Growing food in a pandemic

Many are saying, “the world is standing still.” There is talk of a great pause, a stopping of life. Does life still thrive in a global pandemic? Layla Staegemann, a Six Kingdoms collaborator, reflects on vegetables in the time of Covid 19.

For the first time in the lives of the current young generations, the world is experiencing something collectively. The global pandemic has been called a hoax, it’s been feared, it’s been questioned. There are a million perspectives on how to view it and how to analyse the world that is supposedly falling apart at the hands of this virus.

Three weeks ago I parked in my usual spot, a few houses down from the large frangipani tree. I always park in front of the red shade cloth that hangs, tattered, on the gate of Tannie Elsabe. Usually I am approached by a few people, I usually get asked for a five rand, sometimes if I have any jobs. This time before I got out of my car I was surrounded, people laughing somewhat desperately and asking for seeds and compost. Seeds and compost, an uncomfortable thrill moved through my body as I sent them all in the right direction, promised seeds on my return and encouraged the planting up of their backyard gardens.

Some people are not pausing, they are growing.

Growing your own food in this pandemic has proved to be one of the most imperative acts of self reliance. Often the act of starting a garden is viewed as an almighty one, something complicated and time consuming. What about just growing your spinach? The ability to grow herbs and greens is accessible to almost everyone who has a place to live. Whether windowsill pots in your flat or beds that wrap along your front door, it could be gutters hanging on your North East facing walls or a community allotment.

Working in communities around the Western and Eastern Cape of South Africa has given me the privileged insight into people who gain not only food on their plates from their gardens, they also gain great joy from sharing and growing. After a number of workshops in the past week, working through a series of questions around how to survive times like these, the most common topic that arises is the importance of growing food and growing basic medicine. An understanding, or perhaps a remembrance, has integrated into the phenomenal people I work with. There are always degrees of privilege, to grow food one must have the privilege of a safe space or the ability to make one, access to water, the capacity to buy seed or to network with people and get/trade/find seed.

In the past few weeks I have also come across great loss, fear and humans who have given up and crumpled inwards as the outside world pushes in. I have observed these individuals working in the garden and propagating plants to fill their tiny nurseries. Watching as their bodies relaxed into the monotony of seedling preparation and the rocking of their heels slowed down as they pressed seeds into their garden beds. I’ve worked alongside men who have cried openly in fear, who began to laugh as we shovelled compost into wheelbarrows and ran to the garden, forcing serotonin into our bloodstreams.

Women who thought they had forgotten how to have hope, watching them pouring warm water over carefully cut herbs to freshen their immune systems and the systems of their families. They handed the warm cups out with pride, remembering they can take their health into their own hands if they choose to.

It’s true, there has been a pause for many. A time to consider their choices, to get perspective on their busy lives and choose which way to step forward. Some are waiting quietly for things to go back ‘to normal’ while others work constantly to create a new normal- a normal that includes a renewed connection to the critical things- healthy food, healthy families and healthy communities.


Layla Staegemann is a Six Kingdoms partner with a focus on ecological design, food growing and facilitation. For more of her work visit her social media at @Beneatheleaf on instagram.




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