The Kids’ Farming Competition

Liz Barrett from Canada heard about Bulungula and its projects and wanted to help out by donating money. She had about $500 to give and asked what we would do with it.

I had an idea that had been brewing for quite a while and I suggested that she fund it… She agreed and so began the Kids Farming Competition… a brilliant little project.

The idea with this project was fairly straight forward:
1. Use half the money to buy 7000 vegetable seedlings from the community-owned seedling nursery we started (read about it elsewhere on this blog).
2. Give each kid under 13 in the village around 70 seedlings to plant and nurture.
3. Give the top 3 kid farmers wicked prizes bought with the other half of the money.

The thinking around this project was that in our community (and most others in the rural areas), farming is perceived as uncool and something done only by backward old people. Unfortunately, the fact that we don’t have a functioning school means that many of these children will have few formal employment opportunities when they’re older. Thus farming will be one of the most viable ways that they can earn an income. Given the chronic malnutrition in the area, it is also crucial to get as many nutritious veggies into the village asap – many of the young children are so severely malnourished by the time they turn two that their brains are permanently stunted.

By running this competition it was hoped that the kids would be lured by the promise of great prizes to try farming and that some would find that they enjoyed it and would keep on farming. Whether kids got addicted to farming or not, at the very least there would be around 7,000 fresh veggies injected into the village thus improving the nutrition situation without the bad, dependency/charity vibes that go along with food handouts.

So the money arrived in December 2006  – THANKS LIZ!  – and it was all systems go.

Craigo, our resident organic farming volunteer got to work. He and No-Ayin (the owner of the community nursery and Craigo’s village mom) got planting the seeds in the seed beds. By this stage they had the whole seedling thing down so within a few short weeks there were thousands of seedlings ready to distribute.

 nursery 2

Nursery with seedlings growing

Craigo and our community trustees called all the kids together and with the help of some Bulungula guests they dished out over 7,000 seedlings to approximately 100 children with some simple advice on how to care for them.

 kids queueing 2

Craigo handing out the seedlings

 mpho watering seedling

Mpho watering his freshly planted seedlings

There was lots of excitement and plenty confusion as something like this had never been done before… Many of the kids were skeptical about the idea but went along with it as they had nothing to lose.

Time passed and after 3 months it came to judging time. Everything was set to go when disaster struck: Craigo got Hep A and was man down. (Don’t worry girls, that’s the Hep you get from dodgy food not dodgy sex 🙂 He had been living in a mud hut at NoAyin’s house for about 5 months and picked up a germ… No toilets in our village!)

Anyway, this complicated matters greatly as I (Dave) have no experience at all when it comes to farming… I called Tim Wigley, an expert organic farmer, and came up with some judging criteria. These were:
1. The total number of seedlings that survived out of the initial 70 they were given,
2. The number of different types of veggies that survived (each kid was given four types of veggies: beetroot, spinach, tomatoes and cabbages),
3. The health/condition of each of the veggie types,
4.  The general condition of the veggie garden (mulching, weeds, etc).

So off I went to visit all the gardens scattered throughout all corners of the    village. The first Saturday I visited the Dingata side of the village with Gary and Candy: archaeologists from Canada who found some ancient Strandloper pottery on our big dune while they were here.

I visited some beautiful gardens that day and stopped in to chat with old Tholesilo the 80 year-old legend of our village.

The next Saturday I headed off with Anne and Roger to the Bulungula side of the village where there some even more beautiful gardens. There were also quite a few tiny little gardens belonging to tiny little six and seven year-olds: so cute!!

 last place

Our youngest farmer!

After two days of walking the length and breadth of the village all the gardens had been visited and we were ready for prize giving.

The first prize was R300 ($40) of clothing vouchers and a giant roll of fencing mesh as well as R100 of seedlings. The idea with the clothing was that it is (unfortunately) the symbol of status in this part of the world… So having the winners strut their stuff in the latest fashion will hopefully do wonders in promoting the coolness of farming.

2nd prize was R200 in clothing plus R50 in seedlings and 3rd prize was R100 in clothing and R25 in seedlings. 

We made simple laminated certificates for each child that finished the competition with a photo of them in their garden. The non-winners also each got a toothbrush donated by Eshaam Abdurahman (Rejane’s cousin – he’s a dentist… THANKS ESHAAM!).

An example of the  certificate .

So prize giving day came round on the 1st of July and there was much anticipation and excitement. We did the usual tension building finale with the winners announced right at the end.

The winner was Mayibeki Maleyile (11 years) who has a beautiful garden that was well mulched and in excellent condition. He bought some ultra cool clothes and has subsequently been making a small fortune selling veggies to the lodge restaurant… His mother is SO proud! He had never got a certificate for anything before.

 Mayibeki

The winner: Mayibeki

2nd was Zintle Mswane (11 years) with another beautiful garden  – her tomato plants were huge!

 zintle

2nd place: Zintle

3rd was Nothembiso Bayinete (14 years) who had some great cabbages and climbed the steepest hill ever with 20L buckets of water on her head in order to water her veggies.

 nothembiso

3rd place: Nothembiso

 kids with certificates

Kids with certificates

winners with clothes

The winners in their new clothes

Lessons learnt: this competition exceeded expectations in every way. Next time we run it, we must build in a small budget for some of the local village expert farmers to be paid to do the judging. Also we should add more diversity of veggie-types e.g. Carrots, beans and onions. I definitely think this kind of project has huge replicability potential throughout our region, especially if paired with the building of a seedling nursery… So if enthusiastic development or government types are reading this: let’s do 3 competitions a year in every village in the Transkei!

Thank you to Craigo for his hard work with this competition and especially to Liz for her generous donation.

We’ll be doing another competition soon and we may have a funder for it already!

  1. notjustpretty

    What a fantastic idea! The photos you took are great too – I love seeing the kids faces – the winners look so proud!

    Sweet!

  2. Susan Waite

    What a terrific project! How impressive all around, both for the kids’ success and for the contest conception. Sounds like an excellent challenge to replicate over and over in many villages. Clever reward system. Totally a win-win situation for the whole village. And hooray for the budding young farmers and their new pride in farming!

    Congrats to Liz Barrett for the seed money (literally) to get it started. Let’s hope the gardening projects really take off within the communities!

  3. I am so proud to have been a part of this project.

    So often money donated never gets to the people that need it – it was for this reason that I chose to donate to Dave and to the Bulungulu community, because it is a genuine grassroots organisation with community involvement. Thanks to Dave’s mother for telling me about it – She and I taught together at Greenfield Girls’ Primary in Cape Town and she told me about this amazing community. Having grown up in Queenstown I have a great respect and love of the Xhosa people and so I am really proud to be able to have helped start this work.

    I have had the honour of teaching at Xit’olacw Community school in Mount Currie , British Columbia – one of the oldest First Nations run school in Canada. Elders are respected teachers and pass on the traditions to the children. We need to return to this type of teaching in South Africa. Teach the youth to respect the traditions – use the elders to pass on knowledge.
    Well done Craig and Dave.

    Professor John Mighton,author of “The Myth of Ability and of “The End of Ignorance” has donated $500 towards the next gardening project. We look forward to another great project. I would like to suggest that you involve the whole community in a celebration at the end so that everyone shares in the childrens’ achievements.

    Best wishes to the children and the community.

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