Farm this City

Farm this City: Everyone a Farmer

Johannesburg , South AfricaWe are beginning in the Johannesburg CBD, but our plan is to Farm this whole City, South Africa
Year Founded:
Organization type: 
Project Stage:
$100,000 - $250,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

If we are all part of the problem then we all need to be farmers of the solution. Our vision is “Everyone a Farmer” with FtC cultivating the links, networks, sharing, and collaboration between those already “farming” social, economic, and environmental solutions to the city’s problems.

WHAT IF - Inspiration: Write one sentence that describes a way that your project dares to ask, "WHAT IF?"

What if the “farmers” of the urban future were each and every citizen, those conscious of their impact and commited to working with others to ensure healthier, integrated, mutually prosperous, and sustainable cities
About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Our city is Johannesburg, but our context is South Africa. Described as the “fat, hungry nation”, we are 55% food insecurity and 60% overweight. Founded on gold, Johannesburg’s history is one of exploitation of human and natural resources, contributing to our nation being one of the most unequal and biggest polluters on Earth. And yet this city is rich in human creativity, energy, and dynamism that is waiting to be harnessed for positive change.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

FtC aims at the root of all urban problems – people. Our intention is to rebrand farming for the urban context. The city is the “farm”, every resident a potential “farmer”. “Farming” is anything that contributes to a healthier, inclusive, mutually prosperous, and sustainable city. Farming becomes the metaphor for positive change. This consciousness is the catalyst for urban farming, healthy food, nutrition, education, enterprise development, youth and community development, etc. FtC does not own “farming”, we want to cultivate new farmers and the connections between existing “farmers” of change. Masanobu Fukuoka – “The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings.”


Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

We are in the process of doing a feasibility around farming on the roof of an inner city school. The vision is to create a viable social-business farm that connects Farm, Market, and User (Product, Business, and Sustainability) – farming, value added processes, food and nutrition awareness, marketing, sales, etc. The intention is for the farm to link directly with the school in terms of adding practical value to their syllabus – e.g. commerce, sciences, and agriculture. A city sponsored food hub is being developed at street level. Our intention is to become the first operator in the space where the will meet the market - food sales, advocacy and education, events, farmers markets, training and demonstrations, etc.

Impact: What is the impact of the work to date? Also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

These are some of the more significant of many small acts of farming. Website as a platform to profile and give a voice to farmers under Farmers of the City – the first profile has just gone live. A Certified Local campaign – incentive and reward scheme for supporting things produced locally. Engaging rural farmers in Mozambique to secure a supply of moringa – dubbed the miracle tree – to sell, in partnership with an existing township entrepreneur, in communities where the need is greatest. Helped VertiGrow, a startup specializing in home hydroponics solutions, redesign and brand their home-unit which is close to being launched. With such projects our goal is to create a sustainable value chain – “farmer”, market, user – where all parties benefit fairly through a philosophy based on “wealth through health”.

Spread Strategies: Moving forward, what are the main strategies for scaling impact?

The potential is endless. FtC could become a social entrepreneurship cultivator working with those wanting to replicate aspects of the model. E.g. The rooftop farm pilot will design, test, and develop a locally relevant, scaleable farming model for schools, community cooperatives, and even commercially (farm in box). 5 years. Certified Local become an accreditation and loyalty system incentivizing and rewarding support urban “farmers” – market creation. 2 years. FtC, as a model for change, could be rolled out in other cities as a type of social-business franchise model. 5-10 years

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is this solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

The school rooftop farm will be the tangible expression of our vision and the catalyst of FtC in action. With this model implemented, tested, and refined, we hope to secure our future through the creation of a new value chain as well as through becoming an attractive partner for possible investors. At the same time our website, FtC Cultivator consultancy, Certified Local, and other initiatives will also have potential to become revenues streams.

Marketplace: Who else is addressing the problem outlined here? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

In South Africa urban farming is either non-existent, practiced as subsistence, or funded and supported by government or NGOs. There are no projects, to our knowledge, that are scalable or commercially viable. The University of Johannesburg’s Izindaba Zokudla (Conversation About Food), based in Soweto, is the only project that is working with urban farmers through their Farmer’s School (training, institutional support, appropriate technology design, as well as developing a cooperative). FtC has a signed intention to collaborate with the conveners of Izindaba Zokudla.

Founding Story

A search for spinach and a parallel frustration the seemingly endless problems of the city were the seeds of a conversation. It is too easy to criticize and point fingers from the sidelines, but meaningful change only comes from positive action. Two people in different stages of their lives found common ground and so cultivated a shared vision. If farming was the key to settlement, surplus, economics, technology, urbanization, and the city, then it played a part in seeding all our problems. But what if farming could be the thing that cultivates the solution? Everyone a Farmer!


Howard Drakes – I have tried my hand at journalism, writing, youth development, facilitation, and change management but I have never been more excited at the prospect wearing the hat of farmer and being part of cultivating real change. Co-founder, research, community engagement, storytelling, and full time farmerr Rehann Calitz – A creative soul and disruptor. In a former life Rehann ran a design studio that was responsible for conceptualizing well known insurance brands like OutSurance and MiWay that changed the way insurance was done in South Africa. In a quest for greater meaning in life, Rehann has settled on the last job title he ever wants to have. Co-founder, conceptualist, relationship builder, and full time farmer. Thiresh Govender – Architect, urban designer, co-founder of UrbanWorks, and general optimist. Thiresh’s work in the city is, in his own words, “informed by the ideals of the democratic project”. When we commissioned a feasibility around a large-scale commercial farm in 2014, it was a natural fit. Thiresh is a farmer of space. UrbanWorks is busy with a feasibility around the school rooftop farm. They are also the lead architects on the City of Johannesburg African Food and Culture Hub being developed outside the school’s front door. Thiresh and his team are strategic partners that will play an increasingly integral role in various projects of FtC. Antonio Scarponi was introduced to us by Thiresh. Antonio founded Conceptual Devices, a Zurich-based Practice Focused on Strategic Design and Architecture. In recent years, Conceptual Devices has design of urban agricultural devices. Urban farming is not understood just as the mere production of food in the city but as the production of the city, a way to grow the city as a living environment. Like Thiresh, he is a natural fit. A strategic partner, Antonio spent time with us in Johannesburg during October to understand the city towards designing FtC an urban farming system. Together with UrbanWorks, Conceptual Devices would lead the conceptualisation and design of the school rooftop farm resulting in a tailor made system that fits our unique needs. Lance Quiding – Engineer, serial entrepreneur, farmer and CEO at Integrated Aquaculture. Lance is at the coalface of developing the aquaculture industry in South Africa. His vision is to make aqua and permaculture farming accessible to everyone. A strategic partner, Lance is developing context appropriate technologies and training materials that FtC will make use of in the future. Tony Lopes – An electrical engineering with many years of experience in petrochemicals, mining, and construction, Tony became disgruntled by what saw as his role in adding to the problems of the Earth. Tony quit his job and now lives each day searching for ways to reduce his own footprint. A strategic partner, Tony is a born project manager with practical experience in design innovation around community gardens, green technologies, and education. We call him the Green Jesus. Tony’s TEDx Johannesburg Talk - Exotically Divine Ital – A collective of inner-city chefs cooking vegetarian food using traditional African staples. Their goal is to change the way people in the city eat through healthy food, education around the cultural role of food and the ritual of eating, while sharing their philosophy of “food is medicine”. Strategic partners, FtC has collaborated on a number of projects with the guys with many more being planned. It is no mistake that they are the first to be profiled in our Farmers of the City project on our website. Dr. Naude Malan, Department of Anthropology and Development Studies at University of Johannesburg. Convener of Izindaba Zokudla (Conversations About Food), a multi-stakeholder engagement project that aims to create opportunities for urban agriculture in a sustainable food system in Soweto. Strategic partners, we have been in discussion with Dr. Malan about opportunities to collaborate for mutual benefit. Claire Thwaits - Senior Programme Manager: Transnet Programme in Sustainable Development at Gordon Institute of Business Science & MD of the Network for Business Sustainability. Claire plans using FtC as her research project for her MBA in 2016. We feel that the core of existing strategic partners will grow with time and as the needs arise, as will our need to employ/partner with others of the relevant skills, but for now have a strong foundation. FtC also envisions the creation of a Cultivator’s Council (Board) at a future time to be made up of experts and heavy hitters in their respective fields, but we are not there yet.
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Please confirm your role in the initiative (eg Founder/co-Founder) and your organisational title:


Which of the 8 UN Global Goals (Sustainable Development Goals) pre-selected for this competition does your solution relate most closely to? [select all that apply]

No Poverty, Zero Hunger, Clean Water and Sanitation, Decent Work and Economic Growth, Responsible Consumption and Production, Climate Action.

Leadership and the Unilever Awards
Please provide examples of any previous entrepreneurial initiatives you have pioneered.

This is my first attempt at business, even though I have been self-employed for much of my working life. My journey with journalism took me across the length and breadth of South Africa. It exposed me to the country's amazing diversity, as well as devastating realities and seemingly immense challenges. At the same time though, in the darkest of places I discovered the most amazing light in people, communities, and projects who were rising to meet their challenges. As a facilitator of life skills in youth development, I saw first hand the legacy of our apartheid past. Again though, in the same room, I met the most inspiring personalities that refused to be defined by any measurement but their own. In recent years I have worked on books with individuals whose philosophies about life, change, and everything forced me to confront myself and ask hard questions about how I see the world and what I want to see realised in my life. Last year I became a father, something that has change me forever. While there are days when I look at the collective troubles of the human world and feel small and overwhelmed, when I look at my daughter I know that what I choose to do today will shape her tomorrow. My collective life experiences have led me to this point. I truly believe that humanity will succeed or fail in the city. Everyone a farmer!

Beyond your existing team, who else are you working with to achieve your objectives, eg partners, advisors, mentors?

We are currently engaging a large corporate - a group of companies with interests in water, waste management, and food services - as a potential partner. Rehann has just finished consulting them on strategy and rebranding of their water business (he has previous experience in a water business) as a first step in this.

Farm this City has grown organically over the last two years. And necessarily so, as farmers we need to honour our place in the bigger cycles of life. Our network of contacts and relationships is extensive touching on agriculture, media, business, education, community, food, and tourism. Some have gone cold because there is nothing to sustain them, yet. This is what it means to farm - sometimes one must work long hours in the fields, cultivating, only to have to step back and wait for those forces beyond your control, the rain and the sun.