New rooftop farm in Kenilworth

Standing inside a greenhouse in the Kenilworth rooftop farm, from left, are programme coordinator Louis-Gillis Janse van Rensburg, interns Mandla Zuka and Nande Mkatshwa and rooftop farm manager Akhona Gxuluwe.

A rooftop farm on top of Kenilworth Centre is working towards food security and developing new skills for the unemployed.

Unveiled last month, the Handpicked City Farm was made possible by a clothing retailer’s programme to promote job opportunities, agri-business skills and food security.

The farm has four greenhouses that will grow lettuce, spinach, basil, kale, tomatoes, chillies, green peppers, beetroot and other fresh produce.

A fifth greenhouse is used for research while a sixth is used for office space.

Louis-Gillis Janse van Rensburg, of Bellville, who runs the programme, said the mall management approached him about starting the rooftop farm.

The programme would be linked to the Langa community with two interns from there receiving agricultural training at the farm each month, he said.

Once the interns are done with their training they will get a mini greenhouse so they can grow vegetables to support their household.

Mr Janse van Rensburg said the interns would also grow vegetables in support of iChilli le Langa, a non-profit that produces a hot sauce as part of an upliftment programme.

The South African Urban Food and Farming Trust supports the rooftop farm by managing the project and training the interns.

Akhona Gxuluwe, from Khayelitsha, represents the trust and is the rooftop farm’s manager. The farm would provide opportunities for people from the township, she said.

“We are training them in pest and disease control, record keeping as to what vegetables they are planting and the day-to-day management of the garden,” she said.

The farm uses the African Grower system developed by Mr Janse van Rensburg’s company.

“The African Grower is a vertical growing system which consists of four pots that are connected to one another,” he said.

Instead of soil, the African Grower uses coconut coir mixed with fertiliser in the pot. The coconut coir uses less water than soil, according to Mr Janse van Rensburg, and each African Grower set of four pots can grow 16 plants at a time in a space as tall as an average human.

Mr Janse van Rensburg said produce from the farm would not only support two non-profit organisations but it would also be sold to restaurants in Kenilworth Centre.

Leafy vegetables growing in one of the greenhouses.
Intern Mandla Zuka tending to the plants in the African Grower.
Each greenhouse is anchored by barrels on the rooftop.