Several years ago, Elaine Sandra Kroutz sat with her family on a farm for a Christmas lunch, when suddenly her father stood up and raised a glass to say “I would die a happy man if one of my children can work the farm.”
That moment struck Elaine’s mind that she did not hesitate to heed the call. She swapped a high paying job in town at one of the international telecommunications giants for an overall in the south of Johannesburg.
“l had a calling, I did quit after 28 years of full time employment, I could not prolong that calling anymore, l could not wait to leave the office, here l am’ seven years later and the farm is striving,” She says.
The Kroutz family relocated from Eastern Cape to Gauteng province in 1977 and acquired the farm in 1978, but all siblings had professional jobs in town that withered their interest in the activities at the farm.
Married to a supportive husband for 34 years, she has scooped various farming and entrepreneurship awards on the farm.
“I have an amazing support structure, it is very important to have such as it determines your success. I have two boys and three girls who also assist in research and any other way. They understand plants and technical aspects that it’s a business.”
Elaine also encountered low points in early stages of her farming career.
“First week was the most challenging as we wasted a lot of money after l killed all the acres of potatoes we had planted due to an irresponsible action I had taken. I could not face it, so I stayed away from the farm for two weeks but I chose to learn from my mistake and came back more determined to make it a success,” she reveals.
Early stages of her life also contributed to the recent success as every Saturday she would go to the market to sell the farm produce.
“My mother always encouraged me as a teenager to get the best price at the market, we sold Indian seeds that time. That taught me crucial business aspects of farming and it was about survival that time, but now the expertise is different as it has turned commercial,” she indicates.
Land has been a contentious issue across Africa for a long time and South Africa is not spared taking into account the percentage of white farmers against black farmers.
“I must mention that our South African government is very supportive towards women and young farmers but the land reform is still a challenge.
“I just hope that more land will be made available to more young people. There is a need for land yet some people with vast land sit around because they don’t know the value of it,” she added.
According to the mother of five, when you work hard as a farmer you don’t do it for rewards but she ended up being reckoned in 2014 with an award as top Small Holder farmer.
“I was completely overwhelmed it is natural for me to work hard, but if your work is valued it encourages me more” she adds.
Gallagher Estate (where the awards were hosted) was overwhelming, it was unbelievable in satisfaction that some people are noticing your hard work,” she recounts.
She has emerged top in a string of provincial and national awards that includes Second runner up Eskom Business Investment Competition, Top Entrepreneur in the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Eskom Business Investment Competition Award 1st Runner Up, Business Investment Runner up and a finalist in the Standard Bank Top Women Award in Agriculture.
“Daily routine involves getting in here to plan events of the day, walk through the tunnels. There is so much that happens in a day, checking pumps, feeding pumps and trellising.
We are fortunate to have a water vein that pumps through boreholes. We take great care in the quality seed we buy so that we produce great,” laments Elaine.
Now with my experience I would encouraged new farmers to specialise in horticulture as doing many things may lead to lose of focus.
On leaving a city full time job for a farm out in the countryside, she says, “No, l have no regrets leaving, if you can understand that l have learned so many valuable things in this seven year journey. The planting of a seed and watching it grow to bear a fruit that feeds the nation, there is no better reward than that.
“Through my work, I always maintained that you must give the best in all that you do. The customer service skill that l learned in the city job, is of great value here. I was invited to the Re-Imagining Africa seminar last year and was inspired by international farmers. We cannot operate at lower level.”
Through the conversation one would realise that it’s a combination of passion and determination that makes the farm tick all boxes
“Sometimes we wake up at 2am to do research and plan because we are driven by passion and desire”.
“When choosing the option of taking up farming as a business option, you don’t have to consider the amount of money the government is setting out there, that is a wrong motive”. She advises.
“Yet it is true that with better investment a lot more can be achieved as export opportunities are real and we will need to set up facilities for our food processing for value added products that we are currently having at a very small scale. There is a massive market out there, we need to set our nutritional value on the products so it can compare” she explains.
“Currently we supply green peepers and tomatoes to national retailers like Pick n Pay and Spar. Job creation is also an important part of our values, to empower young people. We invite them for tree planting and assist them to learn the basics of agriculture. I just need to invest more time in the young people,” Elaine concludes.