In Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, a project “One House, One Garden” has transformed the library’s open spaces into thriving vegetable gardens which have become a vital resource for the nourishment and well-being of its community members.
Based on the demographics of the area and in consultation with local social workers it has been estimated that since its launch, the community gardens have helped feed a total of 112 families, an elderly home with 70 residents, and an orphanage with 49 children.
Pietermaritzburg, a city in Msunduzi municipality, is home to 680,000 people. The current economic decline has resulted in increased unemployment, poverty and general insecurities. Statistics South Africa (2016) noted a 42.5% increase in poverty increase within the city.
In 2017, a community needs assessment performed by the library staff of the Msunduzi Municipal Library Services indicated that many locals were experiencing several challenges such as low income, food shortages and overall low quality of food. The Pietermaritzburg community suffers from some of the highest levels of food insecurity in South Africa, with 60% of households having no stable source of food.
Based on those findings the Msunduzi Municipal Library Services launched the project “One House, One Library Garden” to help residents plant community gardens and grow their food. Thus, providing a more cost-effective and sustainable alternative to the local market’s high prices. The Msunduzi Municipal Library Services consists of 12 physical and 2 mobile library service points and is well situated to reach communities.
A collaboration with government departments, the Municipal Parks and Recreation Services and local businesses has led to the continuous provision of seeds for the gardens thus ensuring the sustainability of the project. The success of the project has extended to other community organisations as the gardens have contributed to the upkeep of soup kitchens which serve people who have little or no food to eat.
Neli Mthembu, a single mother of three, said: “The project has a tremendous impact on my life! It has helped me a lot in terms of providing food since we do not have anyone supporting us. All the vegetables that we are growing, help us prepare various meals.” Ntombifikile Ndlovu, who is unemployed, shared: “The vegetable garden allows me to cook nutritious meals for my children and mother.” An added bonus is while the mothers work in the community garden the children participate in storytime and other library programmes and services.
The creation of the library gardens has allowed a mind-set shift of community members who have now realised that they can become job creators rather than job seekers. This innovative initiative has allowed librarians to be more active in meeting the needs of the community. The library’s physical presence extends outside the walls of the building and plays an integral role in community socio-economic development by working towards improving the quality of life of the communities they serve.