Erin Hudson-Shier from Cape Town, South Africa

Meet Erin Hudson-Shier from Cape Town, South Africa 

“I am 27 years old and I am fiercely passionate about many things ranging from teaching History for empathy to regenerating land. My husband and I live in Cape Town, South Africa; a beautiful country with beautiful people. South Africa is, however, plagued by the legacy of apartheid; a system which oppressed the large majority of South Africans and was only abolished 25 years ago.

I trained and taught as a History teacher and found great purpose in that. One of the legacies of apartheid, however, is that the quality of education in South Africa is grossly unequal. I am currently working at a Non-Profit Organisation (@brightstarteducationsupport) which works to address these inequalities in education.

My ultimate dream is to combine all of my passions and start up my own Non-Profit Organization which works with schools, especially those in lower-income communities, to create and sustain school food gardens.

When I was little, myself and my three brothers were each given a 1m x 1m patch in the garden to grow our favourite foods. This must have been when the spark was lit, but it wasn’t until I was 22 and living in my first flat that I became interested again and experimented with growing a few culinary herbs. A typical millennial, I watched YouTube videos while learning to grow food and stumbled across a video about Limestone Permaculture Farm, in Australia. Their abundance and natural systems had me intrigued and I eventually went on to complete my Permaculture Design Certificate 3 years later.

After experimenting with a few culinary herbs, I got hooked on the feeling of having GROWN something. Since, then however it has come to mean more to me. When I was 20 I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder and depression. A few years later, when I started growing food, I noticed the positive affect that it had on my mental health. Now, after a particularly tough day I can be found in the garden with a head-torch, planting up a storm.

We don’t own our own property and therefore our growing space is limited to the home that we are renting. My garden is almost solely a container garden (containers that can be carried up three flights of stairs). In the past year, the owners of the house we rented gave us permission to use a 3m x 3m unused patch in the garden. The excitement was real!

I grow as many culinary herbs as possible, as well as cut-and-come-again veg (a great use of space when container gardening). That being said, I also grow veg that is time / space intensive but that I want to have experience in growing (the dream is to have our own space one day). This season’s example was cabbage which took up one of my biggest container for 7 months!

Something that I learnt on my Permaculture Design Course was to not feed the plant, but the soil. My advice for good soil is to MULCH, MULCH, MULCH! With mulch and organic matter, the soil becomes alive with earthworms and all the goodness you could hope for in soil. In terms of pest management, I find that regular walks through the garden mean that you can pick up pests and diseases quickly and remove the infected leaves, before they get out of hand.

I get most of my seeds from an heirloom seed company called Living Seeds. However, I save whatever I can and have recently met with a kind local gardener on Instagram (@lifecanbeadreamsweetheart) who has shared many of her seeds with me.
The biggest obstacle we have in growing food is access to water. In recent years, Cape Town experienced a severe 3 year drought which in 2018, almost culminated in “Day Zero” (when our city of 4 million would run out of municipal water and have to queue for rations). With the implementation of severe restrictions, we were able to stave off Day Zero and we have thankfully had better rainfall this year. However, because we don’t own our own property where we can build swales and other rain-water collection systems, water continues to be a challenge for us!

One of the biggest rewards of my gardening journey has been the new appreciation it has given me for food. I could buy cabbage for R10 ($0,68) in the store, but it took me 7 months to grow. I think, without this knowledge of the time and resources put into our food, we can be wasteful and unappreciative of it.

I have been lucky enough to be able to use my platform as a teacher to raise awareness regarding various issues. In a weekly “enrichment lesson” I was able to introduce my students to permaculture, teach them to grow from seed and take them on tours of a permaculture food garden that I helped a colleague and her enviro-club set up. I have found, though, that just talking about your passion raises awareness. One of my favourite memories was when I walked up to my classroom and was met by the most wonderful scents of culinary herbs, left by one of my History students outside my classroom door (see photo).

Growing your own food is not reserved for people who own land. Grow whatever you can, wherever you can. Even if the only place you can in on your windowsill. The feeling of eating something you have grown doesn’t change, no matter the scale of the harvest. Also, remember that EVERYONE has green fingers and toes. The notion that only some people have a sense for it is utter nonsense. You just have to be willing to fail, learn from it and try again.”