Our experiences during the COVID 19 lockdown in rural Mpumalanga
My wife and I started raising grass fed, free range cattle, sheep, pigs and chickens part time, on a small farm near Hartbeespoort in 1996. We raised the animals for our own consumption selling to friends and family when requested which usually resulted in nothing being left for our own use.
When our two sons reached preschool age, we sold the farm and relocated to Sandton, where we both worked so that they could be near schools.
When the boys started at St David’s Inanda, we decided to buy a larger farm as a weekend and holiday getaway. We decided on the Mpumalanga highlands, as it is an ideal place to naturally raise livestock at 2000m above sea level with clear air and mountain water. Since 2005 we have produced our own beef and lamb on veld grass without antibiotics, hormones, medication or supplementary feed.
Our sons were eager to attend a boarding high school so as to be able to participate in all activities without the driving back and forth in Sandton. When they headed off to the KZN midlands we were approached by Sandton retailers looking for naturally raised meat and started supplying a few delis and restaurants in 2015.
With the boys both at University of Pretoria and the ability to run our property businesses remotely, in November 2019, we relocated full-time to the farm.
We invested heavily in free range pig facilities and started preparing for the production of organic crops.
By March we had a flourishing business supplying beef and pork to a number of high end retailers and top restaurants in Johannesburg and Sandton, as well as biltong and dry wors to a large liquor chain.
When the lockdown came, the restaurants and liquor stores shut down as well. We continued delivering weekly to our loyal retail customers but turnovers dropped by about 75%.
All the work on the farm still had to be done and our resident labourers had to be paid. In addition, with the schools closing, we had a number of hungry faces appearing at the gate each morning wanting to work. They were under legal working age and we definitely couldn’t afford minimum wage for all of them. Each day we provided them with a meal and a few rand for the simple chores which they performed.
Our two university students balanced online studying and weekly deliveries to Gauteng, sometimes having to do tests online in the vehicle, whilst the other drove.
My wife and I have only left the farm on about six occasions during lockdown, to purchase essential items in the local town some 60 kilometres away.
With our extensive family living in Gauteng and the Western Cape, we have not seen anyone since March.
The upside of the lockdown is more people want to shop online and have food delivered to their doors, this has resulted in us growing a customer base of households. With tremendous support of friends, our turnover has risen to nearly 50% of pre-lockdown levels.
With liquor sales resuming, we hope that restaurants will be able to operate profitably. Most of our restaurant customers are old friends and sadly many have said that they don’t have the finances and energy to reopen.
The virus and lockdown has taught us that we can do with much less and that it is not essential to go to the mall every week. We have also found that assistance and support often comes from those of whom you least expect it. We employ 6 full time staff on the farm who with families total around 40 residents, these people have all eaten during lockdown as a result of support that we have received from far and wide.
We hope to be able to get our sales up to the pre-lockdown levels and retain all our staff but the next few months are going to be challenging, as despite lots of talk from government there is very little assistance or access to finance for small businesses in the Agri-food sector.
Eddie and Moira Price