Andre Goodrich, who pioneered the scheme with his wife Pia Bombardella, says: “We’re not a bunch of idiots who think we’re going to solve the world’s hunger crisis.”

Both are anthropology lecturers at North West Univeristy’s Potchefstroom Campus.

“It’s not just about food. It’s also a form of social activism – civil disobedience with a green twist. We want to use food to provide public space for people,” says Goodrich.

According to him, the gardens of wealthy suburban South Africans are a colonial import where “we spend more and more of our leisure time in our homes behind electric fences and security guards.

People decorate the land instead of producing off it. We want to encourage them to break down barriers and engage with the community”.

The couple and a growing team of volunteers have only been at it since October, but have already pimped seven pavements. They now have a waiting list.

They are also focusing on a local park, where they have planted an urban farm.

Residents are asked to donate their pavements and water their gardens, but everything else is provided by the vegetable activists, who arrive at a house and create the gardens from scratch.

“Some people come up to us and say we’re stupid to plant vegetables in public because we’re going to be robbed blind. We are expecting some of the gardens to be raided, but the more there are, the less likely that is to happen,” says Goodrich.

The most recently pimped pavement in Potch belongs to a young art history lecturer, Moya Goosen.

She says: “I did it for a few reasons. I want to contribute to the community and this is a unique way to share. I’m on a very good walking route to contribute because I have prostitutes on the corner of my street. They need the vegetables.

“And, actually, my pavement looked ugly and now it looks beautiful – so also for aesthetic reasons.”

Goodrich says he prefers to plant a combination of spinach, mielies, pumpkin and beans.

“It’s inspired by a Native American model called Three Sisters. The mielies, pumpkin and beans are hardy plants that compliment one another in terms of deterring pests, enriching the soil and forming a good dietary combination.”

As an anthropologist, he’s interested as much in the people as in the plants.

“South Africa has very old traditions of trading on pavements. They’re a place of conversation. We’re hoping to start a website to gather the stories of the human interactions around the gardens we’re growing.”

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