vegetable garden durban
Elangeni Green Zone, behind Durban's Elangeni Hotel. All photos: Sue Derwent

A group of 15 homeless men have transformed a plot of land behind Durban’s famous beachfront Elangeni Hotel into a “booming” farm in just a few months… and become one of SA’s best feel good stories.

It all began at the start of lockdown when some men at eThekwini Municipality’s homeless shelter in North Beach were a little bored. According to fertilizer supplier Talborne Organics, “one of them is Zimbabwean and he has farming experience. In June, he used his skills to teach the other homeless men to farm.”

The local municipality supported their project and it’s now flourished into an incredible organic farm, named the Elangeni Green Zone.

vegetable garden durban
Elangeni Green Zone. Photo: Sue Derwent – “Looking south towards the city.”

Durban author and journalist Sue Derwent visited yesterday to get her veggie shopping done and left feeling thrilled, impressed and humbled. In a post that has gone viral, Sue said:

“Now THIS, people, is buying fresh, straight out the ground, and local. And seasonal. And it’s not run by some cute, trendy NGO doing an ‘urban farming project to help the homeless’.

“This is the homeless helping themselves.

“Honestly, you can’t believe what these guys have achieved. Without any chemical sprays or any such things. Just with a vacant lot they were housed in during hard lockdown, their bare hands, a couple of spades, and the assistance of the most delightfully unassuming homeless guy who just happens to have an agricultural diploma, and who was bored during lockdown. He has also been training anyone there who wanted to participate.

“There are seed beds (they bought packets of seeds from the local Shopright they tell me), a nursery area, rows and rows of spinach and other veg. And solid plans for the future.

vegetable garden durban
Photo: Sue Derwent – “Here come my packets of spinach – about twice the size – if not more, than you will get at any grocer.”

“They have a fabulous idea to start a service whereby anyone in the suburbs (or anywhere) can employ them to establish a home (or office or business) veg garden. They will come and plant up a whole veg garden for you, bringing all the seedlings and expertise you will need. Don’t you think that’s wonderful? (Anybody?)

“They also want to try and sell their veggie seedlings to nurseries (Again… anybody?)

“There are huge beautiful beef tomatoes that will apparently be ready in 10 days to 2 weeks I am told. And I see things like onions, chillies and peppers they are experimenting with. Apparently the heat is a bit of a challenge.”

tomatoes elangeni green zone
Elangeni Green Zone. Photo: Sue Derwent – “Tomatoes will be ready soonish.”

Sue returned home with a cabbage, a huge lettuce, two massive bunches of spinach and a bunch of baby carrots, which they picked for her while she was there.

“And all it cost me was R45 (and a little tip). Happy days,” says Sue. “Please support these guys if you live anywhere in the greater Durban area. The place is bulging.”

vegetable garden durban
Photo: Sue Derwent – “Picking baby carrots. We were given a couple to taste!”

Sue also advises: “Don’t get all freaked out by the fact that you need to drive a little way through the tented accommodation, and that it may look a bit dodge for your more refined sensibilities. I was welcomed (without a fuss – people are working here). I was shown around, i put in my order. I paid my money. Nobody begged or expected anything or asked for anything – other than a little support from customers going forward.

“They don’t need advice. (In fact maybe restrain yourselves if you can) They need customers. It’s one of the sure-fire ways to ensure it is sustainable.

“These guys are farmers. And they have plans!

“Oh… And please share this post – obviously. But don’t just share. Go and shop there yourself. It’s such a sweet experience. And maybe it will even get some of you out of the suburbs and into the urban Durban beachfront sunlight ??❣”

vegetable garden durban
Photo: Sue Derwent – “This is part of my haul. It didn’t fit onto my kitchen counter easily.”

Elangeni Green Zone says its short term goal “is to expand our project and supply nationally, and our long term goal is to equip the youth with the skills and knowledge of agriculture.”

Support Elangeni Green Zone and find out more here.