A harsh combination of scorching sun and strong winds rocks the neat rows of greenhouses at the Oleleshwa farm in Narok county. This, however, does not stop workers tending to the well-manicured farm, who are busy fixing water supply pipes.
Located in Narok West, the 70-acre farm is one of its kind and a pride in a region mostly associated with famine. The farm is operated by an NGO, WE Villages, a subsidiary of Free the Children, which has been operating in Narok county with different projects for 18 years.
Free the Children country director Robin Wiszowaty said the farm was started after they realised water projects without proper farming lessons were not going to help deal with recurring drought.
“We dug boreholes and got water supply but crops still failed, meaning there was no food security. We knew we needed to do more to arrest the situation, and that is how the farm idea was born,” Robin said.
The farm was acquired and the project rolled out soon after. Though the farm is run by Free the Children, the community is allowed in and people are taught how to care for their farms. “It is a central learning point for anyone interested in farming,” said farm manager Timothy Mwangi.
Resident Jane Marindany says the introduction of the farm has helped her start gardening in a previously pastoralist area. “All we knew before Free the Children came were cows and goats, but as we speak, many women have embraced farming, and they all have vegetables even if for family use,” she said.
The farm provides enough food for all the facilities initiated and run by Free the Children. These include Baraka Hospital, a level 4 hospital started by the NGO, several schools and a restaurant. “We even have surplus, which we sell after all our facilities are fully supplied,” Timothy said.
Farm sales after supplying outlets exceed Sh1 million a month. “It is a good money-making initiative, which everyone should embrace,” Timothy said.
The farm, which is part of Free the Children agriculture and food security pillar in Narok, grows almost all kinds of foods, with a borehole dug within the farm for irrigation.
Within the farm are 12 irrigated greenhouses growing different crops, 15 open fields, a fish pond, 10 beehives and a fruit farm, which is on pilot.
Farm products include lettuce, carrots, tomatoes, cauliflower, onions, spinach, godgets, coriander, eggplant, cabbages, purple cabbages, bananas, peas and carrots. The newly introduced fruit farm has paw paws, oranges, mangoes, apples and passion fruits. The fruits have been doing well, with several residents planting them in their farms.
The farm is purely organic and only uses natural pesticides if need be. “We don’t use chemicals here. We make our own using ash, sawdust, onions, chillies and aloe vera,” said Tiffany, a student at Oleleshwa Secondary School, who was among the students who led us during the tour of the farm.
This, Timothy says, poses one of their biggest problems. “We agreed to never use chemicals on this farm, and that at times becomes difficult but so far, we have managed to keep it that way. The food produced here, even in the greenhouses, is chemical-free,” he said.
The farm has four permanent employees, with casual labourers being engaged when need be. Oleleshwa Girls’ School students are also actively involved, especially during harvest. “Students taking agriculture have been helping in making the pesticides and sometimes during planting and harvesting,” said Tiffany, another student.
The school is among those run by Free the Children, whereby all students admitted are fully sponsored. Other schools include Kisaruni Girls’ Secondary School and Milimani Boys’ Secondary School.
To ensure crops don’t fail, the farm does rotational planting. “We don’t plant the same crop twice in the same area. The principle is straightforward enough — the same vegetables should not be planted in the same place after harvest,” Timothy said. This helps keep away pests.
At the middle of the farm stands a structure we are told is a special room for preservation. The artificial intelligence and charcoal coolant is where they store their produce before they are distributed to different facilities.
The room is made of charcoal, which is put in between hard wire mesh on all sides and a thatched roof. The charcoal is sprinkled with water every morning, which keeps the room cool throughout the day. “Even the most sensitive produce can stay here for three days without going bad,” Timothy said.
From there, the produce is distributed to the Free the Children outlets and what remains is sold.