Learn, live, grow

Nazier Paulsen from Learn to Grow
Nazier Paulsen from Learn to Grow

A non-profit organisation has taken to the streets to educate and empower unemployed individuals and single parents across the city. 

The project, hosted under the Learn to Grow Foundation and led by Nazier Paulsen, aims to educate individuals on growing their own food and plants, while also educating them on using water-saving methods during the current water crisis. 

Paulsen’s project is hosted in the underprivileged communities of Grassy Park, Mitchell’s Plain, Manenberg and surrounding areas, and he is already in the process of rolling out another urban agriculture programme for women’s groups and schools across the Cape Flats. 

“Participants in the programme will be taught to build a microfarm from scratch and to build and install a wicking system. The aim is to get households to grow their own food. People deserve better. 

“Empowering them to grow their own food and to reuse and recycle – that’s humanity,” says Paulsen. 
“Our advancement depends on our ability to use our knowledge to empower all of humanity¬. 

“Growing your own food takes time and requires patience and perseverance, but the rewards are numerous. Working with our hands is not degradation, it’s our real humanity. Degradation is when people have to queue for food and water.”

But the project is not new to Paulsen, as he previously worked to empower struggling citizens across the country. 
“We need to return to a more authentic way of living where we produce our own food and recycle most of our household waste. It’s shocking to see the prices retailers charge for vegetables, which can be grown for a fraction of the price. We need to reduce our dependency on retailers for our basic needs and need to feed our families more nutritional food,” 

While Capetonians may only recently be experiencing a water crisis, Paulsen, who is also a member of Parliament and a former university lecturer, claims this crisis has been a reality for many South Africans for a while now. 
Paulsen says he first experienced this in 2015 while working in the North West. 

He describes how many of the rural villagers do not know what it’s like to have tapped water in their homes and have to walk long distances to queue to collect water from a manually operated communal well-point.

But his enthusiasm for gardening and growing his own vegetables, along with his experience in the North West prompted him to look at alternative methods to continue his hobby through community projects in his own city. This is when he launched his organisation and started taking things further. Paulsen decided to build raised flowering boxes, which he calls microfarms. 

He describes how he sourced used wooden pallets from a local distribution company, and with the assistance of unemployed youth he started producing a variety of microfarms. 

The same wood is used in his free workshops to educate unemployed individuals on building their own.
Paulsen educates volunteers on an innovative wicking method to water their plants and claims that this method uses up to 70% less water than conventional irrigation methods. Due to the custom-made shadecloth domes, evaporation is minimal and plants are protected from pests and harmful sunlight.

“The wicking system comprises a number of short pieces of rope protruding from a pipe inserted horizontally beneath the surface of the soil. The pipe is then filled with water which is transported to the roots of the plant via a process known as capillary action. The water never reaches the surface of the soil, reducing any chance of evaporation. The roots draw water from the wicks, which are constantly moist. This method eliminates overwatering the plants,” 

He emphasises that everything used in the production of herbs and plants is organic, and 80% of the materials have been recycled. 
His home is a hive of activity, with piles of pallets and rows of flowering boxes with organic vegetables and herbs. 
Paulsen’s irrigation method also ensures that his plants are watered when he’s out of town.

One of his volunteers, Romeo Ramson, says he had been unemployed for years when he knocked on Paulsen’s door three years ago. He says it’s good to be able to get up in the morning and have a livelihood that enables him to care for his family. He recalls how Paulsen came home from a deployment and showed him a drawing of the flowering boxes, complete with measurements. He has been assisting Paulsen in the microfarm business ever since. 

Plans are currently underway, through Learn to Grow, to roll out and continue various programmes under Paulsen’s guidance, with the entire operation being self-funded thus far.

Dates and times for the programmes can be obtained directly from Nazier Paulsen on 082 092 6232. For any further inquiries, email info@learntogrow.org.za.

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