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Lessons learned from the Hoedspruit 1 Mandala Gardens story: Curiosity, Creativity and Community Collaboration

Posted by Breggie Hoffman on 09 April 2021 11:00 AM SAST
Breggie Hoffman photo

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Despite having spent many hours of my life shovelling dirt in the garden (usually with very little success), I never really understood why some gardens prosper while others perish. As someone native to the Northern-Cape, I only knew that no garden will survive without water. The Hoedspruit 1 Circle’s approach to food gardening showed me that community, creativity and curiosity are important ‘fertilizers’ that I missed in my previous gardening endeavours.

This Circle’s gardening improved the community involvement at schools and increased the production and sustainability of their gardens. I am convinced that my future gardening projects would stand a much greater chance of success if I follow similar principles. I also learned lessons from the Hoedspruit 1 story that can be applied in other types of projects and different areas of my life. In the body of this blog, I explore some shining themes from the Hoedspruit 1 projects.

Watch the video above that was compiled by the Hoedspruit Hub on the Hoedspruit 1 mandala gardens (click on the photo of the garden at the top or Click here).

Identifying a Need – Project cause

The need for a sustainable food security solution became apparent to the Hoedspruit 1 Circle during the COVID-19 Lockdown. Many families in the school communities were reliant on food donations, and it was clear that merely providing families with food packets was not solving the food security problem in the long run. Given this need and the fact that several of the circle’s business partners are involved in the sectors of fruit farming and nature conservation, all 8 partnerships decided to pursue food gardening as their PfP school project

Lessons Learned

 I really believe that the Hoedspruit 1 Circle’s approach to gardening is one that carries several important lessons reaching beyond gardening projects. I have divided my favourite takeaways from Hoedspruit 1 into three sections: Curiosity, Creativity and Collaboration.  

-  Curiosity

It might be said that curiosity kills cats, and yet it is the most healing human characteristic. At PfP and SSA I have learnt that curiosity is the opposite of judgement. I personally believe that it is also a key element in growing a thirst for knowledge.

The Hoedspruit 1 Circle and community members attended training by the Hoedspruit Hub and K2C (Kruger to Canyons). These organisations joined forces to organise theoretical training which started before the first shovel hit the dirt, and were of support during the implementation. A key aspect of the training, were the lessons on permaculture. There are many definitions of permaculture. One definition I took a liking to was: 

”At the core of permaculture is a philosophy of the art of respecting nature and working with it, rather than against it.”

(Reference #1 See the bottom of the blog for sources)

 

From what I understood, permaculture proposes that gardeners and farmers should learn from nature. An example is that different plants grow together in nature, because they naturally support each other. Equally, you do not have to replant everything after harvesting as it remains permanent (the ‘Perma-’ in Permaculture).  By familiarising themselves with some key Permaculture methods and principles and using a well thought-out, creative, layout of their garden beds this Circle was able to maximise their garden produce per square meter and decrease the work required to maintain it.

Within two months, all the gardens were already contributing to the schools’ nutrition programmes and providing support to the neighbouring community (e.g. by donating to funerals). By the time the Hoedspruit Circle reached its formal closure, at the end of July 2020, several of the mandala gardens were so successful, that they were looking for markets to sell their surplus. At the end of this blog there are links to some permaculture resources I found, and I believe there is much more out there.

-  Creativity

What could be more beautiful than a garden in the shape of a mandala?  Yet it is the science of maximising production and pairing companion plants, that motivates gardening with this lay-out. After doing research of my own on garden lay-out, I was astounded by how using this beautiful design makes it easier to work in a garden and harvest the produce. Because there is less surface area used for footpaths between beds, the space that can be used for productive gardening is more. This design also supports the irrigation of the Hoedspruit gardens, which an added benefit that I did not even know about. Then again, my gardening knowledge is limited…

A mandala shaped garden

This is a mandala drawing

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Four of the Hoedspruit 1 gardens:

Dipone Secondary mandala Garden

Sekoko Primary mandala Garden

Diphuti Primary mandala Garden

Molalana Primary mandala garden

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A video I found on a year round mandala market garden (Reference #4):

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The truth of the matter is that creativity and science are closely related. When you add the two magic happens. Uncle Einstein worded it best:

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As a final thought on creativity, I would like to shine a light on how the design of these gardens also symbolise the incredible community involvement that it inspired:

“The circle is the geometric symbol for community”

Peter Block, Community: The Structure of belonging

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-  Collaboration and Community involvement

If community is the noun, then collaboration and partnership should be the verb (in my opinion).

I do not think that these gardens would have worked out as well without community involvement or a community centred mind-set. When I am the only person who works in my garden, and gets value from the garden, my enthusiasm fades. After a while watering the garden become a chore. With school veggie gardens and community gardens, there are many more sources of wisdom and energy to tap into.

At most schools in the Hoedspruit 1 Circle, teachers and community members raised their hands to assist not only with the maintenance of the garden, but also with the admin work related to the selling of produce. They were given an opportunity to join the training and learnt valuable skills which enabled them to take ownership of their school’s gardens and sustain them.

The schools and communities share in the literal and figurative fruit of the gardens through the contributions to the schools’ nutrition programmes, and through the donation and sale of produce to neighbouring communities.

I believe the communities and schools further benefit from the gardens through the sense of belonging that working together in a garden provides. That feeling of ‘being a contribution’ that is such an integral part of Partners for Possibility takes a physical form when you can see how your work sprouts from the earth and nourishes others. The beauty of a garden that I plant myself instils a beautiful ‘sense of place’ that connects me to where I live and to my planet.

My understanding of community involvement expanded beyond involving one’s direct neighbours through the Hoedspruit1 story. The government community, social enterprise community and international community are also part of my definition of ‘community’ now. Putting the school at the centre of the community, as per the PfP vision, has also gained new depth for me.

In addition to 250 Spekboom trees used for separation in the gardens, an IDC grant and further donations enabled the following acquisitions for each school: multiple fruit trees including citrus trees, mango trees, a pomegranate tree and a guava tree. In addition gooseberries, herbs, mustard, spinach, cabbage, beetroot, tomato and onion seedlings, as well as seeds were also acquired. The irrigation systems of the gardens were sponsored by Nedbank, the World Wildlife Fund, and the Department of Environmental Affairs’ Green Fund.

Sponsorship from the International Development Corporation and the Government of Flanders further supported their efforts. The Hoedspruit Hub’s support in raising funding and conducting training with K2C was pivotal in the implementation of the project. They remain involved along with the Kruger to Canyon Environmental mentors in doing follow-up training and monthly visits to the gardens.

Hoedspruit 1 has actively employed collaboration and partnership as a tool to attain their goals, with brilliant guidance by LPF Carien Taute. Partnering with other organisations enabled them to attain more sponsorships. Getting a local social enterprise involved and activating the resources and gifts within the Circle itself, was essential to their success. The community involvement that was gained through collaboration and partnership in these garden projects will ensure that the gardens are sustainable, and continue to thrive when the Hoedspruit 1 Circle celebration is a distant memory.

In Closing

There is much more that I need to learn about gardening, before I will be able to grow a garden half as spectacular as Hoedspruit 1, but I now know that organisation like the Hoedspruit Hub, K2C and Skills4All (Reference#5) can support me in my journey.

I am armed with ignited curiosity and the knowledge that I do not need to go it alone, because my community will support me. I am looking forward to finding new creative ways to approach projects, as I have learned the creativity and imagination make dreams of possibility into tangible reality.

Best of all is that, if I adopt the principles of Permaculture, I won’t have to dig so much!

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References and Research

Websites, organisation and videos from this blog post and more resources I found during my research

Videos

 

Hoedspruit 1 and Hoedspruit Hub video

https://youtu.be/OiFekmu4SkU

 #4 Year round mandala market garden

https://youtu.be/rCwDH6Tp7TU 

Shea O'Connor Combined School's food garden project

www.shorturl.at/kCRT5 

Permaculture resources

 

#1 Permaculture Definition used

https://www.permaculturedesign.co.za/what-is-permaculture/

#2 Image of mandala drawing for colouring-in

https://www.freepik.com/free-vector/floral-background-design_915767.htm#page=1&query=mandala&position=1 

#3 Image of mandala garden in the Mid-West of the USA

https://www.midwestliving.com/garden/how-your-garden-can-help-you-achieve-ultimate-mindfulness/

Rural Sprout on mandala gardens

https://www.ruralsprout.com/mandala-garden/

Permaculture News on mandala gardens

https://www.permaculturenews.org/2017/03/24/going-build-mandala-garden/

Permaculture Principles free downloads

https://permacultureprinciples.com/resources/free-downloads/

Organisations

 

Hoedspruit Hub

Hoedspruit Hub website: https://www.hoedspruithub.com/

Facebook:

www.facebook.com/hpedspruithub/

Instagram:

https://instagram.com/hoedspruithub?igshid=xfmqwg207uis

Kruger to Canyon

https://kruger2canyons.org/ 

Skills for All

https://skillsforall.co.za/ 

Our Environmental Organisations page

https://a-better-africa.com/show/project-resources-for-schools/wiki/Green+Organisations 

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