Lufefe Nomjana's life sounds like a fairy-tale, but the reality of his accomplishments is better than a story. Learn how this young history-maker is building a spinach empire and teaching people the value to 'slow' food.
Almost everyone, once aware of how nutritious food can enrich your body and mind, wants to eat healthier. But when significant factors like cost, time and convenience come into play, options are limited. One man is fighting the battle against high-kilojoule, nutrient-poor fast food, one bunch of spinach at a time.
How the Spinach King fell in love
Innovation and a will to make a difference in people's lives led this 29-year-old entrepreneur from Khayelitsha to where he is today. After two failed business attempts, Lufefe started helping out to grow vegetables as a way of keeping busy and putting food on his plate.
"I was in survival mode. But when I noticed there were only elderly women running a little garden in the township and no young blood, I went to volunteer. I recognised the potential and transformed the garden from 90% social to 60% commercial by introducing better ways of irrigating, fertilising with organic compost and selling spinach door to door."
"The more I worked with spinach, the more I fell in love with it. You plant it and it grows in three to four weeks, and this spoke to me when I had no income."
"I saw a dire need for change in my community"
Around this time, Lufefe started to realise the devastating toll that diseases of lifestyle were having on the community of Khayelitsha. "After researching at a public library and chatting to a dietitian at a local hospital about what was making my people sick, I realised the fast food industry has contributed a lot to this mess," he says.
"The fast food industry is very good at 'educating' people about their foods through advertising. But there are not enough advocates of 'slow' foods teaching people about the importance of growing, cooking and eating food yourself.”
All Lufefe had was spinach. According to the Department of Agriculture, just one leaf of spinach contains 13 phytochemicals that boost health and help prevent cardiovascular illness, diabetes other chronic diseases - conditions rife in townships and in large part exacerbated by what people eat.
Creating better alternatives for people with limited options
He understood that highly processed white bread was a staple because it was cheap and easy to use. "While healthy eating was trending in other areas, unhealthy eating was trending in Khayelitsha," he explained to a rapt room at the 2018 Future Foods Forum, where he was invited by the Discovery Vitality HealthyFood Studio to share insights as a guest panellist.
"The issue is alternatives. In a poor community, health is secondary - and there were no healthy alternatives that were also affordable and convenient."
It was at that point in his life that Lufefe felt the call for a healthy 'fast' food system in the township. "I wondered how to include spinach in a daily product that people were already eating." This led to him waking at 2am each morning, kneading dough in a bucket in his neighbour's kitchen, and experimenting in an oven he rented until he was satisfied with a recipe.
The result: bread made from spinach, tapioca flower and sorghum: tasty, filling, locally-sourced and nutritious - and importantly - as affordable as white bread.
Educating and feeding Khayelitsha a loaf at a time
"I had to crack skulls at first. I'd go door-to-door selling loaves and would sit down with each person to explain the importance of consuming 'slow' food that grows in the earth and nourishes your body. It's been difficult, but slowly people are beginning to change towards healthier lifestyles."
Now Lufefe is reaping the rewards of what he's sown. He has won multiple awards for his pioneering business model and now works with a host of micro-farmers from his community to supply grocery stores and hotels in the area. His Spinach King range aims to incorporate more super vegetables like spinach into everyday convenience foods that are affordable and easy to consume, like bread, muffins, wraps, smoothies, juices, rusks, pizza bases, rolls and burgers. (Find his delicious spinach egg wrap recipe developed for the Vitality HealthyFood Studio here.)
Long live the king
Ever the savvy businessman, Lufefe works hard at promoting his company, Espinaca Innovations, educating the community and expanding his health foods café and bakery (based in a remodelled container) in Khayelitsha. He's even set his sights internationally with a new Spinach King franchise opening in the Netherlands last year, and one on the way in the United States.
But behind it all is a humble, hands-on and passionate social entrepreneur, making history but remaining grounded and motivated by a deep love for his family, the health of his community, and of course, bunches and bunches of fresh green spinach.
Learn how to work wonders with veggies
Keen to eat healthier but not sure how to best incorporate more fresh, seasonal ingredients into your meals? Look no further than the Discovery Vitality HealthyFood Studio, a state-of-the-art teaching and dining kitchen based in Sandton, Johannesburg.
Feed your family good health with Vitality HealthyFood
Discovery Vitality's HealthyFood benefit, created by a team of nutrition and health experts, aims to promote good health and lower the risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes. Vitality members can earn up to 25% cash back at Pick n Pay or Woolworths for their healthy food purchases.
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