Scene 3: First Meeting with Stephen Lamb – 11.12.12


After countless discussions with community leaders, it became clear that a mini-project must be started as soon as possible. A sign of good faith, something tangible to see while we progress towards our larger goals; whatever it may be called, we mobilized. Our greatest efforts were in the realm of the gardening mini-project. The decision as to which projects to pursue came largely from gauging the scope, technical difficulty and feasibility of each. We felt it necessary to only pursue projects that our creativity and engineering backgrounds could play a role in the development of the projects. The creation of a sustainable and productive gardening system was chosen as the pilot project. The goals of the project were to beautify the community, give a source of food security or income to gardeners and to give community members something to be proud of.

Community members had asked us previously to aid our research. We accepted the offer to help and encouraged community involvement in the project, as Shared Action Learning dictates. Unfortunately internet was not available in Mtshini Wam as was indicated causing the day to slip into waste. It was one of the first of many reminders that the type of planning in Mtshini Wam seems to stem from assuming the necessary resources would be available. Research on gardening in general, vertical gardening, and gardening in South African informal settlements was conducted at our residence. Special attention was paid to lighting and maintenance requirements and yield of the plants. Preliminary designs were drafted to address these needs and the community’s unique challenges such as the oft-repeated concern that children will rip plants from the soil if the chance is given to them.

Simultaneously we began our exploration of collaboration with those outside of our project. The “Smart Rooftop” WPI project team was consulted for their experience with urban gardening. Their work with Touching the Earth Lightly and their sponsor liaison Stephen Lamb to create a sustainable rooftop gardening system that empowers the urban poor was thought to potentially hold great relevancy to our garden project. His work with the ground-breaking Liter-of-Light system was also a driver for requesting a meeting with him

Scene Takeaways

  • Zach and Steve sit in on The Rooftop’s sponsor meeting to talk with Stephen Lamb
  • They are informed that the Stephen has multiple plants that he has been taking care of to go to Mtshini Wam
  • Discussed the possibility of installing Litre of Light in Mtshini Wam


Cast: Zach, Steve, Advisors, Stephen Lamb, Rooftops, Interns

Zachary and Stephen listened to their peers present their week’s progress. Business models and GIS surveying filled most of the meeting’s time. When the advisors and city interns left, the students ascended to the building’s rooftop garden. As we looked over the variety of plants lining the roof, Mr. Lamb directed us to a large space filled with green crates. The crates were filled with dirt and young plants. They were strawberries, chard and other food producers planted by members of a church organization to feed the urban poor. These were the leftovers from that project that he had secured. He announced that they were to be given to the community of Mtshini Wam if certain conditions were met. As a proponent of sustainable, innovative solutions to the problems faced by many of the urban poor,

Stephen dictated his terms. Essentially we needed to ensure that the plants would be taken care of properly and were planted in a sustainable way that addressed the issue of limited space in informal settlements. He offered some of his ideas to achieve this, including an ingenious indoor gardening structure that allowed plants to grow within the walls of shacks. Although this idea may be useful for Mtshini Wam’s community center, we felt it would be best to pursue less expensive options.

We moved to Liter-Of-Light. Equivalent to installing a 50-Watt incandescent bulb, LoL  was thought to address concerns of residents without windows. Stephen has installed the inexpensive systems before, and when we told him of the lighting and security situation some residents face, he offered to show us how to install them. We decided it would be best to teach community members how to install them and to film the process for any future users, SAL at work.

Plans, Ideas, Challenges:

With Stephen Lamb’s support, doors have been opened for two of our mini-projects. We will build a prototype gardening structure to house the plants and figure out the logistics of taking care of the plants. With Stephen’s approval, the plants will begin to arrive in Mtshini Wam and fill the shelves we create. More research will have to be done in order to assure the best care for each plant that arrives in order to obtain the highest yields. We will also gather the materials for Liter-of-Light and find a willing community member to host the first installment. From there, community interest in spreading the system can be gauged along with its effectiveness in Mtshini Wam’s shacks. Due to the dynamic, shifting nature of our project, the focus will still remain on responding to the needs of stakeholders rather than the garden or Liter of Light.