Doornfontein – Joburg resident Linah Moeketsi has taken the future of sustainable farming into her own hands.
Atop the eight-floor of the Stanop building, Moeketsi has turned a grimy grey terrace into a green lung on the city’s skyline.
She grows herbs, used to treat non-communicable diseases, in a 250m x 500m greenhouse on the building’s terrace. But her rooftop farm is sans any soil; it uses a hydroponics system.
“I think because we are in the city, hydroponic farming is one of the answers because you can actually harvest more than twice the produce, and the growth rate is quicker and there is produce that you can have throughout the year that people demand, because it is in a controlled environment,” she says.
Moeketsi talks about her journey as an offbeat farmer. It all started when her father fell ill in 2013, when doctors failed to correctly diagnose his disease. “They couldn’t see that he was diabetic. He didn’t show the signs of diabetes, but he had this foot ulcer that just wouldn’t go away,” she says.
She adds that the future of city farming is great because more young people are getting into this space.
Moeketsi decided to do her own research, so she read up books on African medicinal plants and used some herbs that belonged to her late mother, who had been a traditional healer.
“It took me eight months to help my dad and saved him from having an amputation.”
The news of Moeketsi curing her dad’s diabetes using herbs spread. Sadly, he died in 2016, aged 87.
“So he passed away in his sleep, not sick, he was just old,” she says.
After that Moeketsi rented some land and turned her knowledge on natural herbs into a fully-fledged farm. However, when the owner of the land returned, she was forced to vacate.
“Because of this passionate drive for an answer, I found myself researching what’s happening outside Gauteng and South Africa, and I saw in Europe, they were farming on rooftops,” she says.
In 2017, her dream became a reality when she secured a deal with the City of Joburg as part of an urban farming programme, and started the rooftop project a year later.
She explains that the hydroponics system has four pyramids, each attached to their own reservoirs of water. On each pyramid, different plants, ranging from spinach, lettuce, sage, parsley, basil and dill, rest on beds with pipes connecting them to the reservoirs.
“Twice a day, you have to check that water is actually going through the pipes, because that’s how the plants get water and nutrients,” she explains.
In Marshallstown Kagiso Seleka farms lemon balm, also using hydroponics. He produces sorbet and pesto from his produce which is then used to make ice cream.
“Hydroponics is great for farming sensitive plants in terms of temperature. Lemon balm does not like frost. But it’s better to grow even out of season so you can set a higher price,” he says.
However, he says hydroponics farming is a luxury not many farmers can afford.
“It does have a bit of a higher capital upfront, but you get a higher yield and higher quality, so people are willing to pay more. Hydroponic planting saves about 95 percent of water soil farming in a water-scarce country,” says Seleka.
City of Joburg’s Programme Coordinator for Agriculture at the Food Resilience Unit, Lindani Sandile Makhanya, says there are more rooftop farmers in the city than ever before. Forbes Africa