I believe that the main aim of a farmer today is not only to produce food anymore. It is to figure out the best way to produce enough food, to feed an ever-expanding population in such a way that increases the production capability of the soil, thereby providing a foundation from which future generations can build to ensure survival in a world fast running out of space.
Stripped to its core, regenerative farming is an attempt to increase the biodiversity of the soil and to revive the natural ecosystem that was put under pressure by conventional, synthetic-based farming practices. By reducing soil disturbance and chemical applications plus keeping the soil covered with plants all year round, farmers must try to recreate an environment where the natural order of things, can be restored.
So, at the end of 2019, I decided to attempt this transition from conventional, to a more regenerative approach to production. This decision was based on the realisation that we are now at a tipping point and that the current status quo in terms of commercial agricultural production - cannot be sustained. However, this is easier said than done and a lot of lessons are being learned in this process. If it were easy, everyone would be doing it.
One thing we need to remember is that we are trying to restore a system that has been under pressure for roughly 100 years and that it will take time to repair it. Unfortunately, this is one of those, “hurry up and wait” scenarios, but the sooner you start, the better it is in the long run.
A few years ago, Mark and Clémence Stander bought fallow land with their sights set on growing healthy food, which is why they started with nutrient rich blueberries. Nowadays they are known as Oakridge Organics and consistently rank amongst the best quality blueberries exported from South Africa.
Ever inquisitive about finding new ways to grow their product, Mark and Clémence are open minded about finding more natural ways to produce healthy and nutritious crops. To name only a few among many, they use Runner ducks to control slugs within their tunnels, geese as an ecological lawnmower as well as snowy carpet flowers to feed bees and attract predatory insects which in turn control pests. They also grow organic butternuts which they supply locally, along with the berries that are not exported. They are committed to leaving as small a carbon footprint as possible and that is why the farm operates without a tractor or any heavy machinery.
Mark and Clémence were the very first recipients of a Wildeveldt product. The reason I say recipient is because it was a barter transaction, rather than a sale. A trade agreement, purely based on supply and demand of healthier, locally produced products. Wildeveldt wanted organic blueberries and Oakridge Organics wanted pastured eggs. No middleman and the deal was sealed.
At Wildeveldt we produce pastured eggs, lamb, pork and beef, regeneratively. This is accomplished by creating an ecosystem within which these animals play a critical role in cycling nutrients.
Our main crops are cauliflower and broccoli with which we rotate our planting in such a way as to only plant a field every 2 years. Once harvested, sheep are used to graze the leftover foliage and grass seed is planted into the field. This ensures that no plant material goes to waste and that the field will have minimal time without growing plants on it. By applying high intensity grazing in the following two years, we build soil organic matter and improve soil structure, providing a better medium to produce vegetables in.
Due to the degraded state of the soil, the vegetables still largely rely on synthetic fertilizer to produce an acceptable yield. We have however reduced tillage by more than 90% by using minimum and no-till planting, stopped applying Roundup and started including foliar feeding in our vegetable program. The latter has proven to be so effective for increasing plant health that it reduced our need for pesticide applications by more than 75%.
All our animals live on pasture. The sheep and cows are born in the pasture plus the chicken and pigs are raised on pasture once they arrive on the farm, seeing that we do not breed them ourselves. The GMO and hormone free pastured eggs and pigs are still new endeavours, but it seems that there might be opportunities, seeing that there is an ever-growing interest from people wanting to live healthier lives.
All in all, we aim to produce healthier products with less inputs, while simultaneously restoring health to our soil.