Meet the US food gardener who inspired a community

Sandra McLean doing what she loves most. Picture: Supplied

By Louise Liebenberg


A NEW Yorker with a passion for community gardening has spent several weeks in Port Elizabeth to help children in the Joe Slovo township set up their own flourishing food gardens.

Sandra McLean, of Slow Food New York City, has taught the kids at Joe Slovo Primary how to build veggie gardens that, once properly established, will help keep them  and their families nourished.

Sandra returned to the US on Friday, April 8, but will be back in Port Elizabeth in October to make sure the project stays on track.

Slow Food NYC is part of the international Slow Food movement and aims to counteract the effects of fast food on families. Sandra is heavily involved in food gardening programmes in some of that city’s most poverty ravaged communities.

She spent two weeks at Joe Slovo, where another American, John Lombardo, has been running a project called Artworks for Youth. With the help of John and other locals she sourced soil, compost, tools and seedlings for the kids.

Sandra and the children from Joe Slovo laid out 12 beds in all. Picture: Supplied

“I was able to purchase broccoli, bok choi, chard, tomatoes and all sorts of plants  – a total of 14 crops – and lots of great things for soup (as there is a soup kitchen at the school),” Sandra said.

Some progress can already be seen. Picture: Supplied

Twelve raised beds were built and the kids learnt basics like  watering, weeding, thinning and reading seed packets.

Scroll down below to learn how to make Sandra’s delicious butternut, leek and walnut pasta!

Sandra and some of the community members and pupils who helped her prepare the ground. Picture: Supplied

Sandra’s Butternut, Leek and Walnut Pasta – The Recipe

“This is a great simple recipe that I serve when I want to make a bolognese sauce but have both vegetarians and omnivores coming to dinner, as it is quite hardy and one doesn’t miss the meat,” says Sandra. The vegetables she uses are easy to get in PE in the wintertime.

Serves 4 as a main course and six as a first course


500g penne pasta; 1 small butternut (or other winter squash); 2 leeks; 1/2 cup chopped walnuts; 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil; 1/2 tsp dried sage; 1 cup grated parmesan cheese; 1 tsp salt; 1/4 tsp hot pepper flakes


Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Peel the butternut squash, scrape out the seeds and cut into 1.5cm cubes.

Place in a medium sized bowl and toss with salt and 1/4 cup of the olive oil.

Lay out the squash in a single layer on 1 or 2 baking sheets. Place in oven and let roast for 20 minutes, or until the squash is brown on the underside.

Gently turn the squash over to continue roasting until soft. Remove from the oven and set aside.

It is important to not handle the squash too much as you want it to retain its shape.

While the squash is cooking, put water on to boil in a large covered pot.

Cut off the green top of the leek and slice the white into very thin rounds. Put into a colander and wash thoroughly as it can be dirty.

Place in large saute pan with 2 Tbsp of the olive oil. Saute over low heat until the leeks are soft and transparent. If they brown a bit that is fine.

Add chopped nuts, hot pepper and sage and saute for another 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and set aside.

When the water has come to a full boil, uncover the pot and add the pasta. Cook according to manufacturers’ directions. Just before the pasta is done add 2/3 cup of the pasta water to the leek mixture and stir. Gently toss in the squash and reheat, being careful to keep the squash pieces intact. Toss in 1/2 cup of the cheese. Taste for salt.

Drain the pasta (do not rinse) and put into large bowl. Toss with 2 Tbs olive oil.  Pour the sauce over the pasta. Gently toss it all together. Sprinkle with cheese and serve immediately.

Serve with a fresh green salad and some fresh bread and it makes a meal.

This entry was posted in Foodie personalities' recipes, Vegetarian and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s