N&M: What motivated you to start with the production of organic citrus?
André: One of the reasons we started the organic citrus production was diversification at our farm, and increasing year round employment for our workers. We have been producing conventional grapes for a long time, but the drawback is that grapes have a very short season from December to January. By starting organic citrus production we are lengthening our production season, we could create permanent employment for a lot of our previously temporary workers. We are now in the position to offer them work for a nine months period, which means a benefit for them and their families in this rural area.
Madaléne: Andre's brother was already into organics when we started with citrus in 2000. After recognizing the advantages of organic production, we also decided to produce the citrus organically. We visited André’s brother regularly and realized the potential of our farm for organic production. Our remote location, far away from other farms and industry, means that there is no risk of outside contamination.
N&M: Organic farming does require a different mind set from conventional farming. What was your experience during your transition to organic production?
Madeline: With our conventional grape production, we have already reduced the use of fertilizers. We use a lot of organic matter such as muld instead and we believe that this makes a difference. Organic agriculture fits in well with our lifestyle.
N&M: Community development for the employees seems to be important for Groenheuwel Boerdery. What have you organized for the community?
André: Before the working day begins the people have the opportunity to attend an Ecumenical Morning Prayer. A priest is invited every day to pray and sing with them. One of the workers is currently being trained to become the priest of the community.
Madaléne: One of our employees was working temporarily on another farm, 500 km from here. He told the farm management enthusiastically about the Morning Prayer ritual at Groenheuwel and how important it is for him and our people. When the farm manager contacted us we shared our experiences with him and he has now also introduced the Morning Prayer at his farm.
André: Furthermore, we organize many technical education programmes such as tractor driving, preparing compost and learning about irrigation systems for on the fields. We provide houses for our workers to ensure that they feel at home here, and have a lot of different adult education programmes, formal, as well as informal.