Institutional food gardening

Submitted by: Amanda Botes, Sunday, September 18, 2011

Recently a number of institutions have taken steps to establish food gardens on their properties.  A recently high profile example was the establishment of a food garden at the Durban City Hall.  eThekwini Municipality took the step of establishing this food garden to profile its concerns about local food security and to inspire individuals and other institutions to follow suit.

Establishing a food garden on the grounds of an organisation can be a very visible way for an organisation to highlight its commitment to sustainability.  Palmer Development Group (PDG), a company that works in the environmental sustainability field, established a food garden at their place of work together with other tenants that share the same offices and garden.  Representatives from each company, Enact Consulting, Isandla Institute, Flo-Cert and PDG meet regularly at tenants association meetings to discuss various issues and at one of these meetings it was jointly decided to plant a food garden on the premises as each company has an environmental focus.

Some of the main benefits of local food gardening are:

1. Contributing to local food security by reducing reliance on external food sources

2. Reducing the carbon emissions associated with food delivery

3. Easy access to fresh and healthy produce

Some key issues for organisations to consider when establishing a food garden are:

1. Responsibility for Management: Successful food gardens need daily attention.  An institutional food garden will only be successful if someone is allocated responsibility for it.   In the case of the eThekwini Municipality city hall food garden, parks and recreation staff who were previously responsible for a decorative garden on the same place were provided with this responsibility.   Another model is allowing an external agency to establish a food garden on an institutions property.  For instance, eThekwini Municipality has helped a street children organisation initiate a garden on municipal property.  The street children organisation takes responsibility for managing the garden.

2.  Who gets the food? The most common recipient of food from institutional food gardens are the staff of the organisation involved.  Sometimes staff take the food home, other times the food is used in a staff canteen.  Palmer Development Group (PDG) uses the produce for healthy lunches for its staff. In the case of the Durban City Hall food garden, the produce is donated to The Association for the Aged that has a facility within walking distance of the city hall.

3.  Competition with biodiversity objectives:  Some institutions have established indigenous gardens to promote improved biodiversity within their environment.  Institutions should be careful not to establish food gardens at the expense of their biodiversity objectives. In PDG’s case the vegetable garden takes up a small portion of the land that they occupy and the rest of the garden has been planted with indigenous vegetation.

Karen Mehl from PDG commented that we need to think how we can make our workspaces more environmentally friendly as we spend most of our time at work.  PDG is involved in many different environmental initiatives and this inspires and encourages their staff to start their own projects at home.

For more information on the eThekwini Municipality food garden see the links below:

For more information on the garden that was started in conjunction with the street children organisation, Umthombo, see the links below:

For more details on PDG visit:

Amanda Botes