When two minds think alike, great things happen. Mlondolozi “Mlo” Mnxeba and Simlindile “Simli” Patekile are two such minds, and their business, Inveli Farms (formerly S and M Eco Farming) was born out of such an alignment.

Inveli Farms is a small enterprise that farms organic herbs and vegetables. Currently, the business leases land from an NGO on the fringe of Kayamandi, Stellenbosch where they grow a variety of seasonal crops such as spinach, carrots, cabbage, leek, spring onion, parsley, coriander, chilli, and eggplant.

Simlindile grew up on a farm in the Eastern Cape. With his knowledge of farming learned from his father, Simlindile already had a lot of experience planting and growing crops – but he was looking for an opportunity to build on the knowledge of past generations to build a legacy for future generations. Stellenbosch born Mlondolozi had already realised at school that most of the food consumed in his community was unhealthy and wanted to find a way to not only produce healthy food, but educate the community about eating healthily.

When the two met while enrolled at a course at the Sustainability Institute, they decided to use the knowledge and skills they had gained and join forces to start their own business, growing food and educating others.

Inveli Farms supply seasonal vegetables to several distributors, counting Food Forest, Down to Earth, and Pumpkin Patch Foods among their customers. They also sell direct to the public. By planting both root and leaf crops on a rotational basis, Mlondolozi and Simlindile ensure that they maximise their yield.

This growing business is in the process of applying to the municipality for more land to farm. At the moment they employ one other staff member on a full-time basis, with the rest of their employees working on a part time basis when needed. With education in the forefront of the duo’s mind, students visit the site to learn more about their farming methods.

They emphasise that they encourage learners to remain at school to gain theoretical knowledge before moving on to getting practical experience. Mlondolozi hopes that in the future they will have the opportunity to talk to learners at school, not only about healthy eating, but about where food comes from; also, to bust the myths that food needs to look perfect to be tasty. With non-organic farms supplying most commercial products, people are used to vegetables looking “perfect”, but this is not always the healthiest option, he explains.

Building Business
With no formal business experience, the support from the Nedbank-funded Ranyaka Building Business programme is invaluable. “We are learning about computers and how to use them, and to do things like create a website,” Mlondolozi says. With Ranyaka’s help, they have also been able to access the Stellenbosch University Business School’s Small Business Academy (SBA) Development Programme.

If they are successful in their application for more land to farm, the hope is to introduce livestock to the business and focus on the production of three primary crops which will be decided based upon demand. Before partnering with Mlondolozi, Simlindile spent many years working in the butchery of a major retailer. He would like to use this experience to sell their own meat from a butchery on site.

Tackling challenges
As they have grown their business, finances have posed a major challenge. “When you have no capital, you have to use your energy to grow your business,” they say. These two men are determined to make a success of their vision, and they talk about how they support one another when the going gets tough. Simlindile also talked about how difficult it was for his wife when he left a permanent job to start the business. Thankfully, she was understanding and supportive and prepared to make the sacrifices required for him to follow his dream. Mlondolozi suffered an additional setback recently when a fire destroyed his home, but despite this hurdle, he is future focused. He wants to provide for his family, while at the same time growing his legacy.

Growing food on the urban fringe means that theft is a problem, and many people look to buy on credit, with no intention of making payment for the goods. These farmers believe that through education and information, more people will be empowered to successfully grow produce for personal use which will address both hunger and well-being, as well as crime as a result of hunger.

Learning along the way
Many lessons have been learned along their journey so far. Mlondolozi says, “be close to your clients. Create good relationships. Your clients must be happy,” while Simlindile comments that “you need to focus on the standard of your products. You need to produce good quality products that people will want to buy.”

Looking to the future, the pair know that funding for their business is important as it will allow them to grow. As the business grows, they will be able to spend more time educating others about what it is that they do. They will also be focusing in the short term on marketing to clients that stopped buying their products during the pandemic – many because they were not operational and did not require stock.

When asked why small businesses are so important to the South African economy, Simlindile and Mlondolozi agreed: “Small businesses keep things local. By doing this you financially help the local economy to grow. As your business grows, you can employ more people, and this helps the economy even more.”

Aspiring entrepreneurs need to “be patient,” says Mlondolozi. “Don’t look too far forward. Try and do what you want to do and take it step by step.” Simlindile agrees and adds “it can be hard to start a business without capital. Do your research and know who your customers and going to be and who your competitors are.”

For more information, contact Mlondolozi Mnxeba and Simlindile Patekile on mlondolozimnxeba4@gmail.com or 083 243 4969.