Cucumber farmer turns spoilt produce into ice pops

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A cucumber farmer in Eldoret has found an innovative way of salvaging his spoilt yields by making unique ice pops dubbed popsicles that have become an instant hit in the local markets.

Larry Keya, like many smallholder farmers, ventured into English cucumber farming for the hype it was generating. But he never took time to understand the growing conditions and farm management. He would live to pay for that. Good farming practices dictate that cucumbers should not be allowed to bend. Larry’s did and the end product was hundreds of kilos of coiled produce.

The markets gave him a cold shoulder, which saw him loose 400 kilos of the cucumber. “Farmers would just look at the produce and out rightly reject them. They were so coiled you couldn’t imagine they were cucumbers,” Larry said.

He learnt from his mistakes. Doing research on the cucumber farming flooded him with a dozen ideas. “The most viable seemed like making cucumber farming. But I didn’t have the storage capacity. Until I came across another low cost value addition idea,” he added.

The idea was making ice pops also known as popsicles from cucumber. He invested in a popsicles making machine and went right into business. “The beauty with it is that I could while I still concentrated on the farming of cucumber and selling it in the market, this new venture allowed me to utilize the cucumber that remained from the sale. At times buyers would say a cucumber was too small, or too big and reject it. Those are the ones I picked to make ice pops,” Larry said.

But days into his new venture, he headed into another headwind. “People don’t like eating cucumbers I noticed so whenever they felt the taste of the cucumber in the ice pop, they automatically rejected it. I had to think fast,” he said.

It is then that the idea of mixing cucumber and water melon to sweeten the pop and camouflage the cucumber taste came up.

Once Larry harvests the cucumbers, he chops them into small pieces, blends them before adding some milk and honey to make syrup. The same process is repeated with the water melons which Larry buys.

He then mixes half of the cucumber syrup with half of the water melon one. The syrup is then placed in  a popsicle making machine which shapes it into the desired shapes while making the syrup even. This takes on average 30 to 45 minutes. The solution is now ready and is frozen to make the ice pop.

“It has a very attractive colour which is one of its key selling points. It is a mixture of red and lime green,” he said.

The popsicles which goes for Sh5 each have become such a hit in Eldoret. During the hot season when the demand is high, he makes 1,000 to 1400 popsicles a day. “The customers range from wholesalers, who buy it to go package, to people in the market who are increasingly warming up to the ice pop,” he said.

But it hasn’t been easy trying to convince his buyers on the unique aspect of the ‘melon popsicle’ For starters, Larry says the market has for a long time been flooded by popsicles made of just food colour and sugar. This is what most of the people have grown up being used to. “So many a times people dismiss ours. So we have invested a lot in free samples, but they work because once the customers taste they notice the difference and wants more,” Larry added.

Seeing the huge capacity Larry is now exploring the idea of rolling out a whole plant with packaging to create a market differentiation.  And at a time when consumption of healthy foods like cucumber and water melon is being vouched as key in fighting the lifestyle diseases, Larry now says his model is key in addressing this, by making even children who would ordinarily not take anything that has cucumber in it find reason to. “I want to change the mentality in Kenya that ice pop is just a mixture of coloured water and sugar which have been frozen. I want people to start taking healthy popsicles,” he said.

 

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