Spinach from the skies, anyone? Menlyn Park supports rooftop farming
The rooftops of Menlyn Park Shopping Centre were once well known for hosting arena activities, festivals and drive-in movies. But today, they are home to something different – and greener.
Andile Matukane, founder of Farmers Choice, has converted what was once a rooftop parking lot into a thriving farm. It makes her the first known person to do rooftop farming in a mall in Tshwane. And Andile hopes to expand her farm to be the biggest one in South Africa, capable of serving many nearby people and businesses.
Tshwane’s first known mall rooftop farm
Farming a few levels up wasn’t always Andile’s plan. She runs two functional land farms in Mpumalanga and Limpopo, selling pigs and seedlings. However, land ownership in South Africa is an ongoing challenge, and so, when looking to grow her business, she decided to get creative and look upwards.
It was a timely choice. With climate change, urbanisation, food insecurity and transport costs all growing, rooftop farming can be done anywhere, anytime, with fewer resources, and closer to people. Her set-up at Menlyn Park uses a hydroponic system, making it capable of growing thousands of leafy green crops all year round (even producing more food compared to soil farming). In a compact space, she can produce lettuces, basil, rocket, edible flowers, strawberries and spinach – and deliver them quickly.
The perfect spot
Andile’s rooftop farm is also an ideal fit for Menlyn Park’s sustainability drive. The shopping mall has made a commitment to reduce, reuse, recycle and rethink waste.
These green efforts started when Pareto undertook the refurbishment and expansion of Menlyn Park in 2014. We helped ensure the new construction was fully aligned with environmentally friendly design and construction principles. The base building, among other things, incorporated paints, adhesives and sealants with low or no volatile organic compounds, and composite wood with low formaldehyde emission levels. For these efforts, the mall was awarded a four-star Green Star Retail Design rating by the Green Building Council of South Africa – a historic and significant achievement for the South African retail sector.
Today, some of the mall’s other green features include sophisticated metering, CO2 monitors, roof skylights, large-scale composters, and facilities for alternative transport.
The new rooftop farm complements these, and both Pareto and Menlyn Park are excited to support this eco-friendly space. The farm is low in maintenance, gives high and consistent production results per square meter, has a low input usage of water and electricity, and has low space requirements.
The farm itself was built without creating much waste. It either kept or modified the existing parking lot infrastructure. The concrete uprights now serve as greenhouse support frames, while the IBR arch sheets were replaced with Agri Plastic Sheeting.
The future of farming
Urban rooftop farming in South Africa started taking off as a trend in 2017, with the launch of the Urban Agriculture Initiative (UAI). Developed by key stakeholders in the public and private sector, the UAI seeks to address issues of food security and assist job creation. Since its establishment, rooftops farms have popped up in cities across South Africa, supplying restaurants and other clientele with gourmet lettuce and basil.
But this is the first venture atop a mall, and Andile hopes to see the trend continue. Speaking to Food for Mzansi recently, she predicts that more people will start going into rooftop farming as the need for food production in small spaces increases. What’s more, as someone who was mentored to have a greater understanding of farming and entrepreneurship herself, she hopes to be this mentor and adviser to other keen farmers around the country too. Running a farm on top of one of the largest and busiest malls in South Africa is definitely a good place to start.