The woman who brought us back to earth

Pat Featherstone in August 2017, just before her 70th birthday.

Soil for Life founder Pat “Tish” Featherstone died in her sleep on Thursday October 14, surrounded by her beloved animals at her home in Kommetjie.

Zoologist, environmentalist, teacher, author and mother to Mikhela Hawker, Leah Hawker and Jacky Valkhoff, she started the non-profit in 2002. It was a part of her life’s work to serve humanity and to create strong positive energies where there are none.

Almost two decades later, she has achieved this and so much more.

This non-profit organisation, based in Brounger Road, Constantia, helps and teaches people to grow healthy, organic, food using simple, low-cost, environmentally-friendly methods. In the past 19 years, more than 7 550 people have participated in various aspects of training which, in turn, has provided the potential for approximately 45 300 people (the gardeners, their families, friends and neighbours) to benefit from having access to healthy nutritious vegetables and knowledge about health and nutrition.

A highlight of the Soil for Life calendar is the annual gardener awards held in the hall and the open days of the grounds.

Ms Featherstone grew up with soil under her fingernails. The seeds were sown as a child, watching her mother, bum in the air, digging, producing food and passing on her knowledge.

After university, Ms Featherstone started teaching – she taught in Rhodesia and at Camps Bay High and Sans Souci in Newlands. But around 1992, and the end of her marriage, she became disillusioned with teaching, realising that her students did not understand the essence of life: where foods originated, the importance of pollen and more.

With no idea what to do next, someone suggested setting up a food garden, which she did. And as she taught this skill, she realised that people were learning a lot more than how to benefit from the Earth’s bounty: they were learning something about themselves too, that they were resourceful, spiritual and creative. They were also eating healthy, nutritious food.

Ms Featherstone also wanted to educate the youth. “With 82% of home gardeners claiming an improvement in health since joining the programme and 76% reporting better relationships with their families and community and an improved sense of well-being, gardening can make a big change in their lives,” she said in August 2018.

Ms Featherstone was always trying new things. Earlier in 2018, she showed off two sustainable projects which could help the city’s poor: one involved building a house in which mushrooms could be grown and the other used compost to heat water.

Students from the University of Illinois chose the projects, as part of their outreach work, from several ideas provided by Ms Featherstone.

In April 2013, Ms Featherstone found herself at death’s door (“Pat’s gift of life,” Bulletin March 13, 2014). Her heart collapsed and she was fitted with a left ventricle assistance device, possibly the fifth person in Africa to have one.

Two days before her 70th birthday celebrations in 2017, Ms Featherstone told the Bulletin she felt she had been in a cocoon for the first 45 years of her life. “I realised this when watching a carpenter bee in our garden. The mother bee lays one egg in a tunnel in wood and she fills it with all the things that the larva will need to grow and develop.

“The tunnel is sealed off with mud, and in spring a new bee emerges in all its glory. I watched one puffing up its wings, in the warm sunlight before it finally took off to go and get its own food. It reminded me about myself in ‘the cocoon’.

“I had been well fortified by my mother, both physically and emotionally; I had three precious sisters, who added fire to my development; and I had all my friends, from whom I have learnt the world; and three daughters, who are my angels, my guides, my mentors and friends. They are wise beyond their years. Without all this ‘nourishment’, I would have been like a bee with no wings,” said Ms Featherstone.

“One event in my life encouraged me to get out of my cocoon and take on the challenges that life has to offer. When the cocoon split open, the new ‘I’ came out – a fully-fledged being with wings to fly – no matter how high. That is how I feel to this day.”

Ms Featherstone was a big supporter and contributor of TEARS animal rescue and also a lifetime achievement award winner.

A celebration of Pat’s life will be held on Friday October 29, at 3pm, at Soil for Life, Brounger Road, Constantia, or via Zoom, meeting code 8109249534, passcode: welovepat. Dress vibrantly.

Annette Fatti of Bergvliet with Pat Featherstone in August 2016.
Pat Featherstone introducing futurologist, keynote speaker and scenario planner Clem Sunter at one of the earlier Home Gardener of the Year award ceremonies.
Pat Featherstone, in June 2013, with Benjie and Soil for Life staff, from left, Louise Vaughan, Sandi Lewis, Jo Fuller and Dale van Vuuren.
Soil for Life non-profit organisation, based in Brounger Road, Constantia helps and teaches people to grow healthy, organic, food using simple, low-cost, environmentally-friendly methods.
Soil for Life gardeners and staff at an event in June 2013.
Soil for Life teacher Fran Fredericks with Mikhela Hawker, one of Ms Featherstone’s daughters, at her 70th birthday celebrations.
Pat Featherstone was always trying new things. In 2018 she showed off a sustainable project involving building a house in which mushrooms could be grown. From left, are Soil for Life staff Dickson Symon, Edward Zimunya and Collins Kuyewawa.