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Cream of the crop

At the age of just 27, Zokhanya (Zozo) Bikani is supervising the Growing the Future Organic Farm, a project in the Siyakhula Social Enterprise Development pillar of the Grootbos Foundation, a section 21 not for profit company, operating on the Grootbos Private Nature Reserve in the Overberg region, in the Western Cape.

The Grootbos Foundation works to holistically address conservation and social development in an effort to achieve its vision of sustainable livelihoods. The Growing the Future Farm is run as a commercial enterprise selling it’s organic fresh produce, including high-value micro herbs, eggs, honey and pork-related products to the two five-star Grootbos lodges.

Born in Idutywa, near Butterworth in the Eastern Cape, Zozo was raised by her grandmother. “My grandmother taught me the basics of growing vegetables organically, without chemicals,” says Zozo. Little did she realise the role this early education would play out in her life.

After she matriculated from Qhayiya Secondary School, in Zwelihle, in Hermanus in 2009, there was no money available for her to further her studies. In 2011, Zozo was selected to study through the Grootbos Foundation and graduated top of her class. “I learnt a lot about farming and really enjoyed the course, but what fascinated me the most was the beekeeping and seeing the bees making honey in the beehives.”

Zozo’s potential was identified and she was selected as one of the three top Foundation graduates to visit the world-famous Eden Project in Cornwall, England for a three-week experiential learning experience. “I never dreamt I would fly in a plane. It was very exciting! At Eden we learnt about horticulture and it was incredible to see the two huge biomes housing rainforest and Mediterranean plants from all over the world.”

Zozo was particularly inspired by an excursion to a gardening-related project, which employed people with disabilities. “This taught me that we should not discriminate and we should treat others like we would like to be treated. It was wonderful to see these people being given opportunities. Paul, one of the managers on this project was also born in Idutywa. He is an orphan and has made it his life’s mission not to discriminate against others, but to include them. He is a hero to me.”

Not one to rest on her laurels, Zozo has furthered her studies through UNISA, receiving a higher certificate in facilitation, supported by the Grootbos Foundation. Zozo’s plans are to continue her studies by doing a diploma in facilitation, and she has her heart set on getting her driver’s license.

This year (2016), Zozo has had the chance to put her newly acquired skills into practice by helping to facilitate the Foundation’s Food for Sport Programme. This 12-week food security and nutrition programme runs three-to-four times a year and involves local schools in the Gansbaai and Stanford area. Participants are taught the basic nutritional concepts, the importance of vegetable growing and vegetable gardens are established at the schools.

Ruth, the Grootbos Foundation Operational Manager says: “I am very excited for Zozo that she has been able to take up this facilitation role. It makes so much sense. She plays an integral role in the farm and the facilitation, is a natural further step in her skills’ development. She is a great guide.”

Zozo’s grandmother passed away in 2008, but Zozo is certain that if she were still alive, she would be very happy to know that she is working with plants and building on the knowledge she had passed on.

Zozo finishes up by expressing her gratitude to the Grootbos Foundation, “The Grootbos Foundation is willing to help people who want to achieve something in life and I am grateful for that”

Source: The Big Issue South Africa, by Sarah Taylor

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