Children learning outside, surrounded by growing vegetables, their hands covered in soil – this is a Noordhoek man’s dream for South Peninsula schools.Justin Bonello, known for his cook books and TV show Cooked, calls his dream “edible education”, and plans to start rolling it out to far south schools next year.Under his non-profit organisation, Neighbourhood Farms, Bonello looks to partner with schools to create urban farms. The farms will not only aid in educating children about nature, but will also provide schools with a source of income.The project will be piloted at four schools from January, and will see Kleinberg, Marine, Ukhanyo and Bay primary schools assisted in creating a farm in tunnels, based on hydroponics farming techniques.Neighbourhood Farms was inspired looking at ways to make farming compatible with our urban lifestyles, explains Bonello. “With more than half the world’s populations living in cities, we’re disconnected from where our food comes from. We’ve become the forgetful generation.”The supply chain along which fruit and vegetables are supplied to large supermarkets, puts pressure on farmers and sees them paid only a fraction of the retail price.“Most of what we spend on food goes to the supply chain,” Bonello explains.In addition, food is often force-ripened, resulting in consumers having to eat substandard produce.An easy pickSchools became an obvious choice for the project as they offer some open ground “and are under extreme pressure and always fundraising”, Bonello explains. “How do kids in areas such as Ocean View stand a chance against children from well-resourced schools? Often their parents don’t teach them, they have low socio-economic circumstances and they don’t have the same beautiful space I grew up in.”The farms need to be economically viable in order to be sustainable, says Bonello, which means enough produce needs to be produced to be sold at profit. In addition, teachers already have their own work and can’t be expected to farm, so the gardens will need to produce enough profit to allow staff to be hired.These conditions inspired the use of hydroponics and vegetable tunnels, says Bonello. Hydroponics – a method of growing plants using mineral nutrient solutions in water without soil – uses 10% the water traditional agriculture uses, he says.The vegetable tunnels also allow for vertical growing, which will increase the yield.Aside from the farms, each school will receive an outdoor classroom to allow learners to have hands-on lessons. The schools will share the profits with neighbourhood farms to allow the project to be sustainable and rolled out to other schools. “It’s creating an environment for kids that’s beautiful,” he says.Cutting costsThe project will also install rainwater tanks at the school, which in summer will be used for the gardens and in winter can be used to supplement the school’s water usage. In addition, solar panels will also be installed at the participating schools, which will allow the schools to immediately reduce their costs. This funding can then be channelled into other areas, such as maintenance of the buildings, Bonello says.With around a third of household food going to waste, the schools will also act as a recycling hub where food waste can be turned into compost. Plastic will be collected and recycled, which Bonello hopes will be used to create products which the schools can use to resell, such as planter boxes.The pilot will run for three months before it is rolled out to other schools in the far south. It will cost around R2m to get one school up and running, says Bonello, but the schools will see immediate savings. This will be most evident in their utility bills, as schools currently spend around R250 000 on utilities, Bonello says.Keeping it localThe produce will be sold to parents and the local community, and Bonello hopes to develop an app to allow schools to post what has been harvested and allow parents to order it via the app, collecting it when they collect their children. “There’s no pride anymore in being a farmer. We have to make farming sexy.”The project is about more than just teaching children to connect with nature, says Bonello. It’s about changing the way the community thinks about food. Buying food daily from the schools will see the community eating local, seasonal produce and will encourage them to grow their own produce in their own space. It looks to re-educate urban dwellers on farming, food waste and recycling. “With a daily market mentality, there’s less waste and people will eat seasonally. You buy your vegetables when you fetch your kids.”The initially roll-out is focussing on needy schools, and Bonello hopes to have a garden in as many schools as possible. “Good food is not just for the underprivileged, but for everyone.” V For more information, search for “Neighbourhood Farm” on Facebook.