Living Food Walls for Disadvantaged Youth, Sustainable Communities

The first living wall as it’s constructed in South Africa.

My friend Warren Te Brugge has taken on a project that deserves the attention of all who are interested in the ideals of sustainable communities and food security in all parts of the world.

His new foundation My Arms Wide Open® is building the first-ever living food walls with the objective of providing fresh fruits and vegetables to disadvantaged youth in both Vancouver Downtown Eastside and in rural South Africa.

The sister walls will be constructed based on the design of South African artist, Dylan Lewis, who created the exhibition “Untamed” (pictured above) at Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens (see more pics of the living plant wall construction here). The exhibition was originally constructed in celebration of the country’s hosting of the 2010 World Cup.

The two identical vertical gardens — one in Vancouver and the second in Cradock, South Africa — will yield several harvests throughout the year and offer educational opportunities. The main goal: inspire youth to make their own “mini walls” contributing to their health and sustainable communities.

How are these walls being constructed? All the details are here (.pdf). In short, each will be designed as an “S” shaped arc that is 40 feet long and 6 feet high. The design is ideal for allowing the young children to tend the lower parts and older youth to tend the higher areas. A concrete footing will support individual slots for plastic 2-liter pop bottles cut to hold each plant.

“During the fall and winter, the garden’s bottles not being used for vegetables and fruits will be replaced with suitable plants to maintain the wall during the off-season and allow for preparation of new vegetable seedlings for the spring,” Warren writes on his blog. “In addition to the fruit plants grown in the bottles, we intend to plant several fruit trees around the wall to support the surrounding community’s need for fresh fruit.”

He also writes, “These food walls are about ‘more than just crops’. Projects like this can help create a sense of real community as families learn about how to grow and maintain the walls, volunteer to help and share the harvests.”

Sounds like a project that could make a big difference? A few think so, which is why Warren was recently nominated for an award from Katerva, a UK-based charity organization that recognizes publicly what they see as “the very best sustainability initiatives on the planet. 
I also think the food walls are a pretty cool plan, so I’m contributing to the cause at Global Giving here. Check it out: The project has only 10 more days to raise $4,000 from 50 donors and, as of the time of this writing, there are 42 donors and only $660 remaining. 

Published by David Despain, MS, CFS

David is a science and health writer living on Long Island, New York. He's written for a variety of publications including Scientific American, Outside Online, the American Society for Nutrition's (ASN) Nutrition Notes Daily, and Institute of Food Technologists' (IFT) Food Technology magazine and Live! blog. He's also covered new findings reported at scientific meetings including Experimental Biology, AAAS, AOCS, CASW, Sigma Xi, IFT, and others on his personal blog "Evolving Health." David is also an active member of organizations including the National Association of Science Writers (NASW), the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the American Society for Nutrition, the Institute of Food Technologists, and the National Audubon Society. David has a master's degree in human nutrition from the University of Bridgeport, and a bachelor's degree in English from University of Illinois at Springfield. He also earned his Certified Food Scientist credential from the Institute of Food Technologists.

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