How I run a thriving organic farm in Nairobi’s Karen
Karen in Nairobi County is home to the affluent, where beautiful homes and neat lawns welcome you to a taste of fine living. If you want to sample, the latest home trends or a gallery of beautiful homes, this is the place for some eye candy. But, interestingly, in this region of fine living, one daring urban farmer is going against the grain to do organic farming.
For the past eight years, Jane Randall has been running an organic farm in Karen, near Karen Hardy police post along Ushirika Road with the help of her two children.
Under her brand Randalls Organic Farm, she produces a variety of fruits, vegetables, herbs and rears poultry, on a five-acre plot. She keeps indigenous (kienyeji) and Kenbro chicken, a dual purpose breed.
“Before I started I saw a gap and decided to tap into it. I started with a few jogoos and some wild birds that strayed onto the farm. Within no time, I was an up-and-coming urban farmer,” she tells The Smart Harvest and Technology team.
Slowly, the chicken increased to 50 hens and 50 cockerels.
“After four months, we started collecting trays and trays of eggs which were too many for home consumption and we had to find a way to get rid of the surplus,” she says.
She started visiting the organic market nearby and was informed that there was a demand for food grown organically. That is how she ventured out and has never looked back. She now keeps guinea fouls, Asian geese, dogs, and they have all learnt to co-exist. She also grows corn, bananas and rears honey bees.
Nothing goes to waste
To connect with the market, every Saturday she visits the organic market at Kenya Society for the Protection & Care of Animals (KSCPA) in Langata and sells fresh produce to customers.
She supplies honey, chilis, wide range of vegetables, potatoes, pumpkins, nuts, kale, spinach, terere, sweet corn, broccoli, cauli flower, capsicum, egg plants, lemons, limes, pineapples, among others.
She is one of the pioneers of the organic market in the area.
“When we started there were only few of us and people are beginning to appreciate organic products,” Randall says.
Given that the farm is purely organic, chemical use to boost yields and control pests is a no no.
“We grow our crops organically; we use chicken manure and different types of plants that we have. We put back everything into the earth, even the chicken after slaughter, the blood is poured into the soil,” Randall says.
“We fertilise all our crops with composted chicken manure and, just like many organic farms, we don’t spray any leafy greens or our berries with anything,” Randall says.
How covid has affected business
Though the Covid-19 pandemic has affected businesses everywhere, for Randall it has been a blessing in disguise.
She gained a lot of clients, especially when the lockdown was affected. She got more clients who order produce from her gate.
To get more clients, she uses a unique business model. Hers is not just a market farm, she also sells to large groups like members of the Organic Consumers Alliance, which has more than 500 members.
Additionally, she offers home delivery and religiously attends farmers markets.
To cut wastes and losses, all waste is used in other parts of the farm, including making of worms for the chicken.
And what has been the experience of keeping bees in the affluent neighbourhood?
“I started bee keeping by chance,” she says.
She started in October 2020 when a swarm of bees visited her farm and formed one colony. With hives in strategic corners, access to clean water and flowers, the bee numbers increased and now she has more than 20 colonies.
Competition for land
Four Asian Geese also wandered into her farm and that is how they grew in their numbers.
She allowed them to hatch and now, there are over 60 Asian geese but she plans to relocate them back to the wild.
The big challenge she faces is increased competition for land for housing and roads, and a lack of value attributed to agricultural land uses. In an area where an acre goes for upwards of millions of shillings and is on demand from developers and grabbers, land here is clearly gold.
Luckily, she has not had any encounter with brokers as she deals directly with buyers.
Lucky for her, because the space of land that she farms on is significantly big - five acres- she has not had a problem with neighbours on poultry noise and farm waste management issues.
Despite the small hiccups of urban farming, what keeps her going is the fulfillment she gets knowing that her clients are eating healthy, chemical-free food.
“It is not easy but the feedback I get from the organic market members and our regular customers keeps us going. It is our joy to know that we are selling clean and healthy food,” Randall says.
Organic Consumers Alliance Chief Executive Officer Peter Mokaya says organic farmers have the potential to feed the population, but it will take time for this to happen.
He says there is an increase in the demand for these kinds of foods for two key reasons - they are healthier foods, more nutritious and tastier.
He explains that when one grows food the natural way, the root system has the ingenious of knowing that different crops or plants have different nutrients and requirements. The soil microbiota, knows which nutrients the specific plants require, so they supply the plants with only what is needed.
“And because of that, the plants grow with a strong ‘immune system’. When human beings consume such healthy crops, they also develop a strong immune system which is a plus in this Covid-19 season,” says Mokaya.
The concern globally has been that organic farming has no potential to feed the growing population.
But a study by the Swiss Organic Institute in the US and Africa shows that initially the yield and the productivity for the farmers that practice organic farming may be lower, but over time foods grown organically will increase in yields and farmers will reap big.
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