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Jolly good urban farming is at its best in Johannesburg

Couple Anique and Jonathan Pickard have given new to a disregarded car park turning it into an urban farming dream in the middle of Joburg

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By Heidi Bertish  | October 5, 2022 | Gardens

Nestled at the foothills of Northcliff Hill, Albertskroon is an old Joburg suburb, lying north west of the city, adjoining Greymont and Montgomery Park. Established around 1896 on Waterval farm, the area was named after the Alberts family, the original farm owners. The only artesian spring in Gauteng is tucked away under the Northcliff ridge on this urban farm. The spring continues to flow, and because of it, Albertskroon is now the second largest ‘green lung’ in Joburg.

For years, farming had been a pipe dream for millennials Anique and Jonathan Pickard. When looking for their first home, the surrounding areas of Albertskroon, with its farming heritage and high water table, felt like the right place to put down roots. The couple consumed countless books and YouTube videos on their favourite small-scale farmers and experimented with growing numerous vegetable varieties. Where most would have outdoor seating and entertaining areas, Anique and Jonathan had seedlings, using every plantable space in their modest-size garden to grow vegetables and begin their urban farming dream. During the lockdown, they introduced a daily ritual of watching the sunset from their rooftop, and it was from this vantage on a rosy-hued Joburg evening in April 2020 that they first noticed an open area of unused land not far from their home.

Armfuls of fresh chard and spinach just picked, Photograph: Jonathan Pickard

Finding that the land belonged to the Portuguese Welfare Society, the couple secured a rental agreement for 500 square metres of what had previously been a car park. Three months later, Jolly Good Farm was born in the heart of residential Albertskroon. They broke ground and built their first 10-metre-by-10-metre planting beds, followed by their first crop in the spring of the same year. ‘The learning curve was steep and the hours long,’ Anique remembers. ‘We were juggling full-time jobs and building the farm, which meant urban farming had to happen before and after work and over weekends.’

They soon realised they would need to adapt what they had learned from books and videos to their unique suburban context. After levelling and hand-tilling the plot to remove rocks and rubble, they boosted the soil with rock dust and barrowfuls of compost and organics. They added generous applications of compost tea and indigenous micro-organisms to kickstart biology in the soil.

Urban farmers Anique and Jonathan Pickard, Photograph: Jonathan Pickard

‘Our soil, location, weather and customer profile are beginning to shape the farm’s personality,’ says Jonathan. Now into their third growing season, Jolly Good Farm supplies weekly vegetable boxes to suburban families and fresh produce to two stores. The Leopard Deli in Greenside and the Farm Table, an organic boutique grocer and eatery in Linden. Chefs cannot get enough of their herbs either, particularly their varieties of wild rocket and coriander.

Flavour and bounty can be attributed to every effort they make to emulate natural systems. Their rule of thumb is that healthy soil equates to healthy plants. ‘We do not use artificial or harmful pesticides and fertilisers,’ says Anique. ‘It is all-natural at Jolly Good!’ Soil health is a top priority, and what began as compacted clay has progressively become loamier as barrowfuls of organic matter are added. ‘We use good quality compost, vermicast and the occasional pelted chicken manure for heavy feeders such as fruiting crops to maintain soil fertility and keep our plants healthy.’

Baby herbs starting to sprout in the greenhouse, Photograph: Jonathan Pickard

Encouraging biodiversity is a guiding philosophy at Jolly Good, which interplants with companion plants and a glut of flowers. Flouting traditional methods of monoculture, Anique and Jonathan grow various crops in the same bed. ‘It is about learning to grow better rather than bigger,’ they say. This not only maximises the Jolly Good offering, but increases plant health and the likelihood of a more diverse range of visiting pollinators. This season, we can expect delightful additions such as armfuls of cut sunflower stems and their first crop of floral teas. ‘We love to see flowers growing everywhere in the urban farming setting,’ says Anique, who advocates for leaving a portion of the crop to flower and set seed. ‘This is the easiest way to attract more pollinators to the garden and save seed for next season.’

Fresh ‘Jack be little’ pumpkins growing at Jolly Good Farm, Photograph: Jonathan Pickard
A crate of hand mixed purple daikon radish, Photograph: Jonathan Pickard