Claire Reid was just 16 when she in­vented pa­per strips con­tain­ing veg­etable seeds to help com­mu­ni­ties grow their own food. This year, Reel Gar­den­ing will launch in­ter­na­tion­ally, she tells Sue Grant-Mar­shall

CityPress - - Business -

Staff at Reel Gar­den­ing pour out of the house in which they work in Blair­gowrie, Joburg, to greet me. En­thu­si­as­tic, ex­u­ber­ant and young, they em­body the com­mu­nity ethos of their CEO and founder, Claire Reid (30).

The hum­ble house is the head­quar­ters of the Reel Gar­den­ing net­work, which winds its way across South Africa, with rep­re­sen­ta­tives in nearly ev­ery prov­ince.

They tell com­mu­ni­ties, re­tail­ers and cor­po­rates about their biodegrad­able pa­per strips, or reels, which con­tain seeds, nu­tri­ents and or­ganic fer­tiliser.

Th­ese strips can even be planted in the poor­est-qual­ity soil. Di­a­grams ex­plain how to make a fur­row and how deep to plant a strip.

Once planted, all that’s needed is sun­light and the right amount of wa­ter. The so­cial en­tre­pre­neur ex­plains that in our drought-stricken land, “the strips use 80% less wa­ter than sow­ing con­ven­tional seeds in gar­dens, be­cause they ab­sorb most of the wa­ter and in­di­cate where wa­ter­ing is needed”. This is no thumb-suck fig­ure – af­ter win­ning a gold medal at the 2002 Eskom Expo for Young Sci­en­tists, Reid con­ducted a se­ries of wa­ter tests with the Univer­sity of Pre­to­ria. It re­sulted in her win­ning the depart­ment of wa­ter affairs’ SA Ju­nior Wa­ter Prize in 2003. In the same year, she re­ceived the In­ter­na­tional Stock­holm Ju­nior Wa­ter Prize. She also won the UN En­vi­ron­men­tal SEED Award.

But the level-headed ar­chi­tec­tural stu­dent didn’t rest on her lau­rels, and con­tin­ued to ex­per­i­ment with and de­velop her seed-con­tain­ing pa­per strip.

In 2009, she se­cured a start-up loan from An­glo Amer­i­can’s Zimele ini­tia­tive to en­able Reel Gar­den­ing to de­velop her idea into a com­mer­cially vi­able prod­uct.

It opened its doors for busi­ness in 2010, the same year in which Reid ob­tained her mas­ter’s de­gree in ar­chi­tec­ture from the Univer­sity of Pre­to­ria.

Her aim is for poor peo­ple and ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties to grow their own food and then cre­ate their own busi­nesses by sell­ing the sur­plus food.

She’s hugely con­scious of the need for job cre­ation in South Africa, which is why she specif­i­cally de­vel­oped a hand­made man­u­fac­tur­ing process for the reels and hired un­em­ployed moth­ers to make them.

“We mar­ket our prod­ucts to retail and cor­po­rate clients, but the heart of our busi­ness lies in de­vel­op­ing com­mu­nity gar­dens through­out South Africa,” she says.

It’s why she de­vel­oped Gar­den in a Box, which con­tains a 200m reel of all kinds of veg­etable seeds.

“The box’s reels can be made by one woman in a day and feed at least 100 chil­dren when the con­tents are har­vested,” says Reid.

The box won the in­au­gu­ral SAB Foun­da­tion So­cial In­no­va­tion Award in 2011. Her fo­cus is a sus­tain­able so­cial en­ter­prise geared for scale, “and we’re well on the way to achiev­ing that”.

“Glob­ally, we’re liv­ing in a char­ity-fa­tigued so­ci­ety. For so­cial en­ter­prise to suc­ceed, we need to cre­ate wealth our­selves.” She’s go­ing to sell the prod­uct in­ter­na­tion­ally, start­ing this year in Dubai be­fore mov­ing into Ger­many, Canada and Ja­pan. “A per­cent­age of all sales from those mar­kets will go to do­nat­ing Reel Gar­dens in South Africa,” she says.

It was the teenager’s frus­tra­tion at be­ing un­able to grow veg­eta­bles in the fam­ily’s gar­den in Parkhurst “to make pocket money” that led to her cre­at­ing a seed strip from news­pa­per.

She en­cased the seeds in a paste made from flour and liq­uid fer­tiliser and en­tered the 2002 Eskom Expo be­cause she wanted to gain ex­tra marks for her Grade 10 St Teresa’s School sci­ence pro­ject in Rose­bank.

The pub­lic re­sponse was over­whelm­ing. The mul­ti­tude of awards that this de­ter­mined so­cial en­tre­pre­neur has won are too nu­mer­ous to list here. She has other ven­tures in mind too, and says “ex­cit­ing re­search and de­vel­op­ment is be­ing done”.

But with a six-month-old baby, she’s aware that she needs to ground her­self, as well as her seeds, to con­tinue to flour­ish.


Claire Reed is chang­ing the way com­mu­ni­ties plant and

grow veg­eta­bles

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