Small farmer Mona Stone (64) was 16 years old when she had to leave school to help support her brothers and sisters.
At first she worked in the orchards and later she progressed to working in the greenhouses. In Stellenbosch she was asked to assist with setting up one of the first hydroponic farms in South Africa.
“We grew tomatoes, lettuce and celery, selling to some of the top retailers in the country,” says Mona, who now lives in Jamestown, Stellenbosch with her husband, the vegetable farmer Peter Stone.
Back then her knowledge and skills found her being head-hunted to assist with setting up another hydroponic farm in Johannesburg, South Africa, where she supervised staff in three multi-span fibre glass greenhouses and 16 smaller tunnels.
Now, about 40 years and many farming jobs later, she finds herself at last realizing her dream: to collectively farm with other woman from the Stellenbosch area through the opportunity offered to her by the DIVAGRI project.
“This is my time,” says Mona. “I might be 64 years old, but I feel like I am finally getting the chance to do what I have always wanted to do – to help underprivileged people through farming.”
Mona stumbled upon this opportunity through her husband’s involvement with the DIVAGRI project. He is part of a group of small farmers in Lynedoch trailing seven technologies as part of the DIVAGRI project, funded by the European Union.
“We were invited to join our husbands at the cooperative training being offered by the project,” says Mona.
A year later she is director and the treasurer of the Lynedoch Women and Youth Cooperative (Lynway). She was also recently elected to represent Lynway on the Stellenbosch Farmer Production Support Unit – a secondary cooperative representing five other cooperatives in the Lynedoch area, including Lynway. Women and Youth Primary Cooperative.
“We are very grateful for this opportunity that has been opened up by the DIVAGRI research project,” says Mona. “It was so unexpected. One minute I was sitting in my lounge bored by retirement and now I am back farming, only this time for myself and my team.”
The Lynway Cooperative started off their business catering for DIVAGRI research functions. They are now applying for their own land to grow green beans, cucumber, broccoli, lettuce and other vegetables for retailers.