On today’s What’s Your Story!
I am scientist by training currently working in Johannesburg as a researcher in the nanotechnology sector. My PhD research was on development of biosensors for detection of food toxins.
Farming for me started as a hobby and food security, especially in Africa, should be a priority. Now that we are facing climate change, we can’t continue farming using traditional methods. Where traditional methods are failing us, we need to be willing to adapt new technologies, though cost might sometimes be a hindering factor. However, if we put our minds to it, we can come up with cheaper, but effective solutions.
A friend introduced me to Jaco who rents out 30 x 9 m greenhouse tunnels in Kempton Park. These are not advanced, temperature regulated, greenhouses but they provide shelter and protect plants from birds and insects. I regard them as outdoor laboratories, for plants. In June, I decided to take up a vegetable farming project as I wanted to learn how to use a greenhouse tunmel. I was adviced to plant leafy crops in winter. Ideally, I should have planted high value crops, but I settled for vegetables I was familiar with. I planted repu seeds from Zambia. They were taking long to grow but I went ahead and planted them in one of the seven beds that had been prepared. I bought spinach and lettuce seedlings and planted them in the remaining beds. Ideally, I should have harvested within 6 to 8 weeks, but because the cold weather, I only started harvesting in week 11.
I check on the plants as often as I can, especially on weekends when I am not at work. Jaco advices me on what organic fertiliser and pesticides to apply. I was impressed when he adviced me to use a smart fertilizer and taught me fertigation (use of fertilizer in an irrigation system). Smart fertilizers was something we had discussed in our nanotechnology research.
I have a part time gardner who maintains the tunnel and also assists me in harvesting the produce. Marketing and selling in bulk has been a challenge. The middle man wants to buy them at a give away price so that they too can make a profit. I now sell them directly to the consumer. It takes time reaching a lot of people at once. I use my weekend to harvest and make deliveries. The Zambian community in Johannesburg love repu. I have a standing order to supply some friends every weekend. I wish I had planted more of it. My colleagues at work are more familiar with spinach and lettuce which they now buy for me.
The whole journey has been a learning process that I have enjoyed. I do get stressed at times when I harvest too much and I am not sure if it will all be bought while it’s fresh. I am grateful for the support I have been receiving from friends and colleagues. I hope that I will one day farm on a commercial scale and contribute to our food security!