Having burned her green thumb in large scale farming, Alice Migwi, 45, chose to find healing in gardening in the small space of her makeshift restaurant.
She tells us how she found the courage to pick up pieces and try again
I started out in business management. In fact, I worked in the shipping industry for the world’s largest shipping line, Maersk, for 15 years in various positions and countries.
My first degree is in business, I have a Master’s degree in Business Management from the University of Liverpool and a Post Graduate Certificate in Urban Nature: Connecting Cities, Nature and Innovation, from Lund University (2019).
I moved back to Kenya with my family in 2013 from Tanzania after resigning from my job. When we came home, we bought a piece of land where, at first, we grew crops for the family. We would sell the excess to neighbours and approach restaurants.
Later, we saw the potential and invested in greenhouse equipment and other farming equipment to see how far we could go with our business.
At the time, the more I applied for jobs, the more rejections I got, and the more rejections I got, the more I focused on farming. In the same year, my business, Gardenology, was born.
We began supplying different restaurants and businesses with fruits and vegetables. However, because we gave our clients long credit periods, they would either pay late, pay less or not pay at all. We even had some clients close their restaurants without paying us.
In the end, we found ourselves in debt and, eventually, the land we had bought was repossessed by the bank. To buy the land, greenhouse equipment and other farming equipment, we had invested about Sh14 million, and we lost it all.
The period between 2016 and 2018 was difficult for us as a family but, in life, you have to keep on moving on and learning.
I do not believe in giving up and so I continued to try my hand at different businesses here and there. I even started a kibandaski (makeshift restaurant) in Westlands.
I have always loved plants and so I found a way to display them in my restaurant. I found a small space to grow my vegetables and, for some reason, clients could not get over how I had managed to grow a garden in such a small space.
They would ask so many questions and even request to buy some of the plants I had put in the restaurant for decoration. I began to realise there was a gap I could fill.
What happened next
I realised that, although Nairobi is an urban area and people live in smaller spaces than in rural areas, people still wanted to create beautiful green spaces within the urban spaces they live in.
They just did not know how. I also realised people wanted someone well informed, a proper consultant, to help them and so it was not enough to love plants, I needed to know the names and different types and kinds of plants.
I needed in-depth knowledge about urban gardening. So, I signed up for a Post Graduate Certificate in Urban Nature: Connecting Cities, Nature and Innovation from Lund University in 2019.
As a result, Gardenology evolved into an urban gardening business which encourages Kenyans to embrace gardening using whatever space or resources available to them.
The beauty is that it is possible to garden in any type or size of space. The services we offer include: setting up, educating and maintenance of growing edible and ornamental plants in indoor and outdoor urban spaces; and efficient waste management through modern composting techniques.
I really love what I am doing; I love transforming spaces. Whether it’s a small balcony, backyard, farm, lawn or even a container garden, I love when I transform spaces into productive and attractive gardens.
I am big on combining aesthetics, efficiency and productivity. I believe every garden, no matter the size or design, should look good and be productive.
Running a start up
I hit the ground running, and quickly grew faster than I could handle. I also offered too many products and I offered way too much credit and this came to haunt me when my customers were not able to pay on time (or not at all).
I was forced to scale down and re strategise, and in the end, I ended up in urban gardening which I love and really enjoy doing.
The process of getting here was not easy, I not only lost a lot of money, my savings and everything we had invested in the business, but I learnt a lot.
So yes, the process of learning was painful, but the lessons were life changing in a good way and so I would not change anything because it has made me a better business woman, and importantly it led me to where I am now.
Where are you now
We are in a space where we have not only broken even, but we have learnt a lot about business.
Also, now the business specifically focuses on urban farming, and my clientele is now made up of people who appreciate the value of green spaces.
The most important aspect of business or entrepreneurship is to show up every day and believe in what you are doing. Challenges, failure, success and confusion are all part of the journey.
It is also okay to make mistakes. Make sure you learn from them don’t dwell too much on what you could have done differently. Rather focus on what you can do better and Just start.