Two food entrepreneurs, Labani Mgimeti and Renshia Manuel, are on a mission to help South Africans grow their own food and eat healthily. They do this through their respective businesses, Hiteka Kitchen and Growbox Nursery.
Mgimeti and Manuel believe that a well-balanced diet has loads of benefits that increase one’s quality of life. This follows the latest Indigo wellness index which listed South Africa as the unhealthiest country in the world. The study also found that the average South African adult’s plate is made up of twice the recommended amount of meat and almost three times fewer vegetables than recommended.
Mgimeti’s solution is Hiteka Kitchen, a business that not only ensures a smooth transition from farm to fork but also focuses on ensuring learners have access to healthy meals. The business introduced two innovations: nutrition hubs in schools and lunchbox deliveries where they distribute healthy meals and snacks at wholesale prices.
“School-aged children deserved to have access to balanced nutritious meals in school,” said Labani Mgimeti, founder and managing director of Hiteka Kitchen. “When you go to a traditional tuck shop, all you would find are highly processed foods, high in salt, sugar, and fat.”
The nutrition hubs operate on school premises offering a cashless service together with a class ordering system to reduce the time learners spend queuing during breaks. And the lunchbox delivery service is done via a flexible subscription plan.
Mgimeti realised the shortcomings in traditional tuckshops when she would give her child pocket money, and the only snacks she could purchase were unhealthy and highly processed snacks. With children spending so much time at school, this means that their diets are overrun by unhealthy snacks.
Nutrition hubs at schools
“Growing up, my mom would insist that we always eat fruits and vegetables,” said Mgimeti. This made the idea to remodel traditional tuck shops into nutrition hubs in schools a natural choice for her.
Meanwhile, Growbox Nursery is a social enterprise that empowers households to grow food organically. It helps growers by providing them with wholesale seedlings, food gardening workshops, and wooden veggie garden boxes.
Their seedlings help individuals or businesses grow quality vegetables and their workshops provide knowledge about farming. The modern veggie garden boxes are ideal for growers that want to have a garden but don’t have space to do so, and for growers that want to start small.
Farming as a starting point
The business also introduced an urban farm in Hanover Park, Cape Town, that offers people space to plant their vegetables. Growbox Nursery, therefore, starts the healthy food journey at the farming level and makes growing vegetables easier.
“My backyard vegetable garden was a success and when my neighbours wanted to do the same, this inspired me to start a nursery so people can access seedlings and gardening advice,” said Manuel.
As the founder of Growbox, she understands the struggle all too well. She grew up in farming communities and learnt about farming from a young age. The farming skills stayed with her and in 2016 when she was unemployed, she saw a business opportunity.
The innovative business models of both Growbox and Hiteka Kitchen are making growing and eating quality fruits and vegetables simpler and easier. Over the years, lifestyle and eating habits have changed and the changes have come with challenges that need solutions.
Access to healthier food options
Currently, Hiteka Kitchen services several Gauteng schools with up to 1 300 learners each. In a 20-week period, it serves over 9 000 nutritional meals, including fresh fruit or vegetables. Sports coaches and athletes also benefit from the programme during inter-house matches.
Mgimeti explains, “We work with schools [in Kempton Park, Johannesburg and Pretoria] that are struggling with the implementation of a healthy tuckshop menu.” They have also been able to up-cycle 200kg of fruit and vegetable waste to produce via the Pink Forum, an NGO that helps schoolchildren who are survivors of gender-based violence.
Growbox operates from the premises of Mountainview High School in Hanover Park on the Cape Flats. “I work in a community with many social ills such as gang violence, poverty and unemployment,” explains Manuel.
To date, her organisation has reached more than 3 000 beneficiaries, including schools, orphanages, and non-profits. They also partner with corporates to help with materials or supplies for various food gardens they support.
Growbox is particularly known for its hassle-free garden-in-a-box which is stocked with seedlings to make it easier for people to grow their own produce. “We do all the dirty work for our clients, so they don’t have to,” says Manuel.
She believes the garden-in-a-box is perfect for people that don’t necessarily have space to grow a garden because they live on the Flats or in someone’s backyard.
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This article was first published in Food for Mzansi