In South Africa, future generations who want to understand where their food comes from are leading a movement for healthy eating.
When she was just sixteen years old, South African Claire Reid she invented a biodegradable tape to help make gardening easy. The tape includes fertilizer, seeds spaced the correct distance apart, and color-coded instructions to make sure everything is planted at the correct depth. Now, as founder and CEO of Reel Gardening, Claire is passing on her knowledge and love of gardening to schools and children across her country.
One such school is Sekwati Primary, located in the township of Soweto, just west of Johannesburg. The school had a problem: they had a large community and school garden, but it wasn’t being used by their students. Being a low-income, urban neighborhood, the students were missing out on a chance to learn about food that they wouldn’t find elsewhere.
Reel Gardening had experience working with community and individual gardens, but working within a school presented new challenges and opportunities. Claire noted that support through Securing Water For Food (SWFF) was integral to finding a solution. “We got the resources we needed to reassess our innovation, refine it and create a new product,” says Claire. “We would have never invented that without the SWFF process.”
Teachers see their students appreciating the environment and the source of their food. They learn responsibility.
That product is the Learn and Grow Kit. The kit is an inexpensive and fun tool that teachers can use to connect a small vegetable garden to the work they are already doing in the classroom. It includes not only the patented seed tape, but also everything else a class would need—from a tool for watering to a container for the soil and garden itself. Most importantly, Reel Gardening worked with education writers to develop a workbook for preschool, primary grades, and 8th and 9th graders. It includes lesson plans, a teacher’s guide, worksheets, activities, and evaluation sheets, all of which align with government curriculum. “The garden is a tool for what they are teaching,” Claire says. “It’s not an extracurricular activity, it’s an outdoor classroom.”
At Sekwati Primary School, the kits have been so successful that they now have a grow pod for each grade. “The teachers used to have to ask students to water the plants every day,” Claire recalls. “Now the kids are so excited to have their turn that the teachers created a roster to make sure no one misses out!”
Success has created challenges for scaling though. While Reel Gardening is a business that sells these kits, they are also a social enterprise that wants to make sure every child has an opportunity to grow their own food and eat healthy. Support from SWFF has helped Reel Gardening determine how to scale, including utilizing a buy one, give one model—selling products to schools that can afford it, and matching sales with donated kits for schools in need. “SWFF enabled us to test our school model at scale,” says Claire. “They have incubated us, and helped us be sustainable through buy-one, give-one.”
To date, the Learn and Grow Kit has been sent to more than 3,000 schools and early childhood development centers and the impact on healthy eating and food security is incredible. Children involved in the schools programs are applying what they learned in class to plant their own gardens at home. These kids are learning more than just gardening skills—teachers using the model say that they are seeing difficult-to-teach skills like patience, responsibility, and mindfulness developing naturally in their students, simply through the daily practice of looking after a garden.
“Teachers see their students appreciating the environment and the source of their food,” says Claire. “They learn responsibility.” The company is even developing a parent’s gardening activity book to bring the learning and growing fun into children’s homes.
Looking ahead, Reel Gardening is developing more products that focus on urban gardening: a window sill pot, vertical gardening pots, and a hanging pot for balconies. These products recognize that all people should be able to grow and enjoy their own food, no matter where they live or how much outdoor space they have available. Whether it’s in a school, on a balcony, or in a backyard, Reel Gardening will be sure to plant the seed of passion for gardening and learning for the next generation.