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Farming is not for the faint-hearted, particularly for those who aim to tread lightly on the earth while providing food for the growing masses in the most ethical ways possible.
In the upper reaches of the Dargle Valley, in the foothills of the southern Drakensberg, a husband-and-wife team set themselves that very challenge, and they certainly have raised the bar.
True, Caz and Will Griffin had the advantage of taking over the farm, which includes cattle and 1 500 pigs, from their parents, but, as Will explains, farming is not what it used to be. Profit margins are tight, often non-existent, as input costs soar.
“The beef price has dropped by 30 percent, there has been a huge drop in the pork price and the price of maize just keeps going up,” says Will.
However, farming is about much more than just food production, the couple say.
Will said the public had to become more aware of what farmers were doing and where products they bought came from.
With the country historically a net importer of meat products, Will said it would be ideal if farmers could label their products themselves so consumers could know how they were farmed, who was benefiting and what the integrity of the production process was.
About 13 years ago the couple attended a holistic farm management course.
“We learnt how to manage our lives as a whole. For us it’s about leaving the ecosystem in good health for future generations, making sure we are responsible employers and producers of the highest quality products possible while running a successful business,” they said.
Caz said the holistic management style included her children.
“I have always made it very clear to them how hard we have worked, the sacrifices we have made so they could have the best. It really troubles me when I see young people just expecting, wanting stuff without waiting or being prepared to work for it.”
Better known for her bespoke Dargle Valley Pork Products, Caz said when her father, a farmer in the Mooi River district, lost everything she learnt a hard lesson.
“When I met Will I was a theatre nurse. I continued to work after we married. We wanted our children to go to private schools. We were also determined we would not go into debt to do that and that’s when I started thinking about business opportunities.”
She laughs heartily as she tells of her first venture when she kept R200 notes in a tin in the ceiling.
“I decided to keep each one I got, in a cake tin. You cannot believe how quickly they accumulated. In no time I had R30 000.”
The couple decided to buy some Boran, hardy indigenous cattle from Kenya, which have now grown to a sizeable herd.
With a love of food, cooking and an eye for a gap in the market, Caz started making pork pies to make the extra money she needed for the children’s education. “I just could not keep up with the demand,” she said.
She decided to up the ante by selling pork cuts while keeping the pie business more low key, and now high-end restaurants in Joburg and Durban and a number of elite game lodges, such as the Mala Mala Game Reserve, only use her products.
“Two very experienced retired butchers helped me to understand the different cuts of pork. I don’t sell anything frozen. It’s all fresh. I only slaughter female pigs that are raised here on the farm. The males have a much stronger pork odour in their meat.
“I am also meticulous about the animals I select,” she says.
The pigs – an average 18 a week with up to 36 slaughtered a week in the lead-up to Christmas – are delivered to the Cato Ridge abattoir, where they collect the meat.
A number of things have turned her business into a success.
“I can track my products from the farm to the point of sale. I follow each step.
“This business has been running for 13 years, and for the first 10 years I was very hands-on. I would get up at 4am, cut up the carcasses alongside my staff, package, deliver and take orders,” she says.
In keeping with their attitude of holistic farming, Caz and Will say their labourers and neighbouring communities play an important role.
“By setting up the pork business we have created work for six women and two men.
Cuts that are not sold to their main outlets are processed and sold at a minimal price to local communities. “Nothing goes to waste,” she says.
As she leans over the homegrown chicken sizzling in the pot, she says if anyone wants to open up a new business, in farming or anything else, they have to be prepared to put the work in.
“It’s a life lesson, I guess – what you put in is what you get out.”