A passion for gardening, instinct for business and a chocolaty idea has grown into an award-winning business for George-based entrepreneur Vanessa Jacobs.
WORDS Yolandi North PHOTOGRAPH Desmond Scholtz
Vanessa Jacobs, inventor of the Slab of Seed®, recently won the prestigious Sanlam and Business Partners Limited 2016 Emerging Entrepreneur of the Year award. The slab – an ingenious chocolate lookalike made of seeds – forms the core of her Sow Delicious niche gardening business.
“We create inspirational products that make vegetable gardening doable and easy for anyone who wants to try it. We take dreamers and turn them into doers,” says Vanessa.
Initially created to solve her own planting problems, the slab contains open-pollinated heirloom seeds embedded in a specially formulated bio-degradable, pre-fertilised growth medium that allows seeds to germinate in half the time it would normally take and retain water three times longer than the soil they are planted in. A block is broken off and pushed directly into the ground, and the rest left to nature.
The slab idea came from nowhere: “It fell out of the sky and into my head. I saw a chocolate and thought: What is more inspirational than chocolate?” In 2011 Vanessa and her family relocated from Pretoria to the Garden Route after selling their home renovation and telecommunications businesses. The profits bankrolled her and husband Deon’s new plans – gardening for Vanessa and a lecturing post at Africa Skills Village in George for Deon.
Vanessa’s love of gardening developed when she had her own home, where she planted her first food garden. She discovered heirloom seeds while planning her new food garden in Wilderness. Heirloom, or heritage, refers to old-time varieties that can be regrown and passed from one generation to the next. “With the advent of hybrid and genetically modified seeds, thousands of cultivars of heirloom seeds have gone extinct since the 1960s. It is not just fancy or fashionable, but important to keep growing these veggies – to ensure that our food sources are protected for our children’s sake.”
Vanessa’s first soil ‘chocolate’ was created in her garage at home in Wilderness in July 2013. Starting with what she had at the time, she applied her gardening knowledge to combine things that would help plants grow. The product is organic and biodegradable, and attracts earthworms to further fertilise soil. “Slab of Seed sets out to solve common problems experienced by gardeners when working with seed, such as planting too deep, soil that’s not fertile enough, soil evaporation and correct plant spacing. I think we’ve resolved all these issues but we continue to improve the slab as we get customer feedback and learn more.”
Vanessa added Slab of Seed to Sow Delicious in 2013 . It was soon picked up by several magazines and took off almost immediately. Within months she stocked the majority of nurseries countrywide. A major coup was the inclusion of Slab of Seed on the foodie website yuppiechef.co.za in June.
“Initially to us, Slab of Seed was the side dish. What took me by complete surprise is that it has quickly become the main meal and now the pudding too!
“To this day I am flabbergasted at how well South Africans have responded to it. I designed it to solve my own planting problems and am delighted that it solves the same dilemmas of so many others. It is a dream come true to inspire and empower people to grow their own delicious, healthy food.” While Vanessa knew about the Sanlam competition, she only felt the business was ready to enter this year. “I wanted to see how I compared to other South African entrepreneurs, but never expected to win an award. It was an affirmation of my passion, great exposure and the beginning, hopefully, of export opportunities.”
A self-proclaimed ‘serial entrepreneur’, Vanessa says Sow Delicious is unique because it comes from a place of passion. “Everything about this business is me. I stopped seeing problems as insurmountable, but rather as a challenge or stepping-stone that would take me to another level.”
Sow Delicious is available countrywide in nurseries, Melissa’s stores, health stores, delis, farm stalls and selected Super Spars. The range includes nine gourmet mixes, three herb mixes and nine exotic combinations.
123B Merriman Street, George
044 873 3968