“We see a big future ahead for hydroponics in Kenya as there's a great niche and many challenges that traditional ag faces,” says Fred Mwithiga, co-founder of Vertical Gardens in Kenya.
Together with his cousin Fred he found the company Vertical Gardens, providing hydroponic growing systems to customers and businesses. After introducing hydroponics in Kenya, we want to be one of the key sources providing systems to individuals and businesses.”
“My cousin and I grew up in the same community. Our families were working in agriculture, so every afternoon we were taught how to weed the garden. Later, my cousin’s dad bought a larger piece of land so the farming got more serious. Every summer we would spend our time there, learning about fertilizers and pests,” says Fred.
Fred and Fred Mwithiga, founders of Vertical Gardens Kenya
“But then we wanted to do something cooler than traditional agriculture, so we chose to go for hydroponics. In 2017 we built a small test frame that could hold 60 heads of lettuce, spinach, or kale. To our great joy, it really worked, despite the rudimental set-up. We constructed everything ourselves, also the tower we built next.”
Vertical Gardens Kenya has four products in its portfolio. The Vertical Pouch Garden can hold up to 32 plants. Next to that, there's the Vertical Stacked Garden which can hold up to 18 plants max. Then there is also the Vertical Tower Garden which can hold about 30 plants per tower. And besides the vertically stacked gardens, the company can also offer Custom Grow Houses with a hybrid option, adding either towers or gardens in there to grow produce.
Growing strawberries in the Vertical Pouch Garden
Growing demand from businesses
The two took the time for trials, and then Covid hit. Everybody was stuck at home, and people didn’t feel safe going out to buy food. “We could present people with a healthy alternative: growing food at home. Our hydroponic systems sold out quickly.” Because of this pandemic trend, the company mainly sold to customers. But now that the systems have proven successful, the company is focusing on businesses too, and that brings different requirements.
“We are now supplying hotels too, and they have different demands, especially when it comes to aesthetics, so we are working to professionalize the growing system’s appearance. We still see that the interest in hydroponics is mainly an upper-class thing, as it hasn’t become totally mainstream yet. But the popularity of hydroponics is steadily growing in Kenya.”
The Vertical Stacked Garden
Same old: farming needs to become more fashionable
And that is highly necessary, Fred observes. “We definitely need more young farmers, as most are above 60. Kenya’s cities are growing, so we need more food. We aim to address the sourcing of food in a safe and economical way. It is all about changing the mindset of people, showing that growing can be done in vertical garden spaces too.” And this is happening, slowly and steadily. “We’ve been operating since April 2020, and more and more people are getting interested in the system. People simply to be able to grow in their homes.”
Another problem that the vertical gardens will solve is water shortage, which is a huge problem, especially in Nairobi. “This year, several living areas ran out of water, so we need to save water urgently without harming the crops. We see that in this respect, people are opening up to this kind of water-saving farming. The small growing areas that we established will change the perception of even more people soon.”
The Garden used in a more urbanized area
Ordering from Vertical Gardens means getting a complete package, and being able to start growing directly. “We provide the growing media, seeds, crops, nutrition and we even test the mixture before sending it to the client. We want to be sure that everything works. If anyone is ready to harvest, we also provide new seedlings. Our goal is to work with subscriptions: providing customers with everything they need along the process.”