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Growing a nation

This Mrs SA finalist is not just a pretty face in a beauty pageant – she’s digging in to ensure as many people as possible have healthy food and sustainable businesses.

You may not be familiar with Candice Robbertze’s lovely face but chances are you’re familiar with her company, Calorie Conscious, as it distributes to more than 500 clients, including Checkers, SPAR and Food Lover’s Market. The company’s great-tasting and health-savvy products are a shopping cart staple but Robbertze wasn’t satisfied with commercial success – she wanted to take success to those who need it most too. The former Mrs SA finalist started the Candice Robbertze Foundation in 2018 and one of the charity’s most recent projects is the GROW initiative. GROW stands for GRANT people at their RESIDENCE the OPPORTUNITY to WORK.

To understand the name, one first needs to hear how this idea started. ‘In 2017 I was a finalist in Mrs SA,’ Robbertze says. ‘Together with the Aganang Foundation, we did a food parcel activation. My dear friend Brenda Burges explained the need people have for fresh vegetables and she also explained that with her background, she’d be able to teach people to grow vegetables. As an entrepreneur my brain went into overdrive and the idea was born to utilise the offcuts from my factory and grow little plants from them. I called my veg supplier and asked for the pumpkin seeds and the offcuts of all the other veggies it was processing for customers.’

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These seeds and seedlings then go to various communities where people are taught how to grow vegetables all year round. Robbertze’s company buys back some of the vegetables, but the surplus is sold by the newly-taught farmers/entrepreneurs in order to provide for themselves and their families, thus making the project fully sustainable. ‘To me, sustainability means the ability to support your family and yourself, and at the same time to do less harm to the planet. We supply the skills, the knowledge and the start-up. I love to give the support and encouragement people need. When we started our first business, Calorie Conscious, there was nobody who could hold our hands to assist us when we failed at something, so I try to assist others wherever I can.’ Calorie Conscious specialises in super-healthy, gluten-free, low-carb and Banting products, so the journey into vegetable-growing was quite a departure from the norm for Robbertze, who’s more comfortable in a boardroom than a pumpkin patch (but that doesn’t stop her rolling up her sleeves when necessary). Her business acumen is apparent in the zero-waste policy GROW follows.

Whatever isn’t used to grow seedlings goes into the compost heap to nourish the vegetable gardens. Various other offcuts are donated to up-and-coming pig farmers to feed their livestock, which ensures no unnecessary waste is created. A team of six staff has supported more than 100 families with this initiative and a further 50 people are fed each day with what’s bought back from the farmers. This is in addition to the feeding scheme and soup kitchen Robbertze’s foundation runs, which ensures that organic vegetables form a central component of each meal provided. This is increasingly important in South Africa as our country has a problem with obesity, largely due to the affordability of higher calorie, unhealthy foods and the comparatively high cost of fresh (but perishable) fruit and vegetables.

But this is just the first step. Robbertze has big plans for the GROW initiative. ‘I’d like to take the GROW project all over South Africa, helping thousands if not millions of people,’ Robbertze says. ‘This project could assist some of our South African entrepreneurs to become self-sufficient. I really believe that if people feel worthy, they get up, dress up, show up and never give up. It only takes one opportunity, one person or one deal to change everything. I believe in empowering with passion and empowering the nation.’

So how can we get involved? Donations in the form of seeds, plants, equipment or money are all useful but it’s easy to see how simple the GROW initiative is. If you have a green thumb, you could start by growing your own vegetables and donating any surplus produce to a nearby charity. ‘The whole world is moving towards health. ‘Organic’ is a buzzword. Imagine receiving a box of organic veggies once a week, grown and nurtured by an entrepreneur somewhere in the middle of SA. Firstly, that entrepreneur would be doing a happy dance because they made a sale and can feed their family and grow their business. Secondly, you’re feeling healthier because you’re eating organic vegetables. And thirdly, you’re part of assisting our beautiful country and its people to decrease the unemployment rate and crime.’

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