Variety is the spice of life at The Drift Farm. On the day we visited, Jason (the marketing manager of the Napier farm) showed us no fewer than 11 tomato varieties, from Black
to Golden Monarchs, Tigerellas and Speckled Romans. Walk into any local supermarket and you’d be lucky to find more than two varieties. And then there were the purple dragon carrots (famously eaten by the ancient Egyptians), candy-striped beetroot, purple beans and violet cauliflower, to name a few. Interesting stuff indeed.
The hazards of hybrids
The Drift specialises in heirloom vegetables. Ever since the end of World War II, the use of hybrid cultivars has been growing as industrial monoculture farms have become commonplace. These hybrids have been bred for higher productivity and tolerance to drought, frost, pests, mechanical picking or cross-country shipping. While this may sound fine, what it means is that humankind now largely relies on a handful of crops – if a disease or plague were to strike these varieties, we could be left in a sticky situation.
In addition to producing fewer varieties, except for the first generation, hybrids don’t replicate uniformly, so second generation hybrid varieties are very unpredictable. So if you save and re-sow the seed from your hybrid plants you’re unlikely to get the same plants second time around. The offspring may also be weaker, less productive and generally undesirable. Heirloom seeds, on the other hand, open-pollinate which means you can catch your seed and replant them year after year. It also means the plants are given the opportunity to evolve with the environment, making for stronger, healthier plants.
A farm of true integrity￼
But heirloom is not the only characteristic that makes this farm appealing. The Jack family, who own The Drift, are determined to run an ethical and environmentally-friendly organic farm; farm manager Quintus le Roux and head farmer Piet Orson relentlessly ensure that this is the case. “There’s one porcupine up here that is a nightmare – he can destroy a whole parsnip bed in one night!” says Jason. “We catch him, and redeploy
way off the farm, but he always comes back!”
Porcupines are just one of the challenges of managing an organic farm. Aside from the baboons and the fallow deer, there is also the usual host of pests and diseases to contend with. But no matter what the challenges have been, The Drift team have stuck to their principles and have been organic now for six years. “Ethics are the fundamental driving force at this farm and we have to live up to them. It’s a great team to be part of,” says Jason.
Working with nature
￼One of the biggest issues in the quartz-rich Akkedisberg mountains is the wind – it blows all year round and the farm is riddled with wind breaks
to lessen the destruction of the invisible force. However, this is a blessing as well as a curse; the constant wind deters the insects and birds that would otherwise try to feast on the farm’s bounty – which means they have less need for organic sprays.
The Drift Farm is slowly growing and soon they’ll be planting seven new blocks of land. While Jason says it’s true that organic farms can’t produce the same volume of food as a conventional industrialised farm, they actually produce more total nutrient load from the higher variety of produce. And this nutrient load depends on healthy soil – so this is a priority for The Drift.
Worms play a big part in nutrifying the soil, and Piet has a large ‘worm factory’ in operation. Vermicompost, or worm tea, is manufactured and used liberally over the farm. It’s a natural bacterial super-food and it helps keep the plants healthy and disease-resistant – much like taking your vitamins does for your own body. Piet also breeds the worms and introduces them back into the soil, which he says helps to aerate the soil. Chicken manure is also used on their vines and olive groves.
With such a delicious variety of produce to choose from, we asked the team what their favourites were. For Jason, it was clearly tomatoes. For Quintus, the vines. But when Piet was asked to choose, his answer was “I can’t choose one – I love them all!” Perhaps that’s part of the reason The Drift’s veggies always taste so good…
• Organically grown
• Ethical and environmentally sensitive management
• Heirloom varieties
• Farm uses renewable energy sources
• Porcupine friendly!
Originally published in Food with a Story