The following is a description by BrightSide Produce’s Executive Director, Adam Kay, of how BrightSide has developed partnerships with organizations in Cape Town, South Africa.
In 2014, I co-founded BrightSide Produce with two 16-year-olds from north Minneapolis, Deedee Fuller and Adam Pruitt. I pursued BrightSide’s development as part of my job as a Biology Professor at the University of St. Thomas. Since then, life in the local food movement has taken many interesting twists and turns.
One particularly interesting twist started back in 2017. I was approached by Steve Fox, at the time the Executive Director of an organization called Think Impact, which helped create social entrepreneurship study abroad experiences. Steve was interested in developing an urban garden school program in West Africa and wanted some advice. Although that project didn’t pan out, we ended up discussing the possibility of creating education experiences for US students focused on urban agriculture and local food entrepreneurship. Steve connected with his colleague Zach Lager, the country coordinator for Think Impact in South Africa. Steve and Zach easily convinced me that the project was particularly well-suited for Cape Town, which they described as one of the most beautiful and interesting cities in the world. Since then, I’ve been to Cape Town several times and have learned a lot about social division and the potential for collaboration to further food justice.
Our Cape Town partnership has grown and developed over the years. In 2019, I traveled with 5 students to Cape Town to work with Abalimi and Usiko. Three of those students – Karl Buttel, Sophia Brown, and Maggie Schmaltz – have been integral parts of BrightSide over the last few years (Maggie still is!). During the pandemic, we also worked on a couple of remote projects. In one, we worked with a former Usiko leader Litha Bhebheza, to conduct an animal behavior experiment using goats foraging around townships in the Klapmuts area east of Cape Town. Litha shot many short videos of individual goats, and university students in the US analyzed goat behavior using the videos. Zach, Litha, Justa, and I have written a paper about this project and are hoping to have it published soon.
Another project, initiated by Zach, was a global dialogue series among members of BrightSide, Usiko, and another organization called Cape Winelands Biosphere. This work involved both whole-group and individual conversations focused on challenges and opportunities faced by our organizations and by our members. It was a wonderful collaboration made possible by a grant from the United States Consulate in Cape Town.
The Consulate grant also helped to fund a Cape Town visit from one of BrightSide’s co-founders, Deedee Fuller. Deedee is now an emerging food entrepreneur in the Twin Cities and a BrightSide board member.
Deedee came to Cape Town in November 2021 when my family and I were there for a sabbatical. She visited Abalimi and Usiko and several other organizations around Cape Town. She also took a Cape Malay cooking class, visited farmers markets, and learned a lot about the local food system. It was incredible to see Deedee have vibrant interactions with Cape Town residents from all walks of like. She really was an amazing ambassador for our organization and our community.
We’re eager to continue to develop this Cape Town connection over time. We’ve seen amazing impacts on ourselves and the young people who have traveled there. And I hope we’ve been a bit useful for Abalimi and Usiko. But there is so much more to do. The incredibly stark social and racial divides in Cape Town challenge American visitors to reflect on the tragedy of our own divisions. Many of those divisions are reflected in the challenges facing our food system. But maybe the food system can be a main way for us to bridge some of the divides and bring people together in common purpose.