Last week, when I published a post about my cycling tour with Honest Travel, I mentioned our visit to the Bertrams Inner City Farm. I decided that visit was far too brief to give the farm proper justice in my blog. So I went back again yesterday.

Walking around Bertrams Inner City farm with Mama Fifi and Ryan
Walking the Bertrams Inner City Farm on an exceptionally chilly “spring” day, with Mama Fifi and my friend Ryan.
Inside one of the greenhouses.

Here’s some background on the Bertrams Inner City Farm. It’s one hectare — the size of a couple of football fields — and as the name implies, it’s right in the middle of the city. Bertrams is one suburb over from Hillbrow and the farm sits across the road from Ellis Park Stadium. A wide variety of vegetables grow on the farm: spinach, cabbages, lettuce, onions, potatoes, morogo (African spinach), herbs, and many other things I couldn’t see yet because it’s barely the end of winter.

The farm sells produce (both fresh and dried) and homemade juices to consumers, and also feeds the surrounding community through a variety of initiatives. The farm currently runs a soup kitchen on Tuesdays and Thursdays, feeding as many as 150 people each time.

Fifi's green juice
This green juice, made with spinach and ginger and other healthy (but tasty) ingredients, is everything. I drank a whole bottle in under 60 seconds. The farm also sells orange and red juice (made with carrots and beetroot, respectively).
Dried spinach
Dried spinach grown on the farm.

Refiloe “Fifi” Molefe cofounded the farm 16 years ago. Mama Fifi, aged 60, is originally from Mafikeng but grew up in Alexandra Township. Fifi lost her mother when she was an infant, but she learned to grow food from members of her extended family. “I learned from our grandmothers,” Fifi told me. “They did not have money, but they had food.”

Fifi worked for many years as a home health nurse and a childcare worker. Over the years, she began to notice the people she cared for lacked one thing above all else: nutritious food. Although she lived in the city, Fifi could see there was plenty of space to grow things. That’s when Fifi moved into farming.

Fifi does not have any formal agricultural training, but it doesn’t take a trained eye to see this woman has a God-given talent for making things grow. She is also an organizer of note. Today, Fifi trains teams of agricultural students to make food all over South Africa.

Refiloe Molefe farming at Bertrams Inner City Farm
Mama Fifi walks through one of the gardens last Tuesday, when it still felt like summer.
Mama Fifi
She’s one of those people with a personality that really shows through in photographs. It makes me want to take her picture again and again.
Mama Fifi
Here’s another one.
Morogo drying in the sun
Morogo drying in the sun.

When I visited the farm on the tour last week, something felt vaguely familiar. Fifi and I chatted up a storm but neither of us recognized the other right away. It was only as I was leaving that I remembered I’d visited the Bertrams Inner City farm once before.

I went home, checked my blog, and found a post about a photowalk in Bertrams in 2011. There, in that post, was Mama Fifi.

Mama Refiloe in the garden at 2011
Mama Fifi in the garden — which looked completely different back then, as there were no greenhouses — in May 2011. (I clearly still had a lot to learn about exposure and camera settings.) The baby, whom I mistook for Fifi’s daughter at the time, was one of the children from the crèche where Mama Fifi worked back then.

The Bertrams Inner City Farm has won all kinds of awards and grants, and it seems like Fifi and her staff are always thinking up new and exciting projects. But it’s also clear the farm is operating on a shoestring budget. They make their delicious juice in a small, domestic-sized juicer. The team also needs a laptop (for all these new Zoom meetings, Fifi says), a website, and lots of other things.

Mama Fifi and her juicer
Mama Fifi and her juicer. She was going to make some juice for Ryan and me, which we were very excited about, until we realized there was loadshedding and hence no electricity.

Please Support the Bertrams Inner City Farm

It’s been a while since I’ve solicited donations to a worthy cause on this blog. But now is the time. I would really like to help Mama Fifi and the staff at Bertrams Inner City Farm raise some cash for the tools they need to expand their business. The laptop is first in line, along with baking machinery so they can start making bread, an industrial-sized juicer, shade-netting for the plants, a chicken coop, and probably a dozen other things Mama Fifi didn’t have a chance to mention.

If you live in South Africa and would like to support the farm, here are Fifi’s banking details:

Refiloe Molefe
Bank: FNB
Account #: 62498867690
Branch code: 250805 (FNB Bank City Branch)

If you live overseas, you can send a donation to me via PayPal using the following link: paypal.me/2summers. I will then send the money to Fifi.

Or best of all, you can support the farm by buying their produce, juice, and dried vegetables. Fifi delivers. Please contact her at 071-781-9194 to place an order.

Spinach growing at Bertrams Inner City Farm
I can’t think of anything better to spend money on.

Thank you Mama Fifi for embodying all the best things about Joburg.

Mama Fifi and Rafael
Mama Fifi and her grandson Rafael.

The Bertrams Inner City Farm is at 46 Bertrams Road, Bertrams.

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