House Khutso to champion edible food garden

Posted on May 31, 2022

The tranquil gardens around the women’s residence at House Khutso provide ample space for students to relax and connect with nature. Now these peaceful gardens are set to get a new addition – one of an edible kind. Work on creating their very own in-house food garden started at the end of April 2022, after joint planning from residents and landscape architecture students studying at the University of Pretoria (UP).

Residence head Professor Lise Korsten is thrilled about the enthusiasm of the students involved. She hopes other residences will be encouraged to take the concept further. “The biggest challenge will be its sustainability, but with the help of students and UP gardening services we can achieve it,” says Prof Korsten, who is also Co-Director of the DSI-NRF Centre for Excellence in Food Security at UP.

She has in recent years championed the introduction of various serene spaces and nooks around the residence, to provide students with garden areas to promote well-being, in which they can relax outdoors and deal with the stressful pace of academia.

Plans for House Khutso’s new edible garden are being guided by the designs of third-year UP landscape architecture students.

She hopes the planned additions will create greater awareness among the students who call House Khutso home during the academic year. She also hopes students will become more food-wise and cultivate a healthier lifestyle by being directly involved in planning, planting and maintenance. 

“It is key that students are exposed to alternatives to fast food and learn to make healthier food choices. Working directly with soil and plants to grow good, nutritious food is of great therapeutic value and is a basic life skill that all should master.”

The food gardens project will provide students with fresh herbs and leafy vegetables to add to the prepared meals that they already enjoy at the Jakes Dining Hall, which they share with nearby Erica, Asterhof and House Nala residences. “This will ensure an element of freshness,” Prof Korsten says. 

Kitchen staff will also have herbs at hand to add to their cooking.

In the first phase of the project, areas where students can sit and eat outside under the trees will be created. Wooden boxes will be designed to plant some annual and perennial herbs and veggies that all students using the dining hall can harvest and enjoy. Hopefully, they will already be able to do so by early spring 2022.

Students under the guidance of House Committee member Savannah Reichert have already committed to help plant and tend the food garden, in collaboration with the University’s gardening service.  

“I'm most excited about having a nice space to work outside in the garden and to have some fresh vegetables and herbs at my disposal,” says Reichert, a BSc student and nature lover. “A lot of students in our residence are excited about the project and are eager to help.”

She says that during the planning phase she has enjoyed meeting different people from across the broader university community.

The next phase will see House Khutso’s existing outdoor braai facilities being redeveloped into a landscaped, user-friendly area that ties in with the swimming pool space that the four women’s residences share. A fruit garden is also part of these plans and will complement the greenery around the social outdoor spaces.

This phase is being spearheaded by UP’s Facilities Management division, with the plans being guided by the designs of third-year UP landscape architecture students.

Alex Swart, Josephine du Plessis, Danielle Nigrini and Colin Brenchley were the top entries in a practical curriculum-based design competition initiated by lecturers in the Department of Architecture. It also involved second-year students and honours students and forms part of the Department’s involvement in the redevelopment of greater Hatfield through the Smarter Cities project.

Dr Carin Combrinck, Dr Calayde Davey and landscape architecture lecturer Ms Dayle Shand of UP’s Department of Architecture are very pleased with their students’ creativity and response to the project, and how it has provided them with an opportunity to be part of a real-world design project. “It allows them to see that even while they are still studying, they can already make a difference,” Shand says. 

During a recent site visit to House Khutso to gather information for their proposals, the landscape architecture students interacted with the resident’s students.  

“Our students could engage with their peers at the residence and share experiences of living on the UP campus and surrounds. In the process they touched on issues such as gender-based violence, the value of gardens to strengthen mental health and well-being, and also how they provide a space where people from different backgrounds can interact," Shand says.

It is not the first time that UP landscape architecture students have been involved in projects on and around campus.  In recent years, the second-year design studio designed the entrance and dementia courtyard gardens at the SAVF Margaretha Ackerman Old Age Home, and a sensory play park in Mamelodi. Moja Gabedi in Hatfield’s Festival Street was redeveloped from a rubbish dump into a meaningful food garden for the homeless.

“Community projects create awareness of environmental and social issues, and develop skills in terms of client liaison and multi-disciplinary collaboration,” adds Department of Architecture lecturer Ms Karen Botes.

The food garden is also not the first food-related project that Prof Korsten has instigated since becoming House Khotso’s residence head. She conceptualised the popular annual Jaster Chef competition along with a previous House Committee member, architect student Kelsey Smith. Jaster Chef challenges residents to prepare innovative, healthy and fun three-course meals – using their microwave ovens! An intercampus competition is now being planned as part of FinestVarsityMeals, a brand of nutritious, affordable, tasty and safe (NATS) student meals.

Prof Korsten says that such initiatives aim to show students how they can easily take responsibility for their health, especially in terms of the food choices they make. “It’s really easy to grow veggies and herbs, even just in a little box on your windowsill. You could try herbs such as basil and mint, or keep a little chilli plant, or grow and harvest baby spinach, just for fun and your health’s sake.”

Published by Hlengiwe Mnguni

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