Cousins, Fred Mwithiga and Fred Kimani spent a large part of their childhood living on a farm in Kenya before moving to urban areas.
With time, they learnt that they share a desire to do something that takes them back to agriculture, achieved in a way that’s relevant to present times and can also be perceived as ‘cool’. The cousin duo created their own version of vertical farming in Nairobi, aimed at facilitating food security among urban dwellers.
“People are used to instant gratification; if you need something you just dial a number and you have it…” Mwithiga talks about how a lot of this consumption isn’t healthy, and needs to be re-evaluated.
The pandemic also brought with it a craze for living and eating healthier. Among people around them, there was now an urgency to find organic food; and to find different ways to grow their own food, in the limited space available to them. These requirements influenced the cousins when they set out to design a fitting farming system.
Plants require certain resources – water and nutrients, to grow. They attain these resources using their roots. Essentially, if the required resources are provided, the plant just requires a medium to live in. Hydroponics is a method for growing plants using a medium other than soil.
Depending on the space available, and the needs and aspirations of each individual or family looking to become an urban farmer, the cousins build each vertical farm with its respective irrigation system. They provide with each order – seedlings, growth media, hydroponic fertiliser, and even vermi-compost to those who request it.
Automation built into the system removes agricultural burdens of labour, weeding, pest management and watering the plants. Vertical gardening enables the optimal use of any available space. Water used in the system is recycled, reducing water usage and wastage too. Each system built by the cousins is tailored to specific needs and concerns of each customer.
Through the business the cousins co-founded, Vertical Gardens, they have provided vertical farm variants like vertical pouch gardens, vertical stacked gardens and vertical tower gardens, with over 90% of their customer base being from urban areas. People with the least available space have benefited greatly from their vertical pouch gardens.
Between the brothers, Mwithiga handles public relations and the day-to-day operations while Kimani is the one behind the design and automation of their systems. “We believe that we are here for the long haul…with time it will pick up. If we are able to grow food in the urban areas, we will be moving way ahead. We have to be smart on how we are using our water,” Mwithiga noted.
With Kenya being reasonably new to vertical gardening, bringing people on board from a business point of view hasn’t been particularly easy. The cousins are taking things one order at a time, ensuring that there is always an awareness on the benefits, weighed against the impending food crisis and climate change.