Born into a long line of farmers, it was only a matter of time before Dale Grobler joined the ranks. But regular farming wasn’t what fuelled his soul. He hungered for something more. Something to set his farm apart from all the other. And so, he founded Farm to Forks, a small-scale, organic farm in Camperdown dedicated to growing organic, ethically farmed vegetables and microgreens.
“What started out as a passion project for growing organic vegetables for family and friends, eventually mushroomed into supplying local chefs, gourmet restaurants and hotels. The decision to ‘go organic’ has been both a blessing and a curse,” says Dale. “Starting a farm from the ground up has been challenging in terms of cultivating the necessary biodiversity needed for organic farming. There were many days when I wanted to rip up the marrows and squash, and just sit in the field and cry. But it has gotten better with each season, and now farm life has more good days then bad.”
“What sets us apart from other farms is that we are conscious about reducing our carbon footprint. Everything we do is done by hand, from building beds to planting and harvesting. We strive to protect our biodiversity by enhancing our soil through an amendment process, which involves adding over 140 tons of compost to our raised beds and then incorporating a ‘no-till’ principle where the soil is only added to, never turned. This process builds up the microbial biodiversity of the soil, and ensures the nutrients are more readily and sufficiently available to the crops. We are also proudly 100 per cent plastic free.”
Dale’s dedication to ethically and organically grown vegetables is growing in popularity, evident by the fact that Farm to Forks was recently been appointed as the vegetable supplier for Chefs Table and The LivingRoom at Summerhill Estate, both of which appear on South Africa’s the Top 20 Restaurants list. This accolade is no easy task and speaks to the quality of vegetables that Farm to Forks produces.
Executive Chef, Johannes Richter says “ Our aim as a Supper Club is not to buy caviar and other super luxury products from around the world and to serve these in the same constellations replicated a thousand fold, but rather to let nature in this beautiful country inspire us. With the backbone of our kitchen being vegetarian, we are more reliant on great fruit and vegetables than other restaurants and we rely on these to excel in freshness and flavor. Fortunately Farm To Forks has been a game-changer in this regard, proving that even a seemingly simple carrot, can be pure magic!”
Organic vegetable growing is Dale’s only passion. He gets to unleash his artistic side and flare for entertaining when he works with well-known chefs and restaurateurs in designing sustainable menus based on what crops are ready to be harvested, ensuing that only the best makes it to the table. “Being involved in the menu design for these restaurants – gives me the opportunity to get creative and grow crops that we have not seen for generations, bringing back some long-forgotten African Heirloom vegetables. This is one of the many incredible gifts of farming.
A man of many talents, Dale has also launched the latest must have ticket on the Durban culinary scene, The Farmer’s Table. This is a bi-monthly, al fresco fine dining experience hosted on his farm. “We invite only the best chefs in the country and challenge them to produce a seasonal menu using only locally-sourced, ethically-farmed and organic fresh produce. The chef then prepares and cooks in front of our guests, having harvested their vegetables and herbs directly from our farm only moments before. It is my vision come to life and embodies everything we stand for, fresh food from our farm to your fork.”
During to the Covid-19 restrictions when the hotels and restaurants were unable to trade, Dale had to find an alternative distribution channel for his crops. So, he started supplying Organic Produces Boxes directly to homes around Durban. Each weekly box contains a wide selection of farm fresh vegetables and a varied mix of locally-sources products.
“We have been overwhelmed by the demand for organic produce, so will be continue to supply the public even after lockdown restrictions are lifted.
While Farm to Forks is a business, a significant part of Dale’s time is spent on agri-education.
Dale is currently working with The Valley Trust in the Embo Township in developing their gardens, allowing the community access to a range of organic fresh produce.
“We are committed to teaching others about sustainable agriculture. Farm to Forks is all about creating maintainable food systems while ensuring food security does not compromise the environment. We implement various environmentally-conscious practices, like harvesting rainwater to offset just some of the enormous environmental footprint that agriculture is responsible for.”
Farm to Forks has also implemented a seedling programme, where they cultivate seedlings for small scale organic farms in disadvantaged rural areas. “We are able to provide our expertise and quality nutritional resources to local communities, while encouraging the next generation of entrepreneurial organic farmers.”
Educating children on good gardening practices is something that Dale also views as paramount to help them develop new skills.
“Encouraging children to get their hands dirty in the garden and educating them on how to grow their own food is an invaluable life lesson. Farm life teaches them the value of hard work, and the importance of being disciplined and dedicated to your craft Farming teaches kids to be patient; what it means to work as a team; and that good things comes to those that wait. There is no instant gratification in farming, but if you preserve in the long run, you will see the benefit of your efforts.”
To order your Organic Produce Box WhatsApp: 071 610 7158
Photos by: Sarah Jane Photography