When I first moved to South Africa in June 2014, my options for organic, sustainably produced foods were extremely limited. So I was very excited to come across Clint Halett-Siddall’s Royal Organics stand one Sunday morning in November 2015, at the Fourways Farmers Market in Johannesburg. Clint was kind enough to allow me and my camera to visit his farm earlier this year, just before I moved back to the United States.
To provide a little bit of background about the growing conditions for South African farmers in 2015, it was an unbearably harsh year, with more than half the country’s agricultural regions labeled as drought disaster areas, according to BBC news. In the Johannesburg region, some heavy storms broke through, with hail that wreaked havoc on farms. As one example, the farm of Livingseeds Heirloom Seeds suffered damage caused by a mini tornado in November last year, which destroyed their offices and roughed up their tunnels. A neighboring farm was able to provide land and support to keep them going during repairs and they fortunately managed to get back on their feet quickly.
Clint’s crops were also damaged by hail that swept through the northern region of Johannesburg in mid-November, but in terms of the drought, he was fortunate to utilize a borehole on his property to keep the plants watered and nurse them along. He saw this weather challenge with full optimism, stating that the hail damage and borehole dependance “set us back in terms of profitability and therefore growth for the year but we have to work with nature and have learnt many valuable lessons which will help us in tough times in the future.”
According to Clint’s latest update regarding Royal Organics, “The farm is doing well. Our winter crops have been growing slowly but we have had a sustainable harvest for the market and we have had a bit of excess which we were able to sell to a local restaurant (The Rib Shack).” For local Joburg residents, I am happy to report that you can still find Clint’s veggies at the Fourways Farmers Market. Keep in mind that they are at the market every other week in the winter, but will be back to a regular weekly attendance in mid-spring. Additionally, you can find Royal Organics at the newly launched Ngwenya Country Market the first Sunday of every month. And for those interested in growing some of their own vegetables, Royal Organics can help you set everything up.
I visited Royal Organics on a very hot summer day in February this year, to see a wide open space with a large variety of crops springing up, such as asparagus, basil, corn, watermelon, giant pumpkins, okra, tomatillos, African jelly melons, borage, squash, and a very tall sunflower. The farm is home to geese, bosfoulder, Brahma Chickens, Rhode Island Red Chickens and a hive of bees. Along with his farming skills, Clint maintains a childhood passion for rodent and reptile breeding through his business Royal Designer Reptiles. Rubber snakes are strategically placed throughout the vegetable field to deter critters from eating his crops. Additionally, an iguana and monitor lizard made an appearance in my farm tour.
Enjoy the photo gallery!