In Strandfontein, Cape Town, a remarkable woman named Wilweena Jacobs emerged as a beacon of hope and change. As a single mother of two, Wilweena possessed a resilient spirit and an unwavering determination to provide for her family. Little did she know that her journey would lead her to become a true food system's hero.
Wilweena's story began in 2017, when she was unexpectedly retrenched from her job as a home caring nurse. Faced with the daunting challenge of sustaining her family, without a job, she turned to her backyard for solace and inspiration. It was there that she discovered the potential for transformation, realizing that she could grow food to sustain her loved ones.
What started as a personal quest for survival soon evolved into a catalyst for community empowerment. Wilweena noticed her neighbours taking a keen interest in her thriving garden, and she recognized an opportunity to foster knowledge exchange and started supporting many neighbours to start their own. United by a common passion for growing food, they began sharing insights and trading plants, creating a tight-knit network of like-minded growers.
Fuelled by this growing interest, Wilweena sought to deepen her understanding of sustainable practices. She connected with Seed, an organization that hosted permaculture workshops, and eagerly enrolled herself in Soil for Life's home gardening workshops. Equipped with newfound knowledge and an insatiable thirst for learning, she set out to transform her personal garden into something greater.
Jacobs Garden was formed and soon blossomed into the thriving food system’s business that we know today. What had once been a simple home nursery, selling seedlings to the community, soon expanded to include a holiday program, eco-clubs - an educational gardening platform. Excited children from the neighbourhood flocked to Wilweena's workshops, eager to participate in the gardening and eco-club activities she had initiated. The Eco-club program quickly outgrew the confines of her backyard and was soon hosted at supporting schools, Westport Primary School and Searidge Park Primary School.
Driven by a deep-rooted belief in the power of knowledge exchange, Wilweena was most excited about empowering the youth. She aimed to educate them about the crucial role they play in the food system, starting with the joy of seeing seedlings sprout. By gradually introducing bigger challenges and providing constant encouragement, she nurtured enthusiasm and a sense of purpose through food systems among the young gardeners.
Embraced by the community and local schools, Jacobs Garden's eco-clubs began to flourish. Wilweena and her team embarked on a mission to educate and inspire the next generation. With unwavering dedication, they taught the children how to clean, maintain, and cultivate small patches of land, transforming neglected spaces into bountiful vegetable havens. Each week, they worked hand-in-hand with 10-15 young learners, instilling in them a sense of purpose and connection to the earth and to the food that we eat.
But the path to success was not without its challenges. Wilweena encountered obstacles along the way, such as a lack of personnel and transportation difficulties in reaching the venues. Undeterred, she sought guidance from organizations like Community Chest, where she honed her skills in non-profit operations, fundraising, and project management. Through programmes and support from organisations such as Community Chest, Rlabs, The City of Cape Town and ASISA Foundation, Wilweena gained the practical tools needed to propel Jacob's Garden forward.
Today, Jacob's Garden thrives as a testament to Wilweena's unwavering determination and community-driven spirit as well as the potential of food systems to provide opportunities in life. Primarily based at Portland High School, people can visit to purchase an array of goodies. Jacobs Garden offers a wide variety of seedlings for different vegetables and herbs, allowing individuals to kickstart their own gardens with confidence. In addition to seedlings, they also provide compost and manure, empowering gardeners with the essential elements needed for healthy plant growth.
Wilweena's vision for Jacob’s Garden extends beyond the physical products offered by Jacobs Garden. She envisions a world where the youth are equipped with the knowledge and skills to become active participants in the food system. By engaging with schools and offering collaborative programs, she aims to create a generation that understands the importance of sustainable agriculture, environmental stewardship, and community resilience. Jacobs garden currently partners with 5 different schools in neighbouring communities, namely, Westport Primary School, Springdale Primary School, Hillside Primary School, Portland High School, and Jamaica Primary School.
As Jacobs Garden continues to flourish, Wilweena remains steadfast in her mission to create a better future through the power of food. Her journey is a reminder that anyone, regardless of their circumstances, has the ability to become a #FoodSystemHero and effect meaningful change in their community.
Wilweena Fortune, a true champion of resilience, growth, and community, has proven that even the smallest seed can grow into a garden of hope. Support Jacob’s Garden by visiting Portland High School and purchase some products today!
Find about more on their Facebook page @Jacob’s Garden.
Written by Donna De Sani