Urban food gardener is aiming for #NewLevels

Thabang Makoloi is a 36-year-old farm manger at Siyakhana Food Garden. He says the agriculture sector has given him purpose and passion.

Thabang Makoloi is a 36-year-old farm manger at Siyakhana Food Garden. He says the agriculture sector has given him purpose and passion.

Ask farm manager Thabang Makoloi if he always had an interest in farming, and he’ll say: “The only thing that interested me growing up was soccer and nothing else. I think I was tricked into falling in love with agriculture” 

Growing up in Galeshewe, a small township in Kimberly, Makoloi loved playing soccer with his friends. The neighbourhood had about eight competing soccer teams. He was one of the star players amongst the group of boys. “I was often player of the year, he says.  

But despite Makoloi’s love for soccer, it would seem that his mother had other intentions for his life. Every now and then she would ask him to help her out with gardening work. The 36-year-old believes this slow introduction to agriculture, orchestrated by his mother, is the reason behind his deep appreciation for farming.  

While in matric, Makoloi struggled immensely with a few of his subjects. “At that time the Afrikaans subject and Geography was hard for me, so failed.”  

Thabang Makoloi (far right) and his colleagues inspecting their crop at the Urban Food Garden, situated within the inner city of Johannesburg.

His mother was working as a domestic worker and didn’t earn very much. This limited Makoloi’s options and he was unable to re-write his failed subjects and could not further his education. He was forced to look for work and eventually got a job working as a re-stand operator, driving machinery. 

“I wasn’t pleased with how my life had turned out and after working there for a couple of months I resigned to look for other job opportunities.”  

With limited job opportunities available in KimberlyMakoloi braved moving to Johannesburg to find a job. In the bustling city, he was encouraged by a friend to approach Siyakhana Food Garden, who was employing at that time. 

He did so, and in 2015 he started working as a part time gardener – determined to do well. Professor Michael Rudolph, director and founder of Siyakhana Food Garden, says, “We needed some assistance at the garden and Makoloi demonstrated a willingness to carry out the jobs required.”

Siyakhana Food Garden is the flagship project of Siyakhana and is regarded as one of the most successful urban food gardens in the Johannesburg metropole. It aims to improve the availability of a wide variety of good and nutritious foods. This is done by offering training to develop food gardeners and encourage sustainable living.  

Makoloi is passionate about agriculture and wants to share his knowledge with other upcoming farmers and teach young children about the industry.

A few weeks into his employment, Professor Rudolph called Makoloi into his office. Scared that he was in trouble, Makoloi hurried to the office to find out what he had done wrong. There, he found the professor and the farm manager waiting for him. His hard work had paid off and they appointed him as the new farm manager.   

It was a great honour for Makoloi, who says he was hesitant at first, but after careful consideration accepted the offer. “I was scared and felt that I didn’t have enough experience. Some of the guys on the farm had been working there for 12 years already, so in my mind I questioned, why me?” 

Makoloi is passionate about training his team members and students who often visit the farm. He hopes to share his knowledge about agriculture with other upcoming farmers and wants to teach young children about the industry.  

“I’m really proud to be working for Siyakhana. We do some amazing work. Last year we had 90 students from the United States visit us, to learn more about what we do,” he says.  

“I feel like it’s good for children to know how and where vegetables are grown. Perhaps they will be able to put the information to good use and become successful farmers in future. I believe a single mind can enlighten a thousand.” 

Part of Makoloi’s job is to interface between Siyakhana producers and their loyal customers. He also manages the production of produce by their team of farmers. He prides himself on being a hard worker.  

Makoloi says he’s pleased with how he has grown at Siyakhana. “Since working here I have changed a lot. My confidence levels have increased and I’m able to offer good customer service.”  

The Siyakhana Food Garden team consists of urban agriculturists, trainers and entrepreneurs.

He has also gained some marketing knowledge and says he has managed to establish a great working relationship with his colleagues. His co-workers seem to appreciate his systematic way of thinking and leading the food garden.

After four years working shoulder to shoulder with MakoloiSiyakhana bookkeeper, Samue Hlatshwayo, describes him as a good manager and someone who respects everyone on the farm. 

Looking back, Makoloi admits that agriculture was the last thing he thought he would do, but he says the industry has given him purpose and passion. “Everything I have learned is as a result of not being afraid to ask questions and making sure that I connect with industry professionals who know more than I do.” 

Makoloi says he’s ready to grow himself even further and plans to study Business Management in the near future. He hopes that he will one day take over Siyakhana and grow the business. “#NewLevels,” he says