There are 23 honeybush species across the fynbos region, of which six species are of commercial interest for the production of tea. Picture: ARC
There are 23 honeybush species across the fynbos region, of which six species are of commercial interest for the production of tea. Picture: ARC

Jacky Goliath turned the challenge of drought and water restrictions into an opportunity to create a thriving business.

In 2005 when there was little rain many home owners began taking a keen interest in water-wise plants.

That difficult time proved to be a turning point for Goliath, who has farming in her blood. She started a tiny backyard nursery in Stellenbosch, specialising in fynbos.

It was a modest beginning, but today her 100% black-owned company‚ De Fynne Nursery‚ operates on a 22ha farm in Paarl and is flourishing — all thanks to the 2005 drought.

"Besides fynbos‚ people are growing their own fruit and vegetables in pots‚" she said. "They would rather plant in containers as they are easier to water and care for.

"And they are also becoming more conscious about lowering their carbon footprint by planting plants such as Spekboom‚’’ said Goliath‚ 43‚ who is equally passionate about the environment.

In 2001‚ while working for an NGO‚ Goliath and friend Elton Jefthas decided to start a nursery in his backyard to earn extra income. They planted three types of fynbos, altogether 1,000 plants.

Goliath has a degree in horticulture and he has one in horticulture and agriculture. Both had also worked for the Agricultural Research Council so they had the skills needed to start a nursery. But still, said Goliath‚ "we didn’t know what we were letting ourselves in for".

Until 2008 just about all their funding came out of their personal savings. "One month he would pay the employees’ salaries and I would buy the pots‚’’ she said.

They ploughed everything back into the business, and over the years they moved to bigger premises as demand for their plants rose.

Today they supply big retailers such as Woolworths‚ Massmart‚ Stodels and some of the biggest estates in the country. The company also exports plums‚ supplies agricultural crops and works with research organisations on new plant material.

They have 35 permanent staff and hire extra workers at harvest time, but it is still a modest operation with a long way to go.

Goliath said: "This is my passion. I come from dirt roads and outside toilets. Farming is not new to me. My father grew vegetables in our garden so this is in my blood. I enjoy working outdoors and with people."

Last year, she won the Toyota New Harvest of the Year award.

One of the judges said: "Farming is challenging, and running a farm is not an easy task. Farmers have to plan and prepare for every eventuality, including changing weather conditions‚ environmental factors and demand fluctuations; and when it happens‚ have to implement plans very quickly.

"We salute [farmers] like Goliath who rise above the challenges and succeed due to sheer perseverance and unrelenting spirit."

Goliath was also profiled by the BBC this month.

Being a black woman in farming can be daunting. She is small in stature and often the only woman among the men, but she insists on making her mark.

"Sometimes you just have to stand your ground."

TMG Digital/The Times

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