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  • The film The Thinking Garden, which tells the story of Hleketani Community Garden in South Africa, was selected by the Canadian Embassy in Jordan as Canada's entry in the UN Women Film Festival in Amman in 2018. The embassy graciously hosted me for a week of festival screenings as well as screenings at the film commission and in UNHCR refugee camps. These encounters resulted in the inclusion of Jordan -- in particular Palestinian and Syrian refugee

  • One of many powerful sentiments expressed at this year’s South African conference on Recognition, Reparation, and Reconciliation is “we wanted freedom, and we got democracy.” The frustrations of young people in particular, nearly a quarter century after the hard-won achievement of democracy, are deep and deeply warranted. There is no meaningful freedom for youth (here defined as under 35) who cannot find jobs, even if they were fortunate enough to finish high school and access

  • Women harvest mustard greens with young helper When I ask the women at Hleketani Community Garden what the garden has done for them, the answer is immediate: “It heals us.” They break into a call-and-response song: “Where do we heal? At the farm!” In this post I'll consider, as much as possible through the farmers' own words, the nature of the historical trauma they experienced under apartheid; the political – resistant – response they developed;

  • Selinah and grandson Sara is quick to sum up the experience of Hleketani Community Garden with government funding opportunities: “It seems like they don’t want us to apply.” In the past seven or eight years the women have attempted to apply to many programs, from the agriculture department to the lottery, from supermarkets to small ngo’s. It’s a harrowing tale. Usually they hear of opportunities through their agricultural extension officer, who’s been supportive with advice

  • Interviewing Dinah, Mamayila, and Maria in Dinah's garden Once a year I get to spend a month or so in rural South Africa, sitting in the shade listening to the life stories of older women. The privilege is not lost on me. I listen to the women's stories, ruminate on their challenges. Then I come home to my middle-class house in my cosy seaside city and write about their lives. Little by little I’m learning to

  • The people of Jopi village feel like canaries in a coal mine. The local metaphor features a snail collecting ashes. When I visited Jopi during the severe Southern African drought of 2014-2016, vegetable farmer Daina M told me that home food gardens in the village had produced “nothing, nothing at all” during the growing seasons. Scant rain came too late for the maize and groundnuts that are staples of the local diet. Mhani Daina in an

  • When I first met the women of Hleketani garden I was moved by the community vegetable project they had set up under apartheid, but I didn't quite foresee the rich research relationships that would follow. An offhand query as I prepared to return to Canada touched things off. Would any of the women like to talk to an historian about their lives? “All, all would like to talk with you,” Evelyn N told me. During the

  • Harvest! Mthavini, Rose, and grandson harvest mustard The art of seed saving Mmamaropeng with her seed library of heritage varieties Cherished seeds of 'traditional' (rainy season) foods: these foods 'never came from the store' Mhlava saves seeds for coveted pumpkin leaves Pumpkin leaves Dried tinyawa (bean) leaves Heritage beans This week's produce to market Mthavini and Rose harvest mustard with young helper Rose and Josephine with chard for local sale Mphepu and Rosina - effective use

  • Early morning doughnuts Alice has raised the price of her legendary doughnuts. People had been telling her to do so for a long while but she worried that the school kids wouldn't be able to buy them. She needn't have worried. They still sell like -- well, like doughnuts -- and she's pocketing a little more money for her efforts. Our early morning with Alice is a favourite memory from the film shoot, not least

  • What a thrill to be with the wonderful women of Hleketani again, and to see the results of restored drip irrigation. The southern summer brought an excellent crop of maize from saved seed, selected for heat tolerance. 'Traditional' beans produced well but pumpkin leaves, butternut, and tomatoes were less successful in the extreme heat. The autumn crop, just starting, includes tomatoes, spinach, Swiss chard, mustard, green beans, peppers, onions, and more pumpkin leaves. The cookbooks

  • Unfiltered Sahara It takes hours to fly across the Sahara Desert. I strained my neck taking photos, trying to capture the unearthly colour on my phone. I didn’t manage but I did get some images that glow a strange golden pink. I fell asleep, tired from the effort of staring awkwardly over my shoulder. When I woke we had left the desert and entered the zone of mottled browns and greens. The flight-tracking map showed

  • I'll be in Jopi village through much of May, continuing my oral history research with the women of Hleketani Garden. Watch this space for updates on the farm and the wonderful women who make it happen. Elizabeth Mijaji and colleagues plant tomato seedlings

  • Many thanks to Tori Wong for the interview published March 29 on IDEASXCHANGE. You can read it here Dinah B

  • Ahead of our March 1 official film launch (free, public event at 7 pm, David Lam Auditorium, UVic),  we’ve been in the news: Elizabeth Vibert was interviewed about the garden and film by host Gregor Craigie on CBC Radio’s ‘On the Island’, Feb. 28; Elizabeth was interviewed by Jen Blythe of Oak Bay News here, by Dan Ebenal of Saanich News here, and by Kendra Wong of Victoria News here - for articles about the garden and the

  • As a fundraiser for Hleketani (‘Thinking’) Community Garden, Basani Ngobeni and Elizabeth Vibert have produced a colourful little cookbook. If you’d like a copy of ‘Recipes from The Thinking Garden’ ($20 plus postage), send a note to: jopifarm@gmail.com