After being wiped out by hail and the heavy rain of this past summer in the Magalies in the North West Province, Natasha and Francois Kriel grabbed the chance to get back into the saddle when a vegetable farm in Tarlton, Gauteng, became available a few months ago.
On the 18ha farm, equipped with packhouse, they inherited spinach, and on the rest they immediately set to planting winter crops like lettuce and cabbage for a programme with one of South Africa's large retailers.
They also grow spring onions and coriander for a processing facility that puts together salad mixes and roast vegetable bags for the same retailer.
In summertime they'd probably replace the coriander with red mustard or sorrel or rocket, says Natasha, an agricultural consultant.
“Vegetable farming very turbulent place to be in at the moment”
They only started harvesting on this farm last month, having left behind losses of R1.3 million in crops and infrastructure from their previous venture.
They are self-funded, and it has been stressful; there have been times when they were tempted to give up but a determination to work in agriculture kept them there.
Cabbage grown under irrigation in Tarlton for a retailer (photos supplied by Fab Fresh Farming)
A supply gap, caused by the exit of vegetable growers, has provided them with a toehold but vegetable farming is a very turbulent place to be in at the moment in South Africa, he says.
“A lot of vegetable farmers are giving up due to labour, diesel and other expenses just rising,” Francois explains. “We're small but we're filling that gap where other farmers are pulling out.”
He continues: “It's very important for a startup vegetable farmer to secure a retail programme. You need an off-take market.”
Strawberries and blackberries planned for the future
They are planning expansion into strawberries and blackberries during the coming summer.
There's been significant growth in strawberry expansion in South Africa; once they have successful production for the domestic market and sufficient volumes under the belt, they could consider exporting to the Middle East and Europe.
In conjunction with some partners, Fab Fresh Farming will conduct trials into strawberry propagation on the farm.
Happy working environment is their goal
At Fab Fresh Farming, Francois says, personal relationships and communication – with their staff of twelve, with their clients and with their neighbours, themselves vegetable and herb farmers – are esteemed and it is this approach, he feels, that sets them on a successful course.
“We treat our workers very well. We grow quality produce and we're proud of what we do, and we couldn't do it without the workers who get it into the field. Retailers want to see that you're passionate about your product.”
He adds that there is still, among some in the farming industry, insufficient appreciation of the indispensable role played by farm workers in a farm's success. “We believe in happy workers, happy product, happy income.”
The very first thing the young enterprise did was to become Global GAP certified. Francois notes that it's not only the bigger retailers that require it, but Tshwane market where they send second grade or surplus, as well.
Natasha Kriel inspecting the lettuce beds on their Tarlton farm
For more information:
Natasha and Francois Kriel
Fab Fresh Farming
Tel: +27 60 520 8895