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Breaking ground and stereotypes: Female visionary triumph with organic fresh produce business
Armed with a mere R500 and unwavering determination, Ramahlodi embarked on a journey during her maternity leave that would eventually develop into "Maledi Fresh," an organic fresh produce business earning recognition for outstanding farming practices.
Although Ramahlodi's childhood dreams centered on stethoscopes rather than seeds, she doesn't regret becoming a farmer rather than a doctor. Instead of medicine, Ramahlodi studied food science at the University of Pretoria.
Ramahlodi became a food technologist on a farm in Muldersdrift, where she oversaw overall quality control. After a brief stint in the oil production industry, she was headhunted by a produce supplier.
As food safety manager, her work often brought her into contact with the farmers who outsourced their produce to the company; many of whom were organic farmers. This, coupled with the insights shared by her boss acted as the catalyst that sparked her interest in entrepreneurship.
Ramahlodi began supplying hotels with fresh produce while working as a consultant to her former employer – later she decided to focus solely on her own business.
"I started off with a shop at Lifestyle Garden Centre, but my fruit and veg just weren't selling. As soon as prospective customers realised my produce wasn't organic, they lost interest." That's when she decided to rekindle her relationships with the organic farmers who could supply her store.
The business reached a turning point when she was paid a visit by Brad Meiring, founder of the Munching Mongoose, a leading and sustainable organic and whole foods subscription service.
Meiring had not yet established the organic food delivery company, but he was eager to discuss its potential with Ramahlodi. "We're focused on local, sustainable, and ethical farming practices, so as a business are proud to partner with small-scale local producers that enables employment while allowing us to source the freshest, organic, natural produce," says Meiring.
The Covid pandemic hit and fresh produce was the cornerstone of good health, Ramahlodi teamed up with courier companies and started deliveries, doubling her sales. She then purchased some land in Winterveldt, a village near Pretoria where she grew up. Here she began to farm her own produce.
Ramahlodi dreamed of setting up a training centre, and in January this year, she received accreditation from AgriSETA. Her next goal is to establish a packing house where small farmers stock their produce, to be sold by Maledi Fresh.
With her determination and vision it's not surprising Ramahlodi has been recognised with the industry's highest honour, winning both Best Commercial Farmer and Best Overall Farmer at the Department of Agriculture's Awards.