Urban Farming with Luyanda Jafta

                   by Thulasizwe Somdyala

The land question in South Afrika has taken to mainstream with the struggle for access and visibility being centered around means of production again. With land being the only means of survival, Quartapast looks at progressive ways of which to access and use the land for the enrichment of one’s humanity. i had the pleasure of conversing with Luyanda Jafta, founder and head marketing seller of The Grocer. The Grocer is an “Uber” of fresh produce within the Johannesburg metropole, delivering to your doorstep organic vitality that is nurtured by a string of urban farmers that are seeing gold elsewhere in the city. To accompany the feature, Quartapast has created an urban farming toolkit in collaboration with Jozi Food Farmers, so that once inspired there is practical means at reaching the aspiration of good health. Click here to download

Luyanda: Before this, i have a basic background in digital marketing. i ran a digital marketing company called Pay Book for four years. Basically, what we would do is share brand messages on social media through people. We had something like 25 000 brand ambassadors, we were reaching something like 14 million people on social media. We were making a decent amount of money from it. We were one of the pioneers in the country. i see everyone is on… what do they call it now… uuum.. influencer marketing. We were one of the pioneers in South Afrika. We started 2012, 2013 and we built the platform and started getting nice brands. We worked with Mr. Price, Shell, DHL, a number of various people. One of our ambassadors was making… one month they made R12 000 in one month. This is a 17 year old who can barely speak English, in high school, making on average R5 000 a month. In the course of that journey, i figured what makes me tick is putting food on a table where there was no food. Helping somebody; not in the Western way of charity where they like to do hand outs but helping somebody to put food on their table with their own abilities. And then Facebook started blocking our links because we were taking their ad revenue, so we closed it down. We closed it down December last year (2015).

We’ve been playing with digital marketing from the learnings we had from the four years to start a few online stores just to get by. And then we started the Buy Black platform. What we found was that our people were artists and creatives; far less doers. We found that out with the Buy Black platform. Our people generally were great at telling stories and giving lip service to concepts but were not active. So we made the platform free for everyone to register. We even had a marketing campaign to get people to get free marketing. And the sign up rate was really poor. When i say poor, we had only about 100 companies sign up within a space of a month. With our background we know we should much better, it should be a 1 000 or 10 000 in the first month you know. We found that our people are very lip-service 1. And  then 2, they do not have the means of production. So it is very hard to start a business that sells only to that (Buy Black) in the beginning. What that creates is, yes buy Black but the Black customer that is affluent. There is the psychological side of it that, i guess its called new money. And that thing doesn’t really work with new money is what we found. So it is very hard to keep giving a service that fulfills the objective and at the same time keeps that customer happy.

So with that we started The Grocer right, and it is our objective in transformation. So what we do is, we get money from affluent old money, lets call it white money, and our entire supply chain is Black. So one of the things you deal with is they have such access money that this sort of thing becomes very easy for them to do. There’s no, “aaah no no no, you only gave me 6 tomatoes i wanted 12.” You will get one or two complaints. But they, when you present a brand or concept that is building the economy, they excited to do it. And it is an interesting idea because i was in #feesmustfall last year and i have been an aggressive fighter of the status quo, in my personal capacity, social media that sort of thing. What i learnt from that is we need to start learning how to engage with power. You have two options when you are oppressed; either take back what you want violently or work with the powers that be to liberate you. i think it is an uncomfortable truth to live with, but once you understand those dynamics, it makes it easy for you to change things. So that’s the path of The Grocer, its learning how to engage the people who currently hold economic power and transferring that wealth back to the people who know how to do. You know, the workers who have been working since the dawn on mankind.

Sample from thegrocer.co.za/

Thula: And that makes a more bloodless and more human freeing. We have seen what bloodshed can do and once the blood has shed and the sun comes up, we still find ourselves in oppressive situations. Its real what you saying because i think it is important that people know they can free themselves from things; you do not have to support something that is not supporting you. Rather find alternative ways, and in that manner you are freeing yourself from what was holding you without having to shoot or do something violent, putting yourself through unhealthy situations of placing stress on yourself and all that negative energy.

And also, i know it is rhetoric, when they say there are alias in the struggle. Alias of the oppressor, alias of the oppressed that look like the oppressor. At the end of the day we have to build and there is so much to borrow from everyone’s culture, if we willing to breakdown barriers of our personal emotions in each situation. Everything we feel is a function of emotion and the number one emotion is usually fear but it’s less powerful than love. It is the indoctrination that has been done very well with fear. So we are driven by fear and it manifests anger. And when you angry you can’t hear a thing that another person is saying. So we not learning, we being angry in a circle.


i’ll give you a good example. The #feesmustfall has gone into a situation where it is angry; it’s just angry. There are a few advocates who are trying to get things done like ooKhaya Sithole, who are drafting steps for free education to be realized. But what you see in the background is that anger has no plan. Once anger has been heard, there is nothing that happens after that. So the approach we tryna take is, “yes, we very angry about the injustices but we not gonna act from our anger.” We gonna consciously take a decision to decipher what is happening and how can it be maneuvered around so we can live in a world that i am comfortable that my child will create the most beautiful things in the world. As a woman, as a Black person, as various other things. But i don’t think we currently tapping into that because we still being angry and i suppose it is very justified.

It is justified anger, true. But as said, on a second stretch of #feesmustfall, there must be a strategy. i believe we not progressing because there is a lack of leaders within the movement. Disenfranchised masses in the beginning will need to be led because they come from a situation in which they didn’t own themselves. Once people own themselves i do not think they will need leaders rather people to build their ideas with. But as a disenfranchised person, you need someone to look up to, to push you in the right direction, in the similar manner when you were a child, unknowing. And i think at the forefront we do not have leaders who know themselves and who know us and can speak for us in a way that is beyond anger but who we are. Because we not an angry people.

i think when we look at that we also need to dissect at how leadership is created. Plato spoke about this millennia ago, that the winner of the argument is not usually the one with the best points but the one who puts on the best show. So our leaders are not chosen on their thinking, they are chosen on how appealing they are to the media. It is the one who screams the loudest and bashes their chest the loudest. So they usually regurgitate a rhetoric that we have known to be true and they say it best. And i think the leadership where it is not smart, it does not have a diverse team. It has people who can speak the loudest and get media attention and be media clones. But very few enact the changes that are required. I’ll give you a good example. One party who seems to be doing this really well is EFF. They know how to do rhetoric and media but they also back it up with the legal framework and understanding of how the system can be structured in a way that works practically. Not just emotionally, “we want the land back,” but it is also the practical of how will we enact it; how will the economy work for the Black child.

That is why now you have players like ooKhaya Sithole, who is also now becoming a media darling which i find problematic. i am always concerned when thinkers become media darlings because you start riding on the fumes. For instances, with Pay Book, we did a lot of media. i mean i was on television, i was on radio and i started believing the hype that i’ve made it. People, when they see these things they like, “ah, you’ve made it.” i was on Entrepreneur Mag and you start drinking your own cool-aid. That is when it becomes dangerous. Where you are not taking time to dissect and think. i think Drake said it nicely when he said;

i want to get back to when i was that kid in the basement

i want to take it deeper than money, pussy, vacation

And influence a generation that’s lacking in patience

Those words resonate. When i am that kid in the basement i have nothing to lose; i am no one. So i can think free, think things through without worrying about what someone will think.

That’s real. Then how do we create a foundation for someone that even when they are drinking that cool-aid of themselves, that they do not forget the principle of what they are trying to do?

What you need to do is create leaders who in foundation are clear on who they are. i think a lot of people are finding themselves. They have an innate ability to articulate ideas and think through things but they still haven’t found themselves because either they are economically destitute or… And economically destitute can mean different things for different people. 2, coming to a place where you understand that we can get a lot of things done, as long as nobody cares who gets the credit for it. Once you come to that place then you can get a lot of things done because you know what your purpose is and it is not about you, it is about the objective.

That is why i am very cautious about media darlings because now it is about you. It is about you. You a human being and you have emotional outbursts and you will say things out of turn, you will be wrong sometimes. Now when the opposite side tries to attack you, they will find flaws in your argument and you will spend a large amount of time defending the standpoints you had created previously instead of creating new ways of thinking. When you are clear on who you are, you often won’t say the things that contradict themselves. But when you do, you like, “aah, i am accepting of that. i am human, i change and evolve in my thinking. If i said that, i no longer hold that viewpoint.” And you can stay steadfast in the liberation of our people. So number one is leadership but that starts with the understanding of self.

It is what it is. Until you know yourself and fix the internal, you cannot handle the external…

That’s true. What i often tell people is imagine if everybody just fixed themselves. If everybody just focused on fixing themselves, would we have problems? People need to stop trying to fix the world but they are broken people; it’s that superhero complex. Fix the self.

100. i see things like a soccer team, where if we win the team wins. Wena just play your position and play it well. If you a defender defend, do not try to be a striker. Play your position and if everyone plays their position well, we all gonna win. Now we all happy.

Exactly. That’s the exact analogy, it hits the nail on the head. i think that’s the strategy we should be working with. Bringing it back to The Grocer and the objective of The Grocer. i personally do not farm, but i have a vested interest in the farming culture of South Afrika. Because we are The Grocer, in a twisted way, we like the Uber of vegetables. We enable small scale farmers to reach an audience that they usually do not reach and get top dollar for it. But you know what the biggest problem is within around that. 1, it is a badly organized industry, especially Black farmers. There is a lack of communication across of who should be doing what. Everyone is a striker here because everyone is growing spinach and kale. 1, because i think it is the easiest and if you starting out farming, i suggest you start with that, it is the easiest and cheapest to grow. The dilemma is, there is not so much demand for it. One of the big things is knowing what are the demands in the market. Another twisted twist is that the cheapest and easiest to grow is the least wanted. You end up selling it all at the market at a ridiculously low price. So there is a lack of understanding of supply and demand. What really would bring in the big bucks, is your premium organic vegetables. Your baby marrow, your mushrooms… the things most people do not even know.. i was even surprised at some of their names, like oh, is that what i’ve been eating and why do they have so many names. So those things fetch top dollar because of their scarcity.

What we are trying to do apart from just supporting a sustainable form of income is also organize the market so that there is a diversity in what they supply. So everyone can get a piece of action and we not all competing for that R5 for a bunch of kale at the market. Now you can sell (the kale) for R15 because the supply matches the demand and also supply the other things. So those are some of the things we hell bent on. 2, what we want to do is turn every household that has got a patch of sand into a garden that can even supply us.

So the first objective is for you to produce what you can eat in the house. And that’s nice thing about organic… One of the prerequisites in organic farming is inter-cropping. Inter-cropping is when you plant different vegetables in and around each other. They share nutrients and that keeps the soil vibrant and alive because there is no overuse of a particular nutrient in the soil and therefore a balance is formed. And because organic farming you are not using pesticides and that sort of thing there are certain natural repellant pesticides like garlic and onions. The beauty of it is because now you have a variety of plants in the same patch; that creates a type of sustenance farming setup. Once you reach a point of excess, now you can sell it. And that’s what we want to do. Organize the market and say ok, now you have enough for your own house. Now we can take your excess and pay you for it because we’ve got the market to facilitate that.

This is the weirdest most untold story about Black people that we do not realise. So Western culture came with industrial farming, let’s call it that. It’s pesticides heavy, chemical heavy and now we’ve got genetically modified food. Unwittingly what our grandmothers used to do when we were growing up, they would open a garden at the back of the house. And that is what organic farming is. And as Black people we hold what people are willing to pay top dollar for because what i grow organically i’ma charge you 2 to 3 times more for than the amount i would charge what you buy if it’s non-organic because of the quality. It is as close as possible to what the earth intended. Saying it is 100% organic is a lie also because theres contamination, soil is not the same as we used to use, even water has chemicals that are problematic. But we say 100% because it is free from pesticides and grown in a natural process in which we do not use chemicals to grow the vegetables.

Sample from thegrocer.co.za

Glad you touched on that because i understand that the growing of food within the city could help in reducing carbon dioxide emissions with less delivery trucks needed to transport goods into the city and all the other byproducts such as electricity use being reduced, that ultimately lead to less pollution. However, currently, i was going to ask how organic can food grown within the city be because of the higher concentration of chemicals within rainfall and tap water that help feed the seeds, but you touched on that. So how can food than enliven us, bring a happier person within us and take away some of that anger we feel?

One of the big things that come with that, it goes back to the thing we were discussing of, fix yourself to fix the world. The difference that a good diet and exercise makes in your life is immeasurable. But because it is not an instant fix thing.. we live in an instant fix twitter world. Twitter is the perfect analogy for what society is now. i actually just read an article, the headline alone said, ‘Loopholes to getting Bernie Sanders in instead of Donald Trump.” So i opened it and read the article. But the article is talking about “this is bullshit, that is not going to happen. Guys, we need to stop this nonsense on social media.” And what would happen is most people would just share that article with that headline and not read the article. Then you have this bunch of nonsense circulating in society. Because nobody wants to take the step and actually do the work. We looking for instant gratification.

In a twisted way, The Grocer is also about the entire process. i really think Black youth is sleeping on agriculture. The next billionaires in Afrika are coming from agriculture, i have no doubt in this. In the next 20 years, most billionaires will be in agriculture. We have the largest land mass that is arable in the world and nobody is taking advantage of the situation from the Black youth. Maybe not nobody, i’m being unfair but a very large majority.

100. There is a whole lot of useless information flying around and we focus on that instead of focusing on materializing relevant information. But i feel because of urban life, its setup more often than not excludes a person from knowing and being accessible to the environment. We mostly in cars, taxis, trains moving in between places and when stationary we inside a building or outside on concrete. When we need food we receive it from refrigerators and shelves. This exclusion from the natural process then makes people unable to properly value the goods that sustain them. What simple and accommodating methods and habits can one start to do so as to become less dependent on the retail space and more on whats free to them – nature?

So 1, in the land thing, i think the best place to start is in an urban city farm. Mam’ Refiloe facilitates these visiting sessions where you can come to the farm and see some of the things and maybe plant a tree. Secondly, what she also does, is she does garden training, where she takes whatever garden patch you have, any size, into something that has crop growing. Now we live in these industrialized living spaces with townhouses and what not. i suggest you get a bunch of mates and go rent the shit out of a commune and start making a garden outside. With time if you do it properly, that small space can set off a fair amount on your rent for the actual commune.

2, go visit farms, talk to people who farm – the small scale farmers – there are actually a lot of them. Unfortunately, it is not organised well as an industry, so it is very hard to find these farmers but once you find one, you will find another. There is a bubbling under economy thats developing right, and we not taking advantage. And also go talk to government. You know as much as we derate government a lot, they do a lot for these inner-city farmers. The Department of Social Development do a lot for these farmers; they provide seeds, they own land which they lease and you do not pay rent, water or electricity. If you go to the Department of Agriculture, Development of Social Development they can get you started. You can register a co-operative and start farming. Government will dedicate a piece of land; they actually looking for people to do this and they struggling to find youth.

My personal approach, i do not go through government divisions. i start working on concepts and from proving the concepts, i start knocking on the state’s door. We took our own money and started marketing. We started The Grocer on a hunch and within two weeks we started generating R52 000 in sales – on a hunch. In those two weeks we spent like R1 400 on marketing but that’s because we have the digital marketing background, you know what i mean. All that happened because we believed in getting started. Start wrong, start right; just start. And Google has made it easy for us.

So looking at things from a day one point of view; i think we only knew how to build things because we saw how things were built; which is Earth. So when you farm, you plan well ahead of time, take climate, soil into consideration. It is a heavy laboring and planning process prior receiving the fruits of the labour. And with the unnatural environment of the urban areas, i believe we lose a lot of the workmanship and i see The Grocer seeking to reignite that spirit…

We have lost the connection and The Grocer seeks to reignite that through inner-city spaces. We do not necessary have to have large land masses, or though it helps. If you an urban person who wants to get in touch with the inner self again, in order to understand and also grow the self; go visit a farm. uMam’ Refiloe does tours, she also does training on how to grow a garden and that sort of thing. We also trying to get to roof-top farming; that is what i believe is the future of farming. The use of inner-city spaces and using them to become viable farming endeavors.

When you get into farming you switch off to the existence of the world and get in touch with self again, which is another of the fulfilling things. i think service counts like, service industries count. But getting your hands dirty… there is something we missed. i mean everyone wants these prestigious jobs… But there is something beautiful about getting your hands dirty. You can sort of map the reward to the effort you put in. We a generation that suffers from mad depression and i think it has to do with a disconnect with self; a disassociation with reality. Reality has now become a bunch of characters on screen as we scroll through our social media. That becomes our validation where we compare ourselves to our peer group; they are chartered accountants, they advocates – the very desky kind of jobs. Which is what i do, don’t get me wrong, i don’t farm – i distribute farming.

The first few weeks because we were very young i did everything. i did the deliveries, i packed the boxes and my business partner was handling the administration. There was some kind of fulfillment watching the customers receive the goods and giving back uMama the money for the day in correspondence with how much stock we took. Those were worth more than anything you can pay me in Rands and we were lucky to make some money from it.

That’s real homie. To push that forward – i hear the whole instant gratification and the use of Twitter for less meaningful things. But i think everything we create is an expression of self. Just like the digital marketing space got you in touch with yourself. Because through that journey you found that you enjoy putting food where there wasn’t before and enabling people to do that for themselves and that came through the digital. So how then do we use these expressions of ourselves for something meaningful on a bigger scale?

Aaah actually, you structured something so nicely. There is a guy called Gary Vaynerchuk, he is big on social media right now. The first video that i ever watched of him that got me hooked, he was discussing – every school or class you going to go to or every self help book you going to read is going to teach you how to better your weaknesses. He said, fuck that. Take all your chips and bet on your strengths. Bet at what you best at. So pick what you best at or what you believe you can become the best at – something that nobody else in the industry can out do you at.

Finding yourself should entail what your skill set is; what’s your skill set that gives you life. So now you’ve found what you good at, you not particularly passionate about it but you good at it and it can pay you well. Now you need to find those tools to fit it into a passion. For example, i’m not particularly passionate about gardening. i have always looked at gardening or farming as uuuuhh, hard labour, you know. Like, “Uuuuh, can i use my mind?” you know. But unwittingly, i am passionate about creating forms of sustainability for people. So where people know the skill but are not market ready or not being able to generate large market returns – my ability to do digital marketing enables that process to happen.

i feel you, i feel you. So your last words out?

Ahhh my last words… Do things right and the money will follow. Never ever ever ever ever chase money. i know it’s annoying as hell to hear that when you broke, right. Follow the direction of doing things right. And when i mean right, i mean it feels right. Right is relative ‘cause it’s right today and wrong tomorrow. In the present moment i could be very right; do that and do that really well. Do not regard how you are going to make your money. Do that really well. Things find themselves, things come into your direction without you having to force them.

To get in touch with Mam’ Refiloe please visit 46 Bertrams Road, Bertrams, Johannesburg or facebook.com/BertramsInnerCityFarm/ or call 071 781 9194

Click here to download the Quartapast Urban Toolkit

Sample from thegrocer.co.za

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