Over the next couple of months, we will introduce you to some of our young farmers in the deciduous fruit industry. This ‘next generation’ is passionate about farming, and ready and willing to take on any challenge that South African fruit growers might have to face.
By Gerrit Rautenbach
Just after I passed Grabouw’s Peregrine Farm Stall I turn right onto the Viljoenshoop road. Amazing apple territory. Apples and pears, drenched by soft rain. Three kilometres further I see the sign, Kaapschön and take the turn-off. The farm looks impressive. Neat, beautifully laid out packing sheds, and happy orchards everywhere.
Joseph Hendricks looks me straight in the eye. His handshake is solid, without trying to prove something. You cannot help but immediately like this man. He invites me out of the rain and into the office.
“Wesley will be here any moment. Please take a seat,” he explains and aims for the door.
“Thanks Joseph, but I need to talk to you as well.”
“Oh no, this is Wesley’s story.”
“I believe it’s also your story. From father to son …”
“Ok, let’s get some coffee, then I’ll give you the background. Wesley can tell you the real story …”
Joseph has been involved in the fruit industry for most of his working life. He started out as a hawker. A “smous” he called himself. He started in the old regime and worked his way into the New South Africa. While he was hawking fruit for the farmers, he looked and listened and learnt as he went about doing his job. He learnt a lot about the farming of deciduous fruit. He asked a lot of questions and saved every penny he could. He was determined to start hawking his own fruit one day. In 2003, with the assistance of the Land Bank he managed to buy Kaapschön.
“It wasn’t easy. It took a lot of faith to make this leap. To become a farmer. To be accepted in a different world. But faith we have …”
At this stage, the office door opens and a younger version of Joseph walks in. As if on cue, Joseph introduces his son and excuses himself.
Wesley tells me he was only in Grade 7 in the primary school village of Pniel close to Stellenbosch when his father bought the farm. Pniel was more or less the border of his existence when this change happened. A change that also changed his life.
He was happy for his dad at that stage. Happy for the new life awaiting the family. Everyone was looking forward to it, but Wesley was still beating his own drum. Shortly after Kaapschön was purchased he went to Stellenbosch High School where he and his friends were constantly discussing what to become one day. He was keen on law and decided to become an advocate. It is a good profession where you can do good to other people while earning good money doing it.
While Wesley was planning his future, Dad commuted from Pniel to Kaapschön every day to make his future dream a reality. Weekends Wesley joined in this adventure. School holidays too.
Somewhere over the next three years, he started thinking differently. He got more and more interested in the farm and farming. He began to see that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree and at the end of Grade 10 he realised his earlier dream of becoming an advocate has faded and he made an announcement. He wanted to come to the farm permanently. At first Joseph wasn’t so sure about this. However, he saw the passion and love for farming in Wesley’s eyes. In the beginning of 2007 Wesley didn’t go back to Stellenbosch High School.
“The first part of that year was hell,” he admits. There were no favours. He had to fall in with the rest. He learnt farming the farm the hard way; from the bottom rung. Every day, while grinding away, he wondered about his decision. At night, while getting out of his muddy Wellingtons he would think about his school mates, cruising ahead towards matric. Was his decision the right decision? Did he know enough to cope? Will he be able to keep up with the incredible challenge of modern day farming? It’s a lot more than merely producing crops. It’s a business. Science. Financial management. Some nights he wanted to quit, but every new morning he fell in at daybreak.
One specific day, about five months down this road, he was walking on his own through the orchards. “I actually know more than I realise,” he thought. But is it enough?
“But our Royal Galas are looking awesome,” he thought looking at the red shiners and unconsciously he started taking some ownership. Suddenly he also realised that the R7 500 per ton they were getting was exceptional. And he further also realised he knew exactly why and how that Royal Gala turned itself red. How it got to be there and what they did to help it. How nature made it happen, telling that apple it is time to ripen, showing its identity. Suddenly Wesley’s cheeks turned as red as the apple’s. He knew why he was there. That he belonged. That he can help Joseph to make the farm sustainable, ensuring the old hawking business will become a bonus, rather than the current subsidy.
Thus Wesley explains to me how he grew from a young high school kid into a farmer. How he got to know how to grow crops, what tonnage means, inset costs and profit. Exactly when and how to prune a tree. About pest control, all the myriad aspects of producing export fruit. Today he is living on the farm, deserves his title as production manager and he knows he is worthy of heading up the future of Kaapschön.
“I think I know how to zap a bollworm by now,” he jokes. “But fortunately my dad is still healthy, strong and not too old,” he concludes.
He also tells me that he’s one of eight kids and that eventually all of them will be part of the farm’s value chain. For example, sis Natasha will be involved with transport while his brother Angelo will head up packaging and export. Levina Mentoor, his oldest sister will manage logistics while Jaden and James, the young guns, want to come and farm one day. Wesley reckons, he can pass on the knowledge he got from his father to them when the time comes. It’s obvious to see how much Wesley loves his brothers and sisters. How much they love each other.
“And the Lord,” he adds.
So the conversation continues. I can clearly see he is where he needs to be. And he is not farming at Kaapschön because Dad gave him a handout. He deserves to be there.
At this stage I reckon we have covered it all. I know the story of Wesley Hendricks. Yet, there is still one question I feel I need to ask him. It’s about one issue from my frame of reference that gives me the feeling that there might be a bit of doubt somewhere in the back of his mind. Well, in answering my question Wesley revealed his real secret to success.
“Now Wesley, tell me honestly, how do you really, really feel about the fact that you never finished school?”
“I hear you. Yes, like you’ve said, I’ve never finished school. And you know what? I won’t,” he answers with a real smile. “And that makes me happy. Because every person here is a teacher and every day on this farm is yet another day at school …”
Fun facts about Kaapschön:
- 60 permanent employees
- 200 seasonal workers
- Farm crèche available for workers’ children