Women in Agriculture: The liberated mind is unstoppable - Phumzile Nhlapho - founder and MD, HomeGrown SA

Phumzile Nhlapho, a former banker turned social entrepreneur with a love of fitness and nutrition, founded HomeGrown SA as part of her own journey towards self-mastery and reinventing her true identity. Through HomeGrown SA, Phumzile hopes to promote sustainable eating practices and to educate consumers about the importance of good eating habits. In this interview, she discusses the highs, lows, and lessons learned from running her own business.

What was your motivation for starting Homegrown SA?

The idea behind HomeGrown SA came from my personal experience finding holistic healing through a new plant-based diet. Through eating healthier and incorporating more plant-based items into my everyday meals, I managed not only to invest in my body and diet, but also developed a new sense of self. 

How long have you been operating the business and can you tell us what it is all about?

The business has been in operation for three years. HomeGrown SA is a female owned company with a purpose-driven mission of empowerment and education. In addition to employing people, the purpose is for them to work alongside us through groomed participation in subsistence farming.  

What's your role and how many staff members do you have? 

My role is founder and Managing Director. Currently, I employ three people. These are: a buyer,  a cleaner, and an assistant chef. 

What makes Homegrown SA products and customer experience unique? 

In our meals, we use fresh ingredients sourced from small-scale farms where we know how the food is grown. As far as food and some packaging are concerned, we operate a completely recyclable model. Our mission is to plant, harvest, harvest, and package our meals in a way that is entirely aligned with Mother Nature. In order to introduce and encourage a plant based diet, especially in previously disadvantaged communities, we provide 100% preservative-free meals that are primarily plant-based. 

Where do you source your produce for all your products? 

We primarily source food from small scale farmers and people that are passionate about growing their own food so they can gain access to the market and inspire entrepreneurship. Due to a small number of participants, we are forced to pursue larger market segments to obtain other ingredients. 

 How do you market your products and where do you sell them? 

 The majority of sales are generated by social media and word of mouth. Currently, we are trying to find space in Soweto where our products can be sold. 

What failures have you had along the way? How have those failures led you to success? 

Market entry barriers. Negotiating terms that benefit both the company and the other party.  As a result of the costs associated with production and testing of food items, we are limited in how fast we can expand into retail and commercial spaces. As a result of the sensitivity of fresh produce and not having enough cold storage space, we are forced to stock on demand, causing high delivery costs. In addition, being a self-funded business puts a strain on family life. Because I am a new entrant in the food market, I don't know the terms of negotiating, so that has also left me with burned fingers.  Generally, I prefer not to focus on why I cannot do something, but rather on doing what I can with what I have and letting the rest take care of itself. This is essentially how I have been able to create HomeGrown SA and keep it running. I believe you only fail when you don’t try. The key to success is giving it your all in the face of moments and situations that are meant to break you down and discourage you. Through these experiences, I have learned how to plan and prioritise my time better. Additionally, I don't participate in discussions that undermine the growth of our brand, and I focus on making every order the best it can be for each and every client. Hopefully, with each bite, the quality of the brand will begin to speak for itself.

Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? 

As a child, my grandmother was an inspiration to me because she used the simplest ingredients to prepare nutritious meals for us that were delicious and filling. 

More women are bursting into the limelight, embracing entrepreneurship and making a difference. Yet some women are led to believe they belong primarily in the kitchen. Your thoughts? 

Women can achieve anything they set their minds to. My belief is that it is very important not to lose sight of your true essence as a woman in the pursuit of making a difference. No matter where we are planted - in the kitchen or the boardroom - we can blossom. The liberated mind is unstoppable, and we need to protect our minds on our individual journeys. Regardless of where we choose to live, I think this is the most important quality we must all possess as women. 

What’s the biggest thing that you know now, that you wish you could have told yourself at the start of Homegrown SA? 

In the midst of the spotlights and interviews you will find many lonely moments of doubt and fear. Entrepreneurship is a lonely journey because it is such a personal journey, so you have to take it alone. Trust your gut and write. When in doubt, consult your vision.. 

How do you find balance as a working mom? Or is that a complete myth? 

Being intentional with your time and how you choose to allocate it is the key to finding balance. Finding balance involves sorting and arranging things and people in accordance with their importance. Be selfish with your time. It is one resource that cannot be replaced.  

Are you working on any new or exciting projects now? 

As it stands now, it is too early to mention it, but it is definitely something Soweto has been in need of. What’s next for Homegrown SA? Besides the kitchen, HomeGrown SA is looking into renting space from larger farmers so that we are able to grow, harvest, and package our own food.   

Get in touch with Phumzile via social media: Instagram and Facebook