In this lecture, historian Elizabeth Vibert will recount the story of a women’s cooperative vegetable farm in South Africa and consider the role of small-scale farming and community-based “development” in poverty alleviation and women’s empowerment. In the dying days of apartheid in the early 1990s, three generations of women in a village in South Africa came together to create a community garden. They called it “the thinking garden,” a place where women gather to think about how to effect change.
Twenty-five years later the garden is still thriving, within constraints, providing fresh vegetables and new opportunities for local people while helping to confront the ravages of climate change, poverty and HIV/AIDS. What are the challenges facing such community projects, and Global South communities themselves, in the early 21st century? Is there a place for small-scale farming in socially just futures, or is it a poverty-generating relic of the past? How do women and community members fashion alternatives to economic and social marginalization, and are these meaningful, or are the forces of global capital too powerful? What do just futures look like on the ground in the Global South?
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