A new crop of red-hot growers

Reducing harm and expanding the good, Forest Friends Urban Farm is turning the convenience culture on its head by using an ecosystem approach to food production.

Fervent believers in health, nutrition and a better world, Louis and Nadine Kuys have joined the ranks of urban farmers at their 1-ha Vredenburg plot, Forest Friends Urban Farm.

Here they produce sustainable cos, butter, as well as green and red oak leaf lettuce using aquaponics – free from harmful chemicals and additives. The produce is sold to farm stalls, restaurants and retail stores. For own use they grow fennel, dill, wild rocket, sweet rocket, basil, spinach, Chinese cabbage and pak choi. In turn, left-over roots, growing mediums and greens are fed to their chickens, who provide eggs and meat.

In simple terms: aquaponics combines aquaculture (farming aquatic animals in tanks) with hydroponics (cultivating plants in water) in a symbiotic environment where both plants and animals benefit from one another to thrive and grow. Aquaponics solves many of the vexing problems that strike traditional soil-based growers worldwide. And on a grand scale, Mother Nature uses aquaponics to make the world grow.

Producing nutritious food

As lovers of all things green, the couple had been flirting with the idea of producing their own nutritious food while still living on their Hopefield farm. But this was a big ask on nutrient-poor soil. So they took the plunge: sold the farm and moved lock, stock and barrel to Vredenburg in 2016 as small-scale farmers. Of course, this also was much closer to consumer markets than remote Hopefield.

Having researched aquaponics for years, Louis developed his first aquaponic ‘farm’ in a 3m x 4m container. “We grew a veritable feast of thyme, tomatoes, artichokes, strawberries, dill, fennel, oregano, sweet peas, peppers, turnips, okra and beans,” he said. A professionally built 30m x 10m aquaponic tunnel system followed, housing between 3 000 and 4 000 plants at 36 plants/m².

“I truly believe that permaculture is the future of farming. It works in both rural and urban areas – all you need is a little know-how. Even a home-based system can produce enough to reduce a family’s monthly food bill significantly.”

Nadine’s day job is as an Eskom maintenance coordinator, while Louis divides his time between Forest Friends and teaching Louwville youth the ins and outs of organic urban farming. “By year-end, I hope to enrol them as interns with Abbotsdale farmers. The whole idea is to grow small farming communities all along the West Coast. Thus we’ll provide not only employment, but also nutritious meals for families.

Brimming with business ideas, the couple recently opened Café Forest Friends, where – you guessed it – the food is good, nutrition-dense and without harmful chemicals. They also offer consulting services and pre-booked guided tours of the aquaponic facility at R60pp. In addition, they sell tailor-made home-based aquaponic system kits, growing mediums, organic soils, plus water and soil supplements.

Hunter gatherers to the bone, Louis and Nadine source their own food as much as possible. They spearfish regularly to stock the freezer and every so often Louis goes hunting for venison supplies. Talk about self-sufficiency!

Come time out, there’s nothing these two like better than a family beach jaunt – preferably diving or surfing – with daughter Ellie, baby Fynn and three pooches in tow.

For relaxation, we take long walks on the beach
Our pet place on the West Coast is Jakobsbaai
Favourite restaurant is Blikkie Pizzeria in Paternoster
We love eating veg and salads
Our signature drink is a good Pinotage
Best reads are research (Louis) and spiritual books (Nadine)

Find Forest Friends Urban Farm in Aquarius St, Vredenburg & book for tours: 072 215 2765, info@urbanfarmaquaponics.co.za