Could the humble carrot be the superfood of the 21st century? A farm near the rural suburb of Tarlton -northeast of Johannesburg- seems to be at the heart of a revolution that combines breakthroughs in both nutrition and the technology of juice extraction.
Greenway Farms produces 40% of SA’s carrots, harvesting 300 tons per day and shipping them across the country under the brand name Rugani. It is even more astonishing, then, to discover that the farm’s co-founder, Vito Rugani, was sleeping on the floor of a flat in Hillbrow three decades ago.
He came from a farming family, did a BSc at university and then worked on a family farm for about seven years. But when he went out on his own in 1991 to pursue a different lifestyle, his family disowned him.
Sometime later he and a friend, Vincent Sequeira, decided to go into partnership to buy a small plot of land outside Johannesburg, with a little help from friends who made small investments. Over the next decade, they slowly evolved from a 20ha market garden into a highly specialised commercial carrot production unit.
But it would take another 10 years for them to make the breakthrough that would lay the foundation for a technology revolution in carrot juice specifically, and nutrition more broadly.
“We did a lot of travelling and went to see how other countries did production, and then came home and applied that same knowledge,” Rugani says. “So we’ve always had an institutional memory of being technologically advanced. It’s easy to just do what everybody else is doing. But to get that quantum leap forward is not so easy and requires a lot of exposure, reading, investigation and making the right choices – and is usually associated with a considerable amount of risk.”
“By 2011 we realised we were sitting with a huge amount of second-grade byproducts that couldn’t be sold. A quarter of any carrot crop is not acceptable aesthetically to sell on the first-grade market.”