From knowing dololo to teaching others about farming

When Covid-19 swept across Mzansi, it took away Sinethemba Botha’s business, her only income and her joy. She reclaimed it all in an unlikely place, and has since started spreading the joy of farming to others

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Anxiety, fear and panic are some of the emotions Sinethemba Botha experienced when the global Covid-19 pandemic reached the shores of Mzansi. But these same emotions catapulted her into farming.

Today, she is using regenerative agricultural practices to feed her family. Not only that – she is creating awareness about food insecurity and uses social media and farm tours to help others grow their own food.

Botha’s life changed fundamentally when the pandemic struck. As an outdoor educator who used to train and develop young people, her life-long career came to an abrupt halt. The education company she had just launched, was forced to shut its doors.  

Suddenly she found herself in the same boat as countless other South Africans: not knowing what to do, fearful of a deadly virus and facing an uncertain future.

“I was growing anxious. Being around so much panic, where people were always talking about what was happening, affected me. I needed to get away.

“At the time friends of mine were scouting for a holiday home and my partner and I joined them.”

Why regenerative agriculture?

Botha eventually decided to move away from Gugulethu, the Western Cape township where she had lived for a good 16 years. She established herself on a farm in Malmesbury, about 65km north of Cape Town.

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“It was for my own mental wellness and rehabilitation. I needed a new sense of purpose. I started growing food for my own use on a small part of the land and in three months, I could already harvest.”

In doing so she realised that she could feed herself and her family with healthy and nutritious food. Botha then bought four chickens and started producing eggs.

To Sinethemba Botha, her small 2300 square metre garden is a place of peace and tranquility. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi
To Sinethemba Botha, her small 2300 square metre garden is a place of peace and tranquillity. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

Soon there was an uptick in production, which meant that Botha had more food to share with friends and family.

“I then learnt organic farming and loved the idea. I have always been environmentally conscious since I am also an outdoor experiential facilitator,” she says.

“I started using what was in front of me, including what nature has given me, to continue the process. I also didn’t have money to buy fertilisers and such. As a result, I started making my own compost and mulching, preserving water and taking care of the soil.”

She found that companion planting and organic farming increased her yield. She was able to share with more people in her community and even sell to the local SPAR, community gardens and other people for home consumption.

Creating a movement

Because Botha is a personal development facilitator, she decided to share her knowledge with a group of people interested in home gardening. She also welcomed those who found healthy food unaffordable and needed a food garden to supplement the nutrition of their families.

“I was once in a place where I didn’t know where my meal was going to come from. Agriculture saved me.”

The next step for Botha was to start a YouTube channel where she could share her day-to-day activities, and “Growyoown The Movement” along with three farming friends.

Growyoown The Movement is a non-profit organisation that establishes food clubs in various communities by training members of the community in basic, resourceful and environmentally friendly home gardening.

“We are currently serving 25 locations in Cape Town with affordable food through our veggie box online store. [We do it] with the help of our [20] food club members and other medium-sized farmers,” she says.

Beans were burnt and corn became bird food

You would think that in her small 2 300 square metre garden, Botha has not faced any challenges, but this is not the case. When she arrived, Botha and her partner dived right into planting without considering their geographical location they were in.

“We just assumed that the weather would be like in Cape Town. This assumption cost us our crops. Our beans all burned because we didn’t do any research. Again, the plan was never farming so we just wanted to take seeds and put them in the ground.”

When they planted corn, birds came and ate it. In addition, they didn’t have farming equipment. The only thing they had was a shovel. “It was tough. We would work through the night using our flashlights to see.” 

The future and changing perceptions

Sinethemba Botha, busy tilling the land of her veggie garden. Photo: Supplied/Sinethemba Botha
Sinethemba Botha busy tilling the land for her veggie garden. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

Since Botha had started, her perception of the industry has also changed. Before, she had never heard of a minister of agriculture.

“I literally knew nothing, but through the process I started paying attention. Now I see how big it is. Through Covid, it was the number one industry to feed the nation. The value chain is so big from farm to people’s tables.

“I was once in a place where I didn’t know where my meal was going to come from. Agriculture saved me.”

The next thing for Botha is her Green Pepper Project. Come summer, she will be working with food club members to grow green peppers to generate money for Growyoown The Movement. One million of them!

ALSO READ: Meet the women working to bring a whole market home

Get Stories of Change: Inspirational stories from the people that feed Mzansi. 

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