JOHANNESBURG - A one-time farm girl has retraced her steps to take part in the male dominated agricultural industry.
Elaine Kroutz quit the corporate world to pursue her love for farming and make a contribution towards food security for South Africa.
The 55-year-old mother of five is today a proud owner of Sprout Kroutz farm in the Midvaal, which supplies some of the country’s top supermarkets with vegetables.
“My path has been set out the day I started selling vegetables. It is a calling to me,” she says. “I am so passionate about farming. Every single plant that has grown, I cannot help but see the greatness of God in farming every day.” Kroutz is among a few women making their way up the country’s agricultural sector. She produces cucumbers, red and yellow peppers, spinach and tomatoes. Her produce can be found on the shelves of Pick * Pay and Spar - two of the country’s biggest food retailers.
For Kroutz, going into farming was a no brainer. She grew up in this environment but settled for the corporate world as farming was not the norm for girls.
However, in 2009, she quit a prominent position at Vodacom because she also wanted to fulfil her father’s wish to take care of the farm. In doing so, Kroutz beat her two brothers into making the farm yield something for the family, driven by her passion for farming. “My parents used to farm Indian vegetables and when I was 17, I started selling their produce to vegetable shops in Lenasia. The best part about that was that I was able to negotiate with the owners for the best price.”
There are differing views on the government’s involvement in financially assisting start-up businesses. But for Kroutz, the government’s involvement has been helpful to her business.
“The support structures in place from government are very good. They are very supportive to farmers who show initiative and farmers who work hard. We got the capital to start the business from government; they built the tunnels, infrastructure, initial seedlings and fertilisers.” She also has strong support from her husband Neville, particularly when the going gets tough financially.
“We didn’t make a lot of money but my husband supported the project when it started to the point where we started making money. The competitions that we have won were very good in terms of financing the business as well. That is how we managed to keep afloat.” Beyond farming for financial reasons, Kroutz believes in giving and helping out in the community as much as she can. An informal settlement near the farm has already benefited from her benevolence with seven crèches receiving vegetables from the farm.
Having been married for 35 years, Kroutz’s face lights up as she speaks about how she met Neville. “I met my wonderful husband while I was selling the vegetables. I went to deliver the goods as I normally did in the shops. When I saw him, it was love at first sight. He is my love and best friend.”
She says there is no routine on how she spends her day on the farm. “My days are so different; there are those days where I have to crisis-manage. Some days I plant, plough, clean and maintain - that is the day on the farm. It can start in any way, there’s no structure.”
She heralds the drastic change in the participation of females in agriculture and believes that there is also a major drive to get young people into the space. Her advice to potential farmers is that the business has many aspects. “A farmer is an engineer, economist and entrepreneur. It is a beautiful space.” She says it is important to keep her mind clear in order to balance her life as a mother and a businesswoman.
“I have a treadmill in my bedroom. I use it at the end of the business day just to keep my mind clear and be able to think of new ideas. “I am blessed to have a supportive husband, and my family support structure is amazing. For any business person to be successful, their support base is important. If you have that then you are bound to succeed.”
- BUSINESS REPORT ONLINE