It can be easy to forget that you are in Johannesburg’s inner city when you enter the Bertrams Inner City Farm. The farm is not far from the famous Ponte Tower in Hillbrow, and just a few blocks away from the Ellis Park Stadium, and many people would find it hard to believe that food is grown in this busy part of the city. But urban farmer Refiloe Molefe (60) could always see potential in her project before it was even established in 2006.

“I found this land when Nestlé called on principals to receive training on how to make gardens at their own crèches and feed children good food. It [the farm] used to be a bowling green, but people stopped using it. Then we realised that we could better use it to grow food,” says Molefe.

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Molefe, who had never seen her parents while growing up, was raised by her mother’s cousin and her urban farming career grew out of her love for children and the interest that she has always had in growing her own food.

“I have seven children, five girls and two boys. I also have five orphaned children I now take care of. I made them part of my family. My mother’s cousin worked at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital as a nurse, but she loved farming. Whenever she came back from work, she would put away her uniform and work on her garden. I wanted to be just like her,” she says.

Molefe grew up to be similar to the woman that raised her and trained as a nurse. She would later get a job taking care of the elderly at Nazareth House, before working at several other places. But that soon got to her.

“It was so hard because when those people die you don’t feel well. You want to give life, but at the end of the day, someone dies. One of the reasons I decided on establishing the Johannesburg Inner City Farm was to help three of the orphans that I took in. I wanted them to focus on getting an education and not to worry about raising and fending for themselves,” she recalls.

After taking more orphaned children into her care, Molefe realised that she could no longer rely on the donations of bread to keep them fed – she needed a permanent solution.

“I was tired of handouts, I wanted to do something which would add value to the food I gave to the children because bread alone was not food. Today the BIC Farm not only grows food, it also produces healthy food such as juices, sauces and smoothies out of beetroot, spinach, carrots and other vegetables and fruits. We also make herb bread out of things such as coriander, rocket and GMO-free flour.”

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The BIC Farm has given Molefe the opportunity to make positive changes in not only her life, but also the lives of those around her, and she believes that growing one’s own food is the key to a healthy life. She also believes that working the soil is a form of therapy.

“I’m so passionate about this because it’s so therapeutic. I never get angry and I don’t get to gossip; you can’t gossip with the plants,” she jokes. “It is so fulfilling to plant something and watch it grow. When you work with soil, you get a lot of therapy.

“Food is medicine, when you eat good food you don’t easily get sick. I don’t get sick, because of the food I eat. My food heals me. When you grow your own food, you don’t stress about money, as long as your children are fed – a hungry person is an angry person.”

Molefe says that soon more South Africans will start growing their own food – it is only a matter of time. Anyone can start their own garden, she says, as long as they have “a fork, a hoe, a rake and a spade”.

“When I started, I did not even have R10 in my pocket, I only had seeds and a watering can. You don’t need money to start. Start today with what you have. If you want to make it in farming, you must have a passion for it and perseverance – that will give you the best results.”

“Let’s start farming at a primary level. I often get children from crèches to plant seeds at our farm and they love it. Farming has to be added into the curriculum so children grow up doing it. One day, we will feed ourselves. People will realise that without farming, there
is no life.”