Renshia Manuel is the CEO of GrowBox, a wholesale nursery in Hanover Park, Western Cape. Photo: Luke Daniel

It is often when faced with an unpleasant situation that our talents, gifts, and abilities take centre stage out of sheer desperation. It is in these experiences that we uncover and discover who we are at the core of our being.

Renshia Manuel, CEO of GrowBox, a wholesale nursery, says her business was birthed through the excruciating circumstances of not having food to feed her four children. “It was so bad that I would walk from Hanover Park to Eerste River to get food from my mother,” she says.

Renshia Manuel

Embarrassed by how her life turned out, Manuel took action and started growing vegetables in her backyard and selling them. The concept of “growing veggies, from a veggie” as she puts it, quickly caught on and soon everyone in her community started doing it. It was then that she got the idea of starting a wholesale nursery in Hanover Park, Cape Town.

Soon thereafter Manuel entered the Youth Start Cape Town Entrepreneurial Challenge that required unemployed youth to upload videos about their socially responsible business ideas onto YouTube. Manuel won third place with her concept of growing vegetables in a portable wooden box. With her winnings, she registered GrowBox as a vendor with the city of Cape Town and the Department of Agriculture and bought compost and gardening equipment.

GrowBox aims to provide veggie garden boxes to consumers who do not have sufficient space to grow their own vegetables.

The box, made from recyclable pallets, allows households living in cramped spaces to grow their own vegetables.

It is perfect for people living in the city, who want to grow vegetables, but only have balcony or patio space. People living in informal settlements, with limited backyard space or where the ground is not conducive for growing vegetables, also have the opportunity to grow their own vegetables. She also aims to make food gardening accessible to everyone – no matter where they live or what their circumstances are.

Manuel, along with her innovative veggie boxes, are increasing food security within disadvantaged households, and supporting households to grow their own food sustainably. “We have reached over 250 people with the bulk of orders from City of Cape Town and the Department of Agriculture,” she says.

The entire idea of the veggie box was built on the idea of increasing food security within informal settlements and low-income households.

GrowBox has grown from being a wholesale nursery in a backyard to a business that supplies the public, NGOs, NPOs, farms, Government departments, and landscaping contractors, and hopes to supply retail nurseries soon.

They also host workshops where they train communities on how to grow and nurture produce, as well as how to harvest. “We do this by collaborating with corporates, using their CSI funds.”

The boxes are made from recyclable pallets that allows households living in cramped spaces to grow their own vegetables.

She says food insecurity is a growing concern for many South African households and the most affected areas are informal settlements and rural areas. “My heart goes out to families who suffer in a seemingly food secure nation.”

Manuel says she is pleased with the progress she has made, but warns that her success did not come easy. “Not understanding business terminologies, lack of finance and inadequate working space were some of my major challenges. I’m grateful to programmes like the Red Bull Amaphiko Programme, Samsung’s Global Start-up Acceleration Programme, and ENGEN Pitch and Polish competition that have helped me hone and polish the business and pitching skills,” she says

Manuel urges budding agriculturist to not sit around and wait for opportunities to come their way. Her advice to entrepreneurs is that they should use the networks that are at their disposal and if they do not have a network, they should find one.

Manual recently employed Simpiwe Zonke (left) a Horticultural and Agricultural student at Cape Peninsula University of Technology.

“I’m constantly probing the internet to further hone my skills, and I’m off to France at the end of March, where I will participate in INCO’s (a global consortium that supports social entrepreneurs) Annual Pitching Competition.”

Manuel will also be traveling to Switzerland in May, where she will introduce GrowBox and highlight the plight of disadvantaged households within urban settlements and her solution for food security for those affected.