The Prince Albert Community Trust has not historically addressed food and food scarcity in its day-to-day and macro operations, largely concentrating its efforts and resources on upskilling the youth of the district, and focusing on empowerment through vocational training and the arts. However, when the COVID-19 crisis hit SA, it quickly responded to the need and implemented the PACT Community Cares feeding scheme, keeping the town’s children and elderly fed during a time of uncertainty.

While financial hardship has been exaggerated by lockdown and the COVID-19 pandemic, these are not new issues for communities around the country, and in the Karoo. The current crisis has merely brought to light the large number of people living hand to mouth, whose ability to feed their families can be drastically affected by even just a temporary reduction in income, or pause in work. Supported by donations from businesses – including retail outlets and farmers such as Spar, Gay’s Dairy and the Weltevrede Fig Farm, local spaza shops – as well as generous private citizens, the feeding scheme has to date served over 40 000 meals to members of the Prince Albert community in need.

Now more than six months into a programme that provides much-needed food for numerous children and adults, PACT is realizing this is an ongoing need, that hasn’t been eradicated by the easing of lockdown. In fact the longterm economic ripple effect of this period will be felt for months, if not years to come.

As a result, PACT has looked deeper into how they can contribute to solving or lessening this need. Realizing that it will require systemic change and problem solving rather than temporary fixes, they have considered ways to encourage people to become more self-sufficient. ‘We need to create sustainable ways for people to not only be able to feed their families, but possibly at some point down the road, also generate additional income,’ says PACT’s executive trustee Ingrid Wolfaardt.

The idea is to draw on the rich resources the town offers and collaborate with locals – experts in their fields like Dr Sue Dean, Renu Karoo Nursery, and small-scale farmers on the outskirts of the town – to share their insight and skill. The vision further entails working with the community at large – to get people to collaborate, pool resources and knowledge.

‘There is already a relatively successful initiative in the North End with around 300 small independent food gardens, which are managed by residents for their own use,’ says Wolfaardt. She outlines a plan to further engage these gardeners and help them with backing to maximize their own plots and enable them to make each garden viable and productive. At some point – should these gardens become prolific enough – a fresh produce market of sorts could be possible, ideally run out of the PACT/POP Centre and providing an alternative source of food for the local residents while generating income for the grower members of the community. The specifics are still to be determined, but Wolfaardt and her team are convinced that there is a lot of potential in the existing gardens in town.

Ultimately, they also have plans to establish a ‘mother’ garden at the PACT/POP Centre that could serve as support for the feeding scheme, which is likely to continue in some form or another for quite some time – as long as the need is there. ‘We’d even like to start a seed bank – where members of the community all contribute seeds for different plants which can then be freely shared to those that want to grow new and different plants,’ says Wolfaardt.

This long-term plan aims to empower residents to navigate times of hardship with more autonomy and self-sufficiency, and the sooner the vision can start to be realized, the better – this resilience will be essential in the immediate future as we come through a tough economic period and well into the future, where its effects will remain with us.

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