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Gardening

‘I turned my 3 acres into a small Eden’

 

Muthoni Karanja was gifted three acres of land by her father-in-law in Limuru. She turned the land into an organic vegetable farm, a petting area that houses rabbits, chickens, and pigs which provide the farm with manure, a picnic spot, and a spa. She named it La Ferme.

“I wanted to make sure that what I was putting on the table for my children and my family was organic, and that I knew where it was coming from,” she says.

La Ferme is now a sustainable, organic, a multi-purpose place that is more than just a farm.

From its neatly trimmed hedges lined with rosemary and marigolds to rows of crops sprouting with romaine lettuce, savoy cabbage, beetroots, and many more vegetables.

From a garden centre adjacent to flower beds to a petting area that houses rabbits, chickens, and pigs which provide the farm with manure. To the children’s playground complete with a swing set to the levelled out, partitioned land that is set to become a spa that will use ingredients sourced from the farm.

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“I want people to come here and have an experience. I want all their five senses to be stimulated at La Ferme,” says Muthoni.

Muthoni Karanja

Ms Muthoni Karanja. FILE PHOTO | NMG

To the naked eye, the farm may appear to be upscale, but for Muthoni, it is four years of labour and love.

Farm spa

When she started growing organic food for her family, the idea morphed into full-fledged farming to accommodate the requests she was getting from people interested in buying fruits and vegetables.

After bumper harvests, Muthoni asked herself “what more can I do with what I already have?”

That is where the idea to open a farm shop, farm spa, petting area, farm-to-table restaurant and intimate events ground came from. However, to do all of this, she had to start from ground zero.

“I had to do a lot of research seeing that I don’t have a background in agriculture. I read a lot. I started watching farming videos on YouTube and following farmers on different social media sites,” says Muthoni who ran an interior design company before venturing into agripreneurship.

“I knew for sure that what I needed to do first is build fertile, healthy soil.”

She was able to cultivate healthy soil through underground piping for irrigation and incorporating the compost, green manure, and animal manure into the soil.

“I’ve now started adding ash, bone-meal, and banana leaves into the compost as part of my organic amendments. We also do companion planting on the farm, which is why you’ll see rosemary hedges and marigolds around the perimeter of the crops to deter pests.”

From her petting area, her pigs give her manure that is re-purposed in the soil and the urine from the rabbits is used as fertiliser.

In addition to building healthy, fertile soil, Muthoni wanted to ensure that she was creating an ecosystem that would attract bees.

“For every third bite of food you eat, it is because a bee has pollinated it, so it was very important for us to plant flowers that attract bees. It was very important for me to cultivate an ecosystem where each part of the farm works in perfect harmony with one another.”

Beyond the farm lies a forest that borders Ngecha Road, where Muthoni is enhancing her land’s biological diversity by planting indigenous trees such as the Mukui, Mukue, and Muiri trees, which help filter the air, attract rain and can be utilised for medicinal purposes.

Initially, Muthoni says she struggled to find her footing in selling her organic produce to big-market buyers.

Her struggles even had her contemplating whether she should undo all the hard work she put into cultivating healthy, organic soil by pumping her land full of pesticides and fertiliser just so that she could make a living, but she says “my conscience just couldn’t allow it.”

Eventually, her market found her and these days, she even sells her produce to Beyond Fruits.

Of La Ferme’s four years in operation, Muthoni reflects on how she has been able to invest in her farm without draining her pockets.

“I honestly cannot tell you how much money I have spent on the farm because it’s been a continuous process of investing and paying employees, but one thing I can say is that I have never dipped into my savings and I have never taken out a loan to finance La Ferme,” she says.

Her farm employs three full-time workers, with day labourers who help pick up some work from time to time.

Upcoming restaurant

For the upcoming restaurant, Muthoni is working with a chef to curate a rotating, seasonal menu with fruits and vegetables directly picked and plucked from the farm.

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, plans to accommodate a fully-staffed restaurant and guests on the farm have been brought to a halt.

But La Ferme is currently offering an alternative; an outdoor dining experience in the form of farm-to-table picnic lunches. Guests get to enjoy a bowl of warm, creamy butternut squash from this season’s harvest or a fresh, crisp plate of salad while enjoying views of weed-free raised beds.

Underscoring La Ferme’s culture of sustainability and eco-friendly practices, the picnic packages include food and beverages sourced from the farm, and others from the community nearby.

For instance, the cheese basket is from Brown’s Cheese, a nearby factory in Tigoni, the meat is from grass-fed cows and pasture-raised chicken reared in Mount Kenya slopes, and the craft beer is from 254 Brewing Company located in Kikuyu.

Muthoni also packages the food and drinks in biodegradable containers sourced from Ecstasy, an eco-friendly local company.

“Other than raising my children and having a family, I have to say that this has been the second most fulfilling thing that I have ever done,” says Muthoni as she admires the fruits of her labour.

“Putting something in the ground and watching it grow… feeding people and knowing that you’re feeding them with something wholesome is quite fulfilling,” she says.

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