Meet your farmer: Kula Organics
Farmer and agripreneur Nonkululeko Britton will be giving a free talk this Saturday at Keyes Pantry Market. Read more about her inspiring journey below.
As the slow food and farm-to-fork movements sweep across the globe, more and more people are realising that factory processed and out-of-season foods are not the best we can offer our bodies. Cue a growing trend of consumers turning towards real food, sourced directly from farms and vegetable gardens.
Nonkululeko Britton is one such person. Not only has she started her own organic vegetable farm in Johannesburg, but through her box delivery scheme, Kula Organics, she’s working with local inner city farmers to ensure Joburgers have easy access to safe, fresh, organic produce, as well as information.
“I believe in paying what a product is worth,” she tells me, after interrupting our interview to take a phone call from a supplier, in which she places an order for aubergines, switching comfortably between English, Xhosa and Zulu. “I go to local farms and pay the regular prices, then sell on to my clients. I believe in the work that these farmers do and I understand the effort it takes to grow produce. Even at those prices, it is affordable to eat healthily.”
For Nonku is passionate about making healthy eating accessible, something she does through her box delivery scheme, in which she delivers freshly picked produce, including free-range eggs, to most areas in Johannesburg.
At the beginning of her journey into agriculture, Nonku met Amon Maluleke, a permaculture expert and founding member of Bertrams’ Bambanani Food and Herb Gardens, one of Joburg’s first inner city organic farms. Having recently discovered she may just have green fingers, she embarked on a six-month boot camp with Maluleke, in which he taught her everything she needed to know about starting an organic food garden.
Armed with this knowledge, Nonku gained permission from her parents to transform half an acre of their Midrand livestock farm into a food garden. “It works so well, as I get to see my parents more often, my kids have a babysitter more often, and I can visibly see the impact my involvement is having on the farm,” says Nonku. For her vegetable garden has created an interesting ecosystem, with the family’s livestock getting offcuts from Nonku’s produce, the vegetables using manure from the livestock for nourishment, and the family all pitching in to invest in a borehole. “It’s an ongoing experiment.”
And while Nonku has turned this half acre into a successful business, growing everything from spinach, to potatoes, green peppers, kale, garlic and ginger, her focus has shifted somewhat. “I’ve met up with five other food gardens in the past eight months, and increasingly I’m leaving the production element up to the farmers,” she says. “For now I’m putting my energy into creating a market for local, organic produce.”
Having completed a business course at GIBS in 2016, Nonku is perfectly positioned to do so. “I’ve subconsciously gone on to implement everything I learned in that course,” she says, rattling off elements such as handling cash flow issues, managing staff, marketing, sustainability and market segmentation. “For instance, a big focus of the course was innovation, and I now use social media entirely to market the produce and to meet people.”
Nonku currently works with a local group of farmers, collecting fresh produce from her own farm and theirs, sharing what is available on social media and delivering to her clients. “The magic is that all of these farms are within a 20km radius,” she says. This means Nonku never has to move too far, which helps to keep the costs down, allows her to develop a relationship with the farmers, who she visits daily, and of course, ensures the produce is fresh, having been delivered straight from the farm. “Otherwise what’s the point?”
Nonku, being a working journalist, is passionate about sharing the stories of the farmers she works with, and creating transparency in the food chain. “Kula Organics has been an interesting model, and I’m building it as I go,” she says. She’s adamant the industry needs more people who can share information, ensuring we all know where our food comes from and whether there has been any injustice in its journey to our door. “That’s a role I’d love to play,” she muses. “One day I’d like to work full time in the agri space. It’s a beautiful space.”
Please join us at Nonku’s free Pantry Market talk on Saturday 28 July at 10.30am.