Farm Friday:
Lessons From the Gardener Nelson Mandela

Written by Plant With Purpose on July 18, 2014 in Farm Friday, General

Today is our second “Farm Friday” and we are celebrating Nelson Mandela Day. Mandela was a revolutionary, activist, president, and yes – a farmer.


On July 18, people around the world are remembering Nelson Mandela for his life spent righting wrongs, bringing about justice and reconciliation, and pointing to the hope in humanity. Along with these enduring contributions, Plant With Purpose also celebrates Mandela’s work as a gardener and cultivator of the earth. During his imprisonment in the concrete jungle of Pollsmoor he created a farm oasis, which he writes about in his autobiography, “Long Walk to Freedom.”

“I grew onions, eggplant, cabbage, cauliflower, beans, spinach, carrots, cucumbers, broccoli, beetroot, lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, strawberries, and much more. At its height I had a small farm with nearly nine hundred plants.”


The rhythm of farming creates a pattern as seasons pass and vegetables come to maturity. Tilling soil, cultivating crops, and soaking in the sun are life-giving experiences. Mandela found freedom in these ancient rhythms.

“The Bible tells us that gardens preceded gardeners, but that was not the case at Pollsmoor, where I cultivated a garden that became one of my happiest diversions. It was my way of escaping from the monolithic concrete world that surrounded us. Within a few weeks of surveying all the empty space we had on the building’s roof and how it was bathed the whole day, I decided to start a garden and received permission to do so from the commanding officer.

A garden was one of the few things in prison that one could control. To plant a seed, watch it grow, to tend it and then harvest it, offered a simple but enduring satisfaction. The sense of being the custodian of this small patch of earth offered a taste of freedom.”


Life-lessons are taught in the garden. The same care it takes for a seedling to mature should be given to cultivating the seeds in our lives. Mandela’s garden in Pollsmoor is reflective of the seeds of dignity and renewal he sowed throughout his life.

“In some ways, I saw the garden as a metaphor for certain aspects of my life. A leader must also tend his garden; he, too, plants seeds, and then watches, cultivates, and harvests the results. Like the gardener, a leader must take responsibility for what he cultivates; he must mind his work, try to repel enemies, preserve what can be preserved, and eliminate what cannot succeed.”

All of us will leave a legacy. Whether it is a smile shared with the downtrodden, an investment in righting the wrongs in your community, or time spent in the garden cultivating food to share with those in need, be intentional about sowing seeds of hope in your life.

You can sow a seed today by helping a farming family change their circumstances. Join us in our goal to fund 30 family farms by the end of this year, and help impoverished families live with dignity and hope.

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