Ashleigh Machete on his urban food farming business and what he hopes will happen next.
Thirty-three-year-old Ashleigh Tumelo Machete is a third-generation farmer from Protea South in Soweto. His family grew most of the food they ate at home in his childhood and this, paired with his passion for farming, led him to a career in horticulture and to create Jozi Food Farmer.
Jozi Food Farmer (or JFF for short) is a team of urban organic farmers who are skilled in design, installation and maintenance of food gardens. The business is currently servicing the city of Johannesburg where they specialise in everything from rooftop farming (on big city buildings, no less) to indoor plant production. There’s also the JFF Rooftop Farm, located in Braamfontein, which is a rooftop plant nursery and coffee shop, plus a third enterprise called JFF Plant Shop, located in Stanley Street, which Machete runs with long-time business partner Negin Monkoe. They currently employ seven people and hope to grow this number as their business expands.
Food24 chatted to Machete to get the low down on the business, urban farming and where he sees JFF going next.
Where and how did JFF start? Tell us about its humble beginnings.
The business was started by me and Negin Monkoe. We originally offered landscaping services in Soweto under the name All Garden Services. This developed into Jozi Food Farmer when we moved to Johannesburg. We specialise in installing and maintaining rooftop and alleyway food farms and green, edible third spaces in Johannesburg CBD, as well as providing workshops on growing and maintaining green edible spaces. In order to supply our clients with the products that they were looking for, we opened JFF Rooftop Farm, a small nursery with a little tea house in Braamfontein, which has since grown with a second branch opening in Milpark under the name JFF Plant Shop.
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What were your hopes when you started the business?
To become synonymous with urban farming in South Africa, supply great quality service and houseplants to our customers, and make information on growing food plants and houseplants in our climate readily available. Some of the hopes and goals have been reached, others we are still actively working towards. The vision for the business is ever evolving as the business grows.
What services do you provide?
Jozi Food Farmer offers the design and installations of edible landscapes, the management of food garden projects, and skills transfer sessions.
Why is sustainable urban farming important to you?
We are fortunate that our temperate climate is ideal for growing a great variety of plants both indoor and outdoor without the need for expensive grow houses or other implements that can create barriers of entry to growing plants in harsher, less favourable climates. Growing food is beneficial to everyone, but we feel it is especially important in the city, where fresh food is less accessible and green spaces are few and far in-between.
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What are your hopes for the future of the business and urban farming in general?
We are hoping to open branches in Pretoria next and, after that, nationwide.
Is it important to you to also get kids involved in farming their own food?
Growing food and understanding where food comes from can be of great benefit to kids. Children can touch and smell the plants, see the different stages of growth and understand the process, tying into understanding of what they learn in natural science. This, of course, adds plenty of excitement and motivation to eating healthy, plant-based foods.
What’s your favourite thing about your job?
Working with plants is therapeutic; I get to bring life and joy into people’s homes. I’m making a living with something that I am passionate about.