Garden project sprouts fruits of success

KATLEHONG, South Africa — A garden project instituted at the Katlehong Branch, Bedfordview South Africa Stake, to teach local members skills needed to provide for their families and to be self-reliant is beginning to show the fruits of success. The garden project illustrates how, under priesthood guidance, welfare principles may be adapted to the circumstances under which members live.

Since fall 2001, some 18 members in Katlehong, a town some 20 miles northeast of Johannesburg, have been planting and harvesting vegetables on the meetinghouse grounds for use by their families, or to sell to their neighbors or to local grocery stores and distributors. The money collected from the sale of the garden products is distributed among the Katlehong members who have worked on the project, based on the amount and time of their labor. The branch president also uses the produce to distribute to the poor and needy of his branch, similar to a bishop's warehouse.

Among those weeding, watering, fertilizing and harvesting the crops — now in the second planting — have been five members who rarely missed a day working on the project: Freeman Maseko, Maki Masimong, Lorraine Nhlapo, Sindiswa Catsha and Doris Ndengezi. Sister Ndengezi, baptized in 1986, is the first member of the Church in Katlehong.

"I enjoyed being busy, earning money, learning many new things and providing for my family," said Brother Maseko, speaking of his part in the garden project. "I am very happy for the project being in our country. I have my own garden at home, but have just got a few things growing for the winter. It is good hard work for the members willing to work. I expect to see more members helping on the summer crop."

Brother Maseko also talked his neighbor into using an area of his yard to add to his garden and has been teaching him how to garden.

The Katlehong garden project was begun in the spring of 2001 under direction of Elder Robert C. Oaks of the Seventy and president of the Africa Southeast Area. The area presidency and the area welfare council assigned the Bedfordview stake to look at projects to help members move toward self-reliance. Stake leaders recommended a garden project on the 2 1/2-acre Katlehong meetinghouse grounds, which are enclosed with an eight-foot high fence. Called to direct the project was Kurt Moorcroft, a stake high councilor, who was chosen for his farming background.

For assistance, Brother Moorcroft contacted Greg Blazer, chairman of BYU-Idaho's Agronomy and Agricultural Business Department. Brother Blazer visited South Africa, and a small plot was set up in a corner of the Church property to test the feasibility of the project. It was also decided to have a student couple come to South Africa to assist with the project. Soon, Kurt Romans and his wife, Rachel, from Vale, Ore., were selected from among several candidates to work with the people of Katlehong for three months. (They returned home just before Christmas.) BYU-Idaho is already planning to send another couple in August.

Mwamba Kapema and Brother Maseko at branch garden.
Mwamba Kapema and Brother Maseko at branch garden. Credit: Photo courtesy Africa Southeast Area

The yield of the garden thus far has been phenomenal. By the end of the first harvest earlier this year, they estimated a yield of 22,000 pounds of potatoes, 1,000 ears of corn, 550 pounds of green beans, 375 heads of cabbage, 1,000 bundles of spinach, 500 pounds of tomatoes, 600 bags of onions, and lesser amounts of cucumber and squash due to a bug infestation problem.

To date almost all members who have been working full time on the Katlehong garden project have gardens of their own at home and work on their gardens after having worked a full day at the project site. When the members have their own gardens, the project will be used to provide seeds, compost, fertilizer and starter plants, with the use of a hot house now being planned for the members to maintain their gardens.

Sindiswa Catsha was one member who spoke of the benefits of the garden project in her life. "It is hard work and I have learned many things, and it is nice to have learned how to work and to see the reward of watching the garden grow. It is nice to be able to pay tithing, and I am looking forward to working next year. I was able to accomplish many things and get money for my family. I learned how to do my own garden at home and how to compost the garden. I was able to help give to needy people and help my neighbors learn how to do gardens."