Gog van der Colff

Carpe Diem

Hi. I'm Gog van der Colff, owner and manager of Carpe Diem, a 200 ha farm that produces table grapes, raisins and pecan nuts.  The farm is located near the town of Upington in the Orange River area of the Northern Cape, South Africa.

I took over the farm in 2000 after my father Johan decided to raise cattle and I developed an interest in organic agriculture.  I started conversion in 2006 and had to rely entirely on myself, since my father has been skeptical.  In 2009 we successfully harvested and sold our first organic crop. Since then, things have been going very well. In 2011 I even won the "Young Farmer of the Year Award"!

I am blessed with a committed team of managers and workers who provide me with good feedback and honest opinions.  Initially, it was difficult to convince them to change to organic practices, but now they enjoy the benefits of not having to handle any chemical substances and they have turned into a reliable support team. 

The farm also includes a packing facility for raisins, which provides us with another source of income and allows us to employ people over a longer period of time. 

 

Interview with Gog van der Colff
N&M: How did you come across organic? 

Gog:  I saw organic fruit at the sellers’ market.  I had heard there was a premium price to be had.  At first I was not convinced that we could do it, but I have seen farmers in the Western Cape where they have a wetter climate than we do, and they were successful.  So I said to myself “if they can do it, so can we”, because our growing conditions here are more favorable.  We don’t have the same insect problems they have, nor any fungal diseases. 

N&M:  How did you actually get started? 

Gog:  I started by converting some raisins and a small section of table grapes.  Originally, I was only a production manager on the farm and my bosses were not enthusiastic.  But other younger managers on the farm supported my ideas.  We started by using compost, and the benefits quickly became clear to all of us.  The soil, the vines, and the fruit improved a great deal. 

N&M:  Did you face any challenges with converting?

Gog:  The first year we tried organic, I made a mistake and sprayed something in the orchard that is not allowed.  That set us back one whole year.  But we learned what we needed to do differently, and are now doing fine, although table grapes are much more difficult than raisins.  Now, years later, the team is so convinced of the benefits of organic farming that they are taking independent initiatives. 

N&M:  How do you integrate people of different color on the farm?

Gog:  When I was a child, there were separate schools based on race.   But I grew up on this farm with black people and they were my friends.  It’s actually easier for me to manage black people than it is to manage white people, because I understand them much better than I do white people.  We practice an open and participative management style, and over the years many of our gifted black and colored workers have advanced. 

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