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This year started off on a good note and within a matter of days our worlds were turned upside down.

By Edith Kennedy

USB MBA alumnus

Doesn’t 2020 feel like we are living in an alternative reality?

This year started off on a good note and within a matter of days our worlds were turned upside down. It was hard to believe that everything as we know it suddenly came to a stop. There we were locked down in our homes with regulations to ensure our safety and precautions for staying healthy as if we had entered the 22nd Century through a wormhole.

And then reality came crashing down!

No, we were still on Earth but the way we had done things before COVID-19 were forever more a distant thing of the past. In the beginning we coped. After all, we have technology so those with smartphones could call loved ones and even FaceTime. Those that had been paid before lockdown went into effect, could buy as much toilet paper as their cars could carry. But slowly it dawned that those without the means to survive were not so lucky. How do you prepare for three weeks strictly house bound without resources or very little access to transport and shopping?

An extended lockdown knocked us even further into reality.

It made us realise that our businesses cannot operate under these new circumstances, which meant that for some there was no more income and a huge uncertainty about when they would be able to resume as normal, if at all. For others it meant jobs were lost, but bills still had to be paid and food put on the table. People were going hungry.

So what now? How do we negotiate our own lives, but also those around us who are struggling?

Over the last seven years I’ve worked with many entrepreneurs in low income areas and previously disadvantaged townships around Cape Town and other parts of South Africa. I’ve kept in contact with many of the USB’s Small Business Academy’s graduates and followed their business progress throughout the years. We have various WhatsApp support groups and through these we started talking about the need in these communities. There was huge concern from small business owners for their own business survival, but after discussing how some of them could get permits to deliver fruit and vegetables instead of catering or make masks instead of dresses, they expressed how lucky they were to be part of USB because there were many of their friends, family and other businesses who were not able to re-strategise and find a solution. They had already dealt with people who were knocking on their doors asking for help because their kids had not eaten for three days in a row or mothers who could not buy diapers for their babies.

We felt the urgency to do more than just survive, but to find a way to help the communities in which we operate our businesses.

It started off with one person getting a permit to buy fruit and vegetables from local community gardens and deliver them to two entrepreneurs who started making food for neighbours in Mandela Park, Khayelitsha and Westgate, Mitchell’s Plain. We appealed to friends and families, colleagues and even our international students for donations. For the insignificant amount of R150 we were able to put together a box of fruit and vegetables that could be taken to each of our kitchen initiatives who were feeding 20 – 40 people three times a week. Thus, the Community Feeding Network was founded.

More small business owners joined the network and it expanded to Mfuleni where the box of vegetables was divided up into smaller parcels to give to eight vulnerable families, but who still had the means to make their own meals. An onion, two tomatoes, half a butternut, two carrots, a bunch of spinach and some potatoes can go a long way to feed a family for a week. More boxes were delivered to Strandfontein to support 20 families in need. And recently we’ve added Blue Downs and Endlovini. We now support almost 200 people a week.

But merely handing out food is not going to solve the situation in the long run.

This coronavirus is going to have a much longer effect than we expect and there will be even more unemployment and consequences in years to come. So we started looking at finding urban farmers and backyard gardeners who could feed into the network. In turn they could make some money by selling vegetables to our procurers and kitchen initiatives. We asked each recipient of meals or vegetable parcels to contribute back towards the network by collecting any seeds such as butternut, peppers, tomatoes and so forth. The backyard farmers have started teaching some recipients to plant their seeds in plastic bottles and tyres to create vertical farms for small spaces. The recipients are also encouraged to regrow their garlic or leeks and other vegetable scraps so that they have a constant supply. Alternatively, they can help us build compost heaps to eventually feed back into the gardens.

But again, we did not stop there.

One of our entrepreneurs is now teaching the recipients how to make delicious recipes with vegetables and herbs. She is collaborating with her community garden to open up a community restaurant having been inspired by the fresh vegetables she collects for our kitchen initiatives. We have been in discussions with an organisation that wants to build eco-villages with 3D printed vertical garden containers. Of course we want our 200 recipients to provide the seedlings. And these are just a few of the potential entrepreneurial adventures that have popped up because of our ever increasing network of businesses and supporters. The circular economy is becoming a reality.

This wild ride of having to suddenly deal with loss and upheaval in the last few months had galvanised us into finding solutions at a much faster rate than we would have if COVID-19 had not interrupted our lives. Now we have had to deal with the stark reality that we haven’t done enough yet, that we should be finding ways to collaborate and work together to resolve impending calamities. There is so much more that we can do to work together towards creating entrepreneurs who can feed their families and sustain whole communities. From a simple solution, a network was born to help feed vulnerable people, but it has gone deeper and is on the way to solving a far wider economic issue as well.

This is the ethos of USB – we do more than just learn about business, we go out there and make real change!

*If you would like to get this network self-sustainable and grow to become a nationwide success, please contact [email protected] to make a donation, offer your expert advice or enterprise development support. Go visit our Facebook page: Community Feeding Network.


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