PICS: It’s harvest time in rooibos country
Clanwilliam - Growing in the sunshine surrounded by majestic mountains, rooibos farming has been sustaining generations of families.
Just two hours outside of Cape Town, past mountain passes, the indigenous herb grows freely in the quaint Cederberg town of Clanwilliam.
The herb, which started out being harvested by the Khoisan more than 300 years ago, is responsible for around 87% of South Africa's international tea exports.
Jacques Burger, who runs the farm Elandsfontein with his father, admitted: ''It comes with its challenges, but I've learnt to love farming and rooibos is my passion. We took a leap of faith and purchased the farm in 2018 which we started renting in 2005.''
Sixteen years later, 450 hectares of rooibos farming continues to sustain the lives of the 35 employees
and the surrounding community.“In the next two years, we plan on adding another two hectares to the farm, which will create more jobs for the people,’’ said Jacques.
Anna Brandt was born on the farm and has worked there for 23 years. She said she used to pick one ton of rooibos per day which allowed her to send her son to university. She also stated that rooibos is her passion.
Brandt said: ''Before Jacques came to help his father on the farm, Mr Burger paid for my son's university residence fees when I couldn't afford it, and hasn't asked for his money back. I will forever be grateful to him and his family.''
She said the passion for rooibos was passed down to her children, who also worked on the farm. “One of my sons also worked on the farm, and left the farm with high regards from the Burger family’’.
Burger added: ''I identified the leadership qualities of Anna and promoted her to a managerial position.''
The tea is harvested in the same minimalistic manner it has been for the past 23 years. Carmién Tea, whose story started in 1998 at a small farm stall on the N7, has continued to consistently naturally produce rooibos tea, becoming an internationally renowned tea.
The farm, which is covered in a sea of red throughout harvest, is littered with workers who work ''nine hours per day and and 45 hours a week'', according to line manager Wilfred Booise.
Booise explained that he doesn’t have a matric qualification, but ''through hard work and dedication, with the opportunities we have on the farm, you can make something out of your life''.
Ilze Bruwer, quality assurance manager at Carmien Tea, said the tea was popular abroad, especially among Canadian customers.
’’Of the tea that we make on the farm, 87% is exported internationally.’’
Booise’s eyes light up with excitement when describing the harvesting process.
''Rooibos seeds are put into the ground between February to March and the seedlings transplanted a few months later. It takes about 18 months before the plants can be harvested for the first time.''
Clemend Bird, the production manager who specialises in the harvesting and fermentation, said: ‘’The rooibos crop is harvested once in a year during summer and early autumn by cutting off the branches above the ground. Branches are cut and bound into sheaves and transported to the drying yard.’
‘’The sheaves are machine-cut to uniform lengths of between 1.5mm and 5mm. The cuttings are bruised to facilitate the natural plant phenolic activities which develop the characteristic colour and flavour of the tea which is loved around the world.’’
Then the fermenting process starts, which is done by spreading the rooibos across massive plains of land before being ploughed over by a truck for many hours
’’After watering and airing, the tea is left to sweat in heaps. The fermentation process involves oxidation, brought about by enzymes naturally present in the plant. This is when it gets it’s deep-red colour and its strong smell,’’ Bird said.
All rooibos tea, whether for the local or international market, goes through the same cycle to ensure consistent high quality. Once that is completed, the product is finally sent to packers and exporters around the world.