The horticultural empire that city engineer built

Numerous frustrating visits to groceries and supermarkets without finding fresh produce inspired Marianne Kinuthia, a trained engineer to delve into urban farming, a journey that has metamorphosed into a horticultural empire that now earns her on average Sh100,000 every month.

After graduating with a degree in engineering from Technical University of Kenya (formerly Kenya Polytechnic), family and friends expected her to pitch camp at institutions looking for a job like anyone else would. Marianne however had different plans.

She had always wanted to become a farmer and shared her passion with her friends. She begged her parents to let her join their horticulture and tree planting venture. They gave her three acres of land and watched as she lived' her fantasy. "More people around the world. I being one of them are taking an interest in urban farming," she says. She says urban farming offers the same opportunities rural farmers have "Nothing tastes as good as home grown, fresh picked fruits and vegetables and you don't have to go to the village to get it. It doesn't take a lot of skills or space to grow something delicious in the back yard," she said.

Marriane says she came up with the idea since she wanted to grow what they need for her family. Mostly, she says, when she went to shop for grocery, she did not always get what she wanted or the vegetables and fruits were not always fresh.

However, that interest has grown into a big business venture earning her in excess of Sh100,000 per month. Besides growing fruits and vegetables, the 23-year-old is a seedlings supplier and sells propagated varieties for greenhouse and outside farming. Her varieties include tomatoes, capsicum green, yellow or red varieties. She also supplies herbs seedlings such as basil, parsley mint thyme, moringa and stevia, a now preferred alternative to sugarcane. The young engineer also helps farmers plant home gardens and take care of them.

"I grow seedlings and sell. I also grow them to maturity and sell to locals. I also dogreenhouses," she says. Using her engineering and other skills, she says she put up her parent's first greenhouse. Encouraged by the prospective in greenhouse fanning neighbours have also joined in the venture creating more business opportunities for her.

According to Marriane, she never imagined she would one day be getting her hands dirty in the farm. However, she does as she plants the seedlings and makes composite manure. She seems at ease in the farm and seems to relish the prospects as she looks to invest in a big land. However, the young farmer says that one does not need big land to make farming lucrative.

"Limited land should not be a barrier, one can use a window box to cultivate vegetables," she said. She further added: "What I have learnt so far is that seed germination depends on internal and external conditions. The most important external factors include temperature, water, oxygen and light," she says.

Most seeds affected by light and darkness will not germinate until an opening in the canopy allows sufficient light for growth of seedlings. According to her, she always educates her customers that various plants require different variables for successful germination.

"For some seeds the future germination response is affected by environmental conditions during seed formation," she says. According to her mother, Marianne is hard working and has made farming an exciting and lucrative venture "I was surprised since I didn't expect my daughter to venture into farming like me, I thought she will be so digital. I am proud of her. I hope other parents will encourage their children to do fanning “said her mother.

Growing fruits and veggies is an investment in time and effort, but it is worth it, advises the mother. She also says that some fruits require more labour than others. The young engineer is also a teacher and uses her spare time to educate her peers and others who may be interested in learning more on horticulture and tree planting. She says a successful farmer is always on the look out for information because of the changing dynamics in the sector.

To ensure her clients her satisfied, Marianne visits their farms to check on the progress of their crops. She has grown her tentacles and has partnered with Agro Environmental Initiative to publish her business and also share farming experience with other farmers.