All it took was one “yes” and a community-based food programme was born.
In 2015, Gordon Aeschliman and his wife, Michelle Reid, turned their personal vegetable garden into a feeding scheme that makes daily impacts on the lives of those who need it the most.
Living right across from Mandela Park, the pair came across a clear gap in nutrition in the youth and elderly.
Many children in the poverty-stricken Mandela Park battle with severe malnutrition, which has severe “downstream” consequences.
“We were always interested in youth development projects and regarding proximity, it just made sense,” Mr Aeschliman said. “We thought, let’s grow organic vegetables on this property we’re leasing, and give back to the community. You know, they are the most vulnerable, so we wanted to be good neighbours and give back to them.”
They started off by providing food to the elderly and youth, but after a woman running an educare programme asked them for food for the young kids, they couldn’t say no. After that, they started delivering pots of soup and stews to more women, as new requests kept coming in.
The garden includes anything that can be added to a vegetable soup, such as carrots, onions, potatoes, spinach and kale. The vegetables are all organic, grown without pesticides or harmful fertilisers.
It wasn’t always easy, Mr Aeschliman said: “It was scary sometimes, because we were making commitments and we didn’t always know where the money was going to come from, to keep the veggies growing.”
Despite the uncertainty of what would happen the following month, by 2018 Gracie Garden provided over 60 000 meals to people of Mandela Park and the Harbour community. Instead of making the soups themselves, they now deliver the vegetables to nine food kitchens in the community each week, where the women do the cooking.
“We hope we are preventing long-term social and physical disabilities, and providing them with a better future and just being compassionate enough to feed people,” Mr Aeschliman told Sentinel News.
“There are some families that ultimately have to choose between bread and toilet paper, and we just hope we can make an honest difference in that situation.”
Mr Aeschliman said the garden is run by love and help from the community. “We have people providing manure and straw from their horses. Restaurants offer their organic waste.
“Volunteers also contribute heavily to the maintenance of Gracie Garden. Tourists will volunteer for two or three weeks, and it’s really something special because they’re donating time that could be spent doing other activities.”
The Hout Bay Urban Brewery chips in by donating spent grain from beer production, which is used to build healthy compost and soils.
Last year, as a Christmas project, Spar bags were filled to the brim with fresh vegetables and delivered to families in Mandela Park.
Due to the help they receive and the low costs of the garden, Mr Aeschliman is pleased to say that a bowl of vegetarian stew only costs R4 to produce. But that R4 could soon shrink to a R1 a bowl, after a second garden is finalised.
Simon van Nimwegen, Hout Bay Superspar owner, and Trevor Mclean-Anderson, owner of Velocity Sports Lab, are now funding the cost of the second Gracie Garden.
They provided the land off Valley Road at no charge, and paid all the set-up costs. A full-time vegetable gardener’s monthly salary is being paid by them as well.
“Hout Bay has quite a few large properties which could be put to use for the purposes of assisting the local community. Of all the sacrifices that may need to be made to begin to set the balance right, this option is possibly the smallest. So why not?” said Mr van Nimwegen.
He approached Mr Aeschliman, asking him if he could help add more land and consequently food, to the cause. He then spoke to his neighbours Trevor and Lynn, to ask if they could use some of their land to grow produce.
“They were happy to step on board and offer quite a sizeable chunk of land for us to cultivate. We will also be using some of my land to do the same. Gordon supplies the expertise, staff and the collection and distribution infrastructure to make it happen,” van Nimwegen said.
“I’m hoping more people will be inspired to do more by way of this particular model. That they allow Gordon’s Gracie to cultivate a portion of their land and, in addition, that they fund the set-up and monthly fees themselves,” he said.
“We’ve all been wondering what we can do to make a difference, well this is an idea. Sometimes real differences come from real sacrifices.”
This new garden will boost Gracie’s meals to 120 000 a year.
Harvesting of spinach at the second Gracie Garden will start next week, while other fresh, organic vegetables will be harvested in a month’s time.
“Four years ago, when we dug our first garden, we never imagined that all this would happen,” said Mr Aeschliman. “We’ve all experienced grace at least one time in our lives, so one way to say thank you back, is Gracie.”