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Urban Harvest 12/20/11

Veggie Buntch chats to Ben Getz. He heads up Urban Harvest, a company that helps people create wonderful edible gardens.


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Urban Harvest helps people set up food gardens in whatever space they may have. Whether it’s a tiny courtyard or a large-scale food project for a school, they use permaculture principles and ecological design to establish gardens, and also maintain them on an on-going basis. We sent Ben a couple of questions to share a bit more about Urban Harvest and what they hope to achieve.

Tell us a little about yourself and where the idea for Urban Harvest came from?
I grew up in Cape Town and was fortunate enough to live next door my grandmother who was an avid watcher of nature, a dreamer and poet. Through years of exploring and appreciating nature together I developed a strong relationship with plants and animals and knew that I wanted to live “close to the earth”.

In my teens I experimented with growing various ‘pot’ plants – I very much enjoyed watching seeds turn into seedlings, into plants and into fruits I could take further pleasure in. In my early twenties I travelled through North and South America, the Middle East and South East Asia. Much of the adventuring was spent volunteering or working in food gardens and I expanded my knowledge and deepened my conviction to do ethical, eco-logical work with my life.

Once back in South Africa, I began a four-year Bachelor’s degree in environmental science, philosophy and social anthropology at UCT. Throughout this time, I continued to develop my own vegetable gardens and help communities get their own started. At this stage, it was still ‘just’ a passion; a hobby. Towards the end of my degree I established a small vegetable garden for a close friend as a surprise gift. He was so impressed with the ‘service’ that he strongly suggested that I offer home food garden installations as a business.

To the best of my knowledge Urban Harvest is the longest standing Edible Garden Business in the country. In 5 years we have established over 22 000 m2 of organic food gardens across 200 households, schools and communities around South Africa.

How long have you been operational and how are things going?
In 2006 I co-founded Urban Harvest’s predecessor (PEGS) with Beau Horgan. Out of this, Urban Harvest was established in 2008 and has been ‘growing’ steadily ever since. We have three broad focuses: Installations, Maintenance and Training.

Do you work countrywide?
We are currently operational in Cape Town and Kouga Region (Jeffrey’s Bay) But hope to service clients all around the country soon.

What’s the most common request that you come across?
We get a lot of general home garden requests, but equally common are requests from NGOs, schools and community projects looking for to develop food gardens for feeding schemes.

Do you think that there is growing interest in homegrown veggies?
There is absolutely no doubt! Food prices have increased enormously and people are looking to save. Furthermore consumers are becoming more aware. They are concerned about the quality and flavour of their food. Parents want to feed their children chemical-free, fresh and tasty food, and environmental awareness is also an important factor. People are looking for a more sustainable lifestyle.

Growing your own makes sense from an economic, health and environmental point of view.

What’s been one of your favourite projects?
I’m not supposed to have favourites:)
But, in general I love well-funded school garden installations! Cavalleria Primary School in Kraaifontein for example, just won second place in the national school garden competition – and for good reason. We installed this 400 square meter garden 18 months ago and it has fed over 300 school children daily for the last 16 months. There are grapes, berries, passion fruits, plums, lemons, peaches, guavas, herbs and tons of herbs and veggies. This is one of many truly productive and sustainable school gardens we have installed.

What does your own food garden look like at home?
What is that saying about the cobbler’s son? [The shoemaker’s son always goes barefoot]
It’s a bit of a wild mess, but it’s really productive and colourful, and, I like it this way. It takes good care of itself, for the most part. We’ve always got plenty of salad greens, leeks, tomatoes, chilles, beans… pretty much all I need. We do a lot of juicing too – herbs, celery, beetroot, spinach and so on. Our garden is pretty small too, but it does the trick for my wife and I (and our many dinner guests) – We LOVE it!

What are the easiest veggies to start with?
Lettuces, coriander, spinach – leafy greens in general – they need good watering and do very well with a bit of a shade cover too, but that’s not essential.

Is it a lot of hard work to keep your vegetable garden productive?
Once your garden is established, it’s not hard work, it can easily be a joy. It doesn’t require a lot of time or hard graft, but it does require regular attention. For a 20 square meter garden, 5 minutes a day and 30 mins on the weekend is plenty. Your commitment will obviously vary depending on the scale of your garden. Urban Harvest provides our Edumaintenance Service where, once installed, we visit your garden once or twice a month and support you with maintenance, ongoing resources and educational materials.

What’s the smallest space you’ve created an edible garden in?
We installed a highly productive herb and salad garden in a 2.5 square meter space at a 5-star hotel in Bantry Bay. In an urban environment we often make use of vertical space by terracing pots to walls.

What do you hope to achieve with Urban Harvest?
I would like to see every school in the country with an abundant and sustainable food garden that supplies a healthy meal to every child every day. This would be something I would be so happy about.

I believe that corporate social investment has a huge role to play here. Urban Harvest’s work has so far been supported by corporates like Investec, Woolworths, Spar and others and we have busy January with our biggest school installation yet.

Quickfire with Ben:

  • The best part about edible food gardens is … eating your own, home grown FRESH veggies.
  • The biggest blunder I’ve ever made is… better left unsaid.
  • I never thought I would ever… run my own business doing what I love best.
  • I wish that I could… build my own off-the-grid home and develop my own super edible garden on a property of my own!

 Contact details:
Web: www.urbanharvest.co.za
Email: ben@urbanharvest.co.za
Tel: +27 (0)72 475 2977

 



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Laura Cooke is the editor and creator of the Veggie Bunch website and community.

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