Mike Stekhoven & Willie Odendaal

Modderfontein

Hi my name is Mike Stekhoven and together with Willie Odendaal and a passionate team we grow organic lemons, oranges, olives, rooibos and raise cattle here at the historic Modderfontein farm.

The history of Modderfontein goes all the way back to 1725  when it was the first farm established by the Dutch East India Company (VOC) here in the Citrusdal valley. For the next  294 the farm played an important role here in the valley particularly because it is the gateway to and from the southern Cape.

We acquired Modderfontein in 2001 and began work restoring the historical buildings of the farm. At the same time we started the enormous undertaking of converting the neglected farm to organic principles.  When people ask me about what organic farming I tell them that it is basically a holistic way of producing food and at the same time trying to preserve the surrounding landscapes by using systems as close as possible to those that occur in nature. Organic farmers try to preserve nature as much as possible by using practices that are hands-on but at the same time low-impact on the environment, such as weeding mechanically instead of using herbicides and encouraging predatory invertebrates to help control pests, instead of using man-made chemical pesticides.

Interview with Willie

Is this a good region to grow organic citrus?
Willie: Here at Modderfontein, due to our location close to the Atlantic and the mountain area we have exactly the right micro climate to grow organic lemons and orangres. What you need are warm dry summer days and cold wet winters without frost and that is what we find here.

What is the biggest difference between organic and non-organic farming?
Willie: Conventional agriculture can also be described as recipe farming meaning that if you follow all the instructions you are normally successful. With organic it is very different, you are constantly adjusting, recalibrating … you have to be on the ball and stay creative.

What have you learned over the years?
Willie: To be honest I have become more relaxed and realized that nature has a great way of fixing itself. I have learned not to immediately act but to wait, ensure healthy soils and here there stimulate indigenous nature to bring back balance in the orchards.

Would you ever go back to conventional?
Willie: I would not want to do that despite the fact that organic agriculture is hard work and costs a lot. I learned from Mike however that I must see it more as an investment.  The healthy soils we have built are not only of value to us today but also for future generations that will inherit this land tomorrow.

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