Agriculture, and fruit growers in particular, have seasonal peaks where additional workers are required to pick the orchards and fields before the produce dies or falls off. Migrating workers travel to different regions and farms to pick fruit as it comes to fruition.

Now, growers like Rossouw Cillié of Laastedrif Agri on the Matroosberg Mountain in Ceres’ Bo Swaarmoed area have diversified their operations to provide full-time work for almost all their workers. Although he is not alone in this endeavour to provide work for workers throughout the year as far as possible, Rossouw has innovated his operations to bring a range of value-added products to market.

In so doing he is not only providing more work for his teams but, crucially, he is also reducing food wastage, something awfully close to his heart.

Food wastage and product development

“Everything is used,” he says. “Every carrot, beetroot or sweet potato grown on our farms will end up nourishing life. There is nearly zero wastage.” Rossouw says fruit and vegetables that may be too large or small to meet the consumer’s specifications or, perhaps, slightly misshapen are sliced, grated, spiralised or riced, or used in a soup mix. When you shop at South African supermarkets you are most likely putting Laastedrif produce into your basket.

“Different fruit and vegetables need different climate zones and soil types,” he says. And, for deciduous crops such as apples and pears which Rossouw grows for and markets via Tru-Cape Fruit Marketing, of which he is a founding director, he has purchased additional farms. The Cillié family has been farming on Laastedrif for 70 years. As far back as 1900 Rossouw’s great grandfather was the first grower to plant apples and pears in South Africa in the Ceres region.

In addition to the high-care facility where produce is washed, cut and packaged directly into the bags that are available in the supermarkets, Rossouw decided to expand operations four years ago. His wife, Anelia, and product developer Zandri Pienaar encouraged him to do so. Zandri and Laastedrif’s other food and product developer, Madeleine Carstens, support Anelia.

Anelia says their primary goal was to offer something delicious as a snack that helped people eat more healthy vegetables. “After a long journey of investigating different drying and frying techniques we decided we’d invest in a vegetable chip machine that fries in a vacuum chamber,” she says.

Diversification meets conservation

Ross, the sweet potato crisp, is the latest branded line by Laastedrif. It is dedicated to helping preserve the endangered riverine rabbit found on their farm near Touws River. Endemic to the Great Karoo and parts of the Klein Karoo, the riverine rabbit (Bunolagus monticularis) is one of the most endangered terrestrial mammals of Southern Africa. With only a few hundred animals left in the wild today, the species is facing an extremely high risk of extinction.

Conservation is important to the Cillié family. As custodians of important tracks of biodiversity, they actively protect the Verlorenvlei wetland along the West Coast of South Africa and one of the few coastal freshwater lakes in the country. Closer to home, Laastedrif, with its elevated position at the end of the road and one of the coldest areas in Ceres, is currently the only place on the planet where the extremely rare Aspalathus compacta plant species is found. “This beautiful wildflower is critically endangered,” Rossouw says.

Funds from the sale of Ross support the riverine rabbit. “We wanted a story to tell with our brand that would reflect what is in our hearts,” Anelia says. “It is commonly known that rabbits like vegetables, so the goal is to increase vegetable consumption with a healthier and delicious snack.”

Zandri says Ross crisps are fried in less oil and at a lower temperature. “This reduces the risk of cancer-causing acrylamide that forms in some food, especially high-starch and sugary ones, during high-temperature cooking processes.

“We also use sunflower seed oil rather than palm oil. Sunflower has a lower carbon footprint. We can’t say we want to save the riverine rabbit but at the same time be responsible for forests of palm trees being cut down,” she says. Press release, Laastedrif Agri