People's Post

Paying tribute to a hero

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Pat Featherstone, founder of Soil for Life. PHOTO: Melanie Farrell, Green Route ZA
Pat Featherstone, founder of Soil for Life. PHOTO: Melanie Farrell, Green Route ZA

Tributes and messages of condolences poured in following the news of Pat Featherstone’s death last week.

After a long battle with her health, the founder of Soil for Life – a non-profit organisation (NPO) that helps people learn to grow healthy, organic food using simple, low-cost, environmentally-friendly methods – passed away on Thursday 14 October.

She was 74 years old.

“Pat is an absolute legend. Loved and respected by everyone,” reads a message posted by Jenni Trethowan on the NPO’s Facebook page.

In one of the posts, Joseph Feigelson describes Featherstone as “a true South African hero that will be remembered over many generations,” while Abdul Jacobs calls her “a true environmental warrior”.

“Our lives have been positively touched by your presence,” Jacobs writes.

Featherstone founded Soil for Life in 2002 to teach people how to grow their own, safe, nutrient-rich food and improve their health and well-being. In the past 19 years, over 7 550 people have participated in various aspects of training which, in turn, has provided the potential for approximately 45 300 people (the gardeners, their families, friends and neighbours) to benefit from having access to healthy nutritious vegetables and knowledge about health and nutrition.

Cindy Buské, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Soil for Life, says although she knew it was coming, she still struggled to accept the news of Pat’s passing. “For me, she was exempt from dying; someone who would just always be there.”

Buské first started working with the NGO in 2006 as a consultant to assist with fundraising. In 2017, she came on board as the operations director. When Featherstone took a step back about a year ago, Buské took over the CEO role. She says what she remembers best from their first meeting was Featherstone’s larger-than-life personality.

“She spoke about a vision that I could never even begin to imagine at that point; of people throughout the world growing their own food – not knowing her then at all, not knowing what she was capable of. Over the years, I became a true Soil for Lifer and I have the greatest respect for her vision. She was an absolutely phenomenal woman, a friend and a mentor,” says Buské.

She explains Featherstone’s concern for the health and well-being of other families had its roots in the love that she felt for her own.

“Being a mom of three girls, she became concerned about how many moms can’t feed their children. This made her look into the deeper environmental issue. She was a humanitarian and had a deep concern for people who can’t keep their families,” she says.

Featherstone was renowned for her wealth of organic gardening knowledge and her passion for sharing it.

Says Buské: “She had a very dry, wonderful sense of humour and the most infectious laughter. She truly inspired people – they wanted to listen to her and learn what she had to teach them.”

“There was nothing in the garden that she didn’t know. In actual fact, just last week Wednesday, I sent her pictures of a pest at our garden at home. Waking up in the morning, the leaves of our broccoli plants were gone. Just by looking at the pictures, Pat could tell me exactly what it was – a cutworm. If you had a toothache, she could walk in the garden and show you what plant to put on your tooth. That was the kind of knowledge she had,” she says.

Buské adds that Featherstone succeeded in sharing her knowledge so well, that her work definitely will go on. Based in Constantia, Soil for Life’s Home Food Gardening programme is currently being implemented in Khayelitsha, Steenberg, Cafda, Lavender Hill, Retreat, Hillview, Mitchell’s Plain (Woodlands, Portlands, Rocklands, New Woodlands, Westridge, Lentegeur, Colorado Park), Strandfontein, and Delft (The Hague, Rosendal). The NPO trains and supports 350 to 400 people per year.

Participants learn how to grow wholesome food using organic methods that build healthy soil, save water and improve biodiversity.

They are taught how to gain maximum yields of the best quality food from small spaces and how to creatively recycle waste into valuable resources for food gardening.

They also receive basic information about essential vitamins and minerals, which foods contain them, and signs of deficiency.

“We will continue to teach what she shared and keep striving towards her vision,” says Buské.

For information on Pat Featherstone’s memorial service, follow Soil for Life’s Facebook page.

  • For information on Pat Featherstone’s memorial service, follow Soil for Life’s Facebook page

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