Armed with garden tools and plenty of enthusiasm, dozens of staff from several Woolworths stores in KwaZulu-Natal including La Lucia Mall, McKeurtan Ave, Mtubatuba, Ballito Lifestyle Centre, Kengsington, Bridge City and Mt Edgecombe converged at Avoca Primary School, north of Durban this week (16 October 2014) to assist learners, parents and staff with their food gardening programme.

This is one of 17 EduPlant schools across the country who received assistance from Woolworths in recognition of World Food Day on Thursday, 16 October during September & October.

The hard-working volunteers gave their time and sweat to help boost the productivity of the school’s established food garden. They dug beds, and planted seedlings and trees.

Founded by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, World Food Day is an annual event that highlights issues of food security and global hunger. This year’s theme is ‘Family Farming:  Feed the world, caring for the earth’.  It aims to focus attention on the significant role of family farming in eradicating hunger and poverty, providing food security and better nutrition, improving livelihoods and managing natural resources.

This day of giving was part of a much larger, long-term commitment from Woolworths towards food security in South Africa. The EduPlant programme, co-ordinated by national greening and food gardening social enterprise Food & Trees for Africa, has been a flagship project of the Woolworths Trust since 2004. This year the Trust donated R2,8 million to the organisation, bringing its total EduPlant donations to almost R20 million.

“Good food, produced in sustainable ways, is at the core of our business,” said Zinzi Mgolodela, Head of BEE & Transformation at Woolworths. “That’s why we have made a long-term commitment to improving food security in South Africa by increasing communities’ access to sustainable agricultural practices and resources.

“Over the years, we have seen first-hand how establishing sustainable food systems at schools not only provides children with nutritious food, but also serves as a driver of local community development, transformation to sustainable living and entrepreneurship through selling surplus produce. Furthermore, by integrating the programme into the school curriculum, we are inculcating in learners the vital skill of growing nutritious food sustainably.”

“One of the critical success factors of the EduPlant programme is sustainable partnerships – rallying communities, learners, educators and Woolies employees to help ‘feed the world & care for the earth’ through permaculture principles ensures the sustainable impact of the programme & talks directly to this year’s theme,” concludes Mgolodela.

EduPlant and Food & Trees for Africa’s founder, Jeunesse Park said: “Our long-term partnership with Woolworths has enabled us to contribute meaningfully to community food security throughout the country over the past 20 years. Their monetary donations – and the commitment shown by the Woolworths staff – have inspired us in our journey towards thriving food secure communities on a sustainable and healthy planet.”

Food & Trees for Africa ecopreneur Bharathi Tugh said: “The focus of the school visits are to encourage a lifestyle change towards healthy eating and healthy living. We want to ensure learners truly understand the value of organic food that is chemical, pesticide and fertilizer-free. Learners need to know how they can add value to the environment and our objective is to bring about awareness of climate change and other important environmental issues.”

“I am truly humbled by the enthusiasm of all our staff who have volunteered their time to make a difference to the lives of the learners, the school and the communities in which we trade,” said Jackie Hardien, Woolworths Relationship Manager.

In her address to the school and attending guests, Avoca Primary School educator Mrs Viloshini Govender said: “At a recent school visit to one of the Woolworths stores our learners were intrigued by the journey of how food and clothing are produced. They were astonished to see how jeans and other garments are created from recycled material. This has contributed to their learnings on the importance of caring for the environment.”

Lionel Pillay from the Woolworths corporate social investment team who volunteered his time to plant trees at Avoca Primary School said: “We need to expose learners to the importance of organic farming and the benefits of consuming organic food as this aligns strongly with our strategy to promote sustainable farming practices whilst also having the utmost respect for the environment and its inhabitants.”