Zanele Ntuli and Aaron Motau, both 29 years old, are vegetable farmers whose ultimate responsibility is to ensure that every day about 6000 learners in seven schools around Gauteng and North West have a balanced lunch meal with fresh, green vegetables.
“The children want food and the teachers cannot teach hungry learners,” says Motau. “We’ve got to make sure that they have food every day.”
They have a 6.2 hectare farm in Winterveld, a sparsely-populated area about 40km away from Pretoria which historically served as an apartheid relocation settlement hosting black people who were forcibly removed from the city.
Eat Them Green
The pair have put their heads together to run a viable agribusiness. Their partnership started when Motau had an interest in farming pigs while Ntuli was working in a piggery near Tshwane. Ntuli started working in the piggery after completing a B-Tech in animal production at the Tshwane University of Technology (TUT).
Both have an interest in livestock farming, but for now their focus is farming vegetables for school children. Their farm is called Eat Them Green, which refers to the kind of vegetables they predominantly plant.
“I focus on farming because it’s something that I love. Coming here to the farm every day fulfils my soul.” – Zanele Ntuli
“I believe that what I am doing plays a vital role in ensuring that there’s food security in my community.” In winter they specialise in spinach and kale, while for summer it’s green beans and green peppers, and occasionally also some spinach.
While Ntuli is mainly responsible for the production side of the business, Motau is more invested in management, where he ensures that the worth of their produce is realised as money.
“We farm in the smartest way. On weekdays I am working and on weekends I put on make-up and look gorgeous,” says Ntuli, laughing and waving a high five to our photographer, Funiwe Ngwenya.
Opportunities on limited resources
The pair have only managed to farm half of the more than six hectares at their disposal. However, by the end of the year they aim to plant all of it. Business for Ntuli and Motau is booming, as they supply a constant and reliable market.
“Every day of our lives, we need a farmer. What’s the need? The need is food,” says Ntuli, adding: “Did you eat today? Thank the farmer.”
Every week they are committed to supplying one thousand rolls of spinach and other vegetables to seven schools around Gauteng and North West. To meet the demand, they have partnered with three other farmers around Winterveld, who they outsource other vegetables from. “The chain is big. Since we are supporting other farmers, there are a lot of people who are directly dependent on us to put food on the table,” says Motau.
They’ve lost some big contracts due to the limitations of their resources, such as transport. One of these contracts which they lost was in Rustenburg, North West, where they had to deliver five thousand rolls of spinach every week, a demand which they can’t reach even if they had planted the entire land they own.
However, the pair’s determination is undeterrable. They strive to make pastures much greener for Eat Them Green. Thanks to their track record of consistently supplying fresh vegetables to their current list of schools, Motau says there is a high prospect for the number of schools which they supply to increase.
Now they want to expand to plant butternut and potatoes, which they constantly get demand for in the schools. This demand could make it viable for them to plant their farm to capacity.
And this is just the beginning. Asked to imagine themselves without land, both of them reacted with a heartfelt, very deep “yoh…yoh…yoh.” “It is now impossible to imagine this,” answers Motau.
They have big plans for the future. “Now we’ve invested our lives into farming. Every time when we think, all of our thoughts are about land and agriculture.”
They aspire to get more land, at least two hundred hectares, where they can go full force and employ many more people. “We also want to give disabled people a chance to practice and be a part of farming,” says Motau.
In the meantime, Ntuli and Motau have employed seven staff, four of which are permanent and three interns from various parts of Mzansi. “At our age, it is great to have people working for us, this means that we’ve created jobs for others,” says Motau.
While the farmers speak about the opportunities they are creating, their staff can be seen tilling the neat land. Not only is the pair destined for greatness, they have sowed a seed of new possibilities for the likes of 25-year-old Sicelimpilo Ntombela. He comes from kwaNongoma in KwaZulu Natal, a busy little town which is also home to Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini.
Ntombela is an agricultural student from Mthashana TVET College headquartered in Vryheid, a rural college servicing mostly the needy communities in its three district councils. He is working as an intern at Eat Them Green to ensure that his agricultural foundation is solid.
“I love farming so much. My plan is to continue studying so that I can know more about farming,” Ntombela says.
“They [Ntuli and Motau] teach and share a lot of information with me about farming, and as a result I see myself growing every day.”
He’s been with Eat Them Green for the past twelve months and has only six months remaining to finish the practical component of his national diploma in farming management and agriculture. For inspiration, this optimistic upcoming farmer looks up to Ntuli and Motau. “They encourage me and inspire me so much,” he says.
After Ntombela has acquired enough skills, he too, will follow on Ntuli and Motau’s footsteps. “We are planning to start a co-operative farm with three of my colleagues from my school.” He says they have about three hectares of land back home to pursue their own farming journey.