Creating a culture

Any old container can be used to grow seedlings, say Johnny and Devi Munien of Asherville, who want people to become food self-sufficient. Duncan Guy

Any old container can be used to grow seedlings, say Johnny and Devi Munien of Asherville, who want people to become food self-sufficient. Duncan Guy

Published May 8, 2021


Egg cartons, plastic bread loaf packets and anything that can hold veggie seedlings rarely makes its way from the Munien home, in Asherville, to any landfill site.

The couple’s modest-sized property oozes with food plants, from paw paws to chillis. It’s also full of seedlings they will give away next Saturday (May 15) at a pop-up centre in their drive-way to encourage self-sufficiency.

“We’ll log people in, record what each family takes, monitor, evaluate and track them.

Under the watchful eye of Johnny Munien, his grand daughter Laranya Maharaj waters seedlings from a watering can with a sprout made from a recycled cooldrink bottle. Picture: Duncan Guy

In three weeks they should be able to harvest spinach and nurture green peas,” said Devi Munien, who retired from corporate work with Standard Bank.

Next in line for her non-profit organisation, Vedanta, will be able to offer food production skills, a platform for people to sell their surplus and business training.

This guidance will particularly be targeted at the youth.

“Their world of work will change fundamentally in the next five years,” said Devi.

“We want to slowly create a culture of self-sufficiency.”

Used baked bean cans – some with dents and kinks – that hold basil seedlings “that just fell from a bush and sprouted”, are a by-product of another of the Munien’s volunteer occupations. The baked bean tins come from a factory in Tongaat, where they don’t make the grade for retail outlets but inside contain perfectly good food to feed impoverished households in a feeding scheme.

Small houses dating to when the then-Durban Corporation provided homes for Indian people forcibly moved from Congella and Cato Manor still exist in Asherville. Picture: Duncan Guy

Their own home, on a modest-sized property, is comfortable and middle class. It has a swimming pool and enough room for their dogs. However, peppered around their suburb and neighbouring Springtown, are small units, built back in the day by the Durban Corporation.

Devi and Johnny Munien use their green fingers in their 'Garden in a Box’ facilities outside their home. Picture: Duncan Guy

The occupants of many of these small houses are desperately poor, especially since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. People were housed there after being moved from the military barracks in Congella that once housed Indian workers and their families, and Cato Manor.

Three-year-old Laranya Maharaj holds an egg box that has been recycled into a seed tray. Picture: Duncan Guy

“Our house was one of them until we built on to it,” said Johnny Munien, who was in management with the Dolphins cricket team.

Devi’s career has also taken her to many public schools as a business coach in impoverished areas, from Phoenix to Mpolweni. She would like Vedanta to also become involved there.

“The government would tell the principals – run your schools like businesses.”

She has the utmost admiration for many in communities where family rapes happen daily, where there is poverty, gangsterism and, often, the theft of donated computers within three months of them having been delivered.

“You can only marvel at the principals’ tenacity. How they manage.”

Ask Devi Munien how she grows her beans and she’ll tell you that even a plastic bag for bread can be made into a seedling container. Picture: Duncan Guy

The Muniens hope Vedanta will be able to support other pop-up centres that eventually mushroom elsewhere. They have access to land in the Montclair and Phoenix areas on which to plant more seedlings but as the venture grows – hopefully attracting sponsors – more people and more land will need to be roped in.

Johnny enjoys making a vegetable gardening container from recycled wooden pallets. The “Garden in a Box” facilities line the outside of their home in Dahlia Road and host seedlings ranging from cabbages to tomatoes as well as full grown onions, celery, lettuce and bell peppers. They are a clear sign of where next Saturday’s event will be held, from 9am to 1pm.

“Bring your recycling items to plant various seedlings. Take them home and watch them grow,” reads their flier.

The Independent on Saturday

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