Hotels have long had ornamental gardens but few own vegetable farms to feed travellers seeking to eat healthily while on vacation.
At Olare Mara Kempinski in Maasai Mara for instance, they have an organic garden that feeds its guests and the manure used can be anything from dung from buffaloes or elephants roaming in the vast savannah or cows from neighbouring homesteads.
The garden which has celery, parsley, coriander, beetroots, carrots, spinach, leeks, eggplants, lemon and mint for making mojitos, salads and soups for their guests, saves the costs of bringing the food from Nairobi and ensures all vegetables are inevitably fresh and taste better.
“We even encourage our guests to pick their own vegetables from the garden, be it a handful of ripe tomatoes or mint for their favourite cocktails,” said Geoffrey Ouma, a camp manager at Olare Mara Kempinski.
During bumper harvests, Robert Okero, a full-time gardener at the Olare Mara Kempinski garden, says he also gives out the surplus to locals who are mainly pastoralists, in exchange for cow dung manure.
On the eight of an acre, Robert has created a nursery and transplants the seedlings to a bigger patch which has a drip irrigation system connected to a tank with harvested rain water. He waters the vegetables twice a day. The seedlings in the nursery take about two weeks to sprout and he then replenishes them to ensure the garden keeps giving.
“Spinach love more water than all the other veggies. For them to be as healthy as they look, they receive adequate water. So I open the drip twice a day which allows the water to slowly reach the roots. The drip irrigation saves on water because I rely on rain water,” he said.
Robert started the garden about seven years ago. From a small patch, he expanded to grow vegetables such as beetroots, which the chefs use to make salads.
Being in the wilderness with over 500 species of birds and wild animals roaming freely, Robert was forced to fence off the garden, although the hotel is unfenced, and put an old wish mesh that acts as a roof and tie a tape from the old-school cassettes across the improvised roof. He remembers one time, after using buffalo dung and the animal invaded the garden and destroyed the plants.
“Birds are destructive; they can dig up seeds or feed on seedlings and mature crops. The tape scares off the pests. When the wind blows the tape shimmers and scares away oncoming birds,” he said.
“Besides that, locals who are basically livestock keepers come here to learn about farming which can be an alternative source of income or supplement the meat,” he said.