The debate on whether a tomato should be considered a fruit or vegetable has been going on for years, with different answers, depending on whether you ask a chef or a botanist. However, a farmer from the Free State has turned this deliberation on its head by turning her tomatoes into many delicious products.
Anja Fourie, from the farm Driefontein just outside Bethulie, is the owner of Timeless Tomatoes. Here she plants and produces a variety of tomato products such as jam, tomato pesto, sun-dried tomatoes, and many more.
Fourie started her business in 2005 after she had the idea of growing tomatoes to supplement her income. Little did she know that it would grow, to become not just a money-making venture, but a business that empowers others.
She says the idea for Timeless Tomatoes came during a time of introspection and prayer.
“I didn’t just want to be a farmer’s wife (her husband, Frans is also a farmer). I wanted to make a difference. Then the tomatoes crossed my path,” says Fourie.
Early on, Fourie decided to produce tomato products alongside the fresh produce. She then started to make jam and chutney in her kitchen using tomatoes. This was the start of the business venture which led her to build a small factory on her farm.
“As the first person to grow this particular crop in an area of the province which is dominated by sheep farming, challenges were many; Including a lack of capital, soil imbalances and plants, and – because of the farm’s isolated location – a lack of access to industry experts.”
A caring business
However, despite all these challenges she managed to pull things through.
Fourie now has 48 racks covering about two hectares and produces between 120 and 150 tonnes of high-quality tomatoes a year.
She has won several awards, including the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) EnterPRIZE Job Creation Challenge – Best Agribusiness in the Free State in 2013, and the ILO’s best-established Business in the Free State in 2014.
With the prize money, she built a house on the farm for her workers.
“Our workers come from the Bethulie, Venterstad and Burgersdorp areas, where people are very poor. With our male farmworkers having the opportunity to learn all the processes and skills, from planting and harvesting to sorting and packing the tomatoes, I also wanted to empower women by upskilling them,” Fourie explains.
She now has four women employees working with her in the processing factory and enjoys teaching them her jam- and chutney-making techniques. She has also supported a local woman in running her own tomato micro-enterprise in her community.
“Everything I have is through God’s grace. If I can improve someone else’s life, or teach something to someone, I have achieved my goal,” she says.
In February this year, Fourie received her Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) certification. Retailers and buyers globally trust GFSI-recognised certification as a mark of the highest standards enterprises in food safety, allowing food that holds these certificates to access all corners of the worldwide market.
Actions speak louder than words
Advising those who wish to pursue farming and agri-processing, Fourie says one must just start and that nothing will come from having an idea and not acting on it.
“You have to have a dream and you need to pursue it,” she says.
ALSO READ: No more waiting around, says driven wine entrepreneur
Get Stories of Change: Inspirational stories from the people that feed Mzansi.