Writer: Nikki van Coller
Shortly after you turn off the R27 toward the little seaside town of Yzerfontein, you pass a farm gate on your right. It isn’t very eye-catching, and you would easily drive past it not having a single clue about all the exciting goings on at the Hoekkraaltjie farm.
For starters, Hoekkraaltjie is the largest farm-raised quail meat producer in South Africa, providing restaurants, hotels, chef schools and private customers around the country with high quality quail meat. Owned and managed by partners Johan Burden and Tracey Rall, the farm supplies around 8000 quails a month, with distributors in Cape Town, Gauteng, Durban and Nelspruit. Additional runs are being built as the demand for quail increases, with more distributors planned for the future too. Importantly, the quails are fed a high quality diet, with no routine antibiotics, growth hormones or animal by-products.
Over and above quails, Hoekkraaltjie supplies fresh and pickled quail eggs, as well as various goat products, like fresh goat’s milk and goat’s cheese. But it’s what they’re creating and planning for the local foodie community that’s really destined to put them on the map.
When Hoekkraaltjie began farming with quails in 2018, Johan and Tracey were committed to ethical production, free range rearing and natural ways of farming. Today, conservation is the heartbeat of their operation, and sustainability is promoted in every project, not least of all because the farm is located in a Private Nature Reserve.
Early on, they also had an idea of starting a movement of support for local producers, and for local producers supporting and creating opportunities for one another. They reached out to other farmers in the area to see how they could work together towards sustainability and strengthening the community. In the process, they have met a number of interesting people and Tracey is loving connecting them with each other.
“There are so many pioneering producers doing wonderful and unusual things,” says Tracey. “I see the farm as an opportunity to connect local producers with one other, as well as with marketers, distributors, buyers and members of the public. We want to create value, offer support and build a community of conscious farmers and foodies.”
One way that Hoekkraaltjie is seeking to do this is through their Farm2Fork Exchange, created in collaboration with Jeanette Sutherland from Agriluxe Marketing. The purpose of the Farm2Fork Exchange is to educate, inspire, influence and connect the “next-gen-chef” to local farmers. During these full-day events, various producers, chefs, wineries and food entrepreneurs come together at the farm to educate, share, learn and of course – taste! There is a strong focus on raising awareness about regenerative farming and organic, no-waste food production.
Of course, the plans had to be put on hold when the pandemic hit. Restrictions meant that gatherings were out of the question and on top of that, sales were (understandably) down. But never one to rest on her laurels, Tracey began to contact hotels, restaurants and hospitality schools to market quails to them directly. She delivered to The Sillwood School of Cookery one day and got chatting with the principal, who mentioned that it would be great for the students to see how quail is farmed. Tracey knew then and there that as soon as restrictions would allow, the Sillwood students would be next in line for a Farm2Fork Exchange Day.
Finally, the day arrived when the initiative could get back on track, and on Monday the 13th of September, 50 Sillwood students and their lecturers spent the day at the farm. They learned all about various aspects of sustainable food farming, were given a hands-on and close-up experience of farm life, and enjoyed a fabulous, locally produced spread.
The day started with a trip to Khwa Ttu, where the students were taken on a foraging experience, learning about the medicinal and culinary uses of various plants growing in the area. Following this, they went to Hoekkraaltjie for the rest of the day’s activities, starting with a talk by local chef and food activist Mokgadi Itsweng. Mokgadi spoke with passion about growing your own vegetables and how plant-based diets decrease carbon footprints. She also emphasised to the students the importance of supporting local producers and in general making more sustainable choices as chefs.
Kotie van Tonder, a local farmer, then gave a presentation on mushrooms, including the basics of growing and farming with them. Before lunch, the students were given a fascinating talk about bees, beekeeping and honey production by passionate beekeeper Nick Hitge, along with a tasting of a variety of different honeys.
The students were then treated to a delicious lunch spread with plenty of tasty morsels to sample, including quail livers, quail drumettes, chevre, home-made goat milk malva pudding with goat milk ricotta sauce, goat’s cheese feta, goat’s milk “melktert”, pineapple jam, olives, and a number of other locally produced foods.
Once the appetites were satiated, Hoekkraaltjie’s resident chef David Mkandi gave an exciting quail deboning and breaking down demonstration and showed the students how to peel quail eggs without breaking them. He then invited a few students to try their hand at the peeling and deboning. The last presentation of the day was by Wimpie Borman of Groote Post wines, who offered a wine tasting and spoke about the importance and basics of sustainable wine farming.
“Thank you so much for sharing so much important information with us”, said one student. “Loved learning about how you can become self-sufficient with the production of food.” Another had this to say: “We learnt so much about quails, honey, mushrooms, the innovation of vegetarian-based meals and Groote Post wines. It really opened my eyes as an aspiring chef.”
For Tracey, the Farm2Fork Exchange represents an opportunity to bring people together in a fun and connective way and is also the ideal vehicle for promoting their philosophy. “The Farm2Fork philosophy promotes eating locally produced foods and therefore enables the shortening of supply chains, and a reduction of carbon footprints,” says Tracey. “Of course, it is only through educational events like this that we can literally showcase how using locally produced foods also means enhancing the quality, flavour, and nutritional value of meals.”
This programme not only creates unique experiences for students, it also gives exposure to small-scale local producers and connects them with each other. In this way, Hoekkraaltjie seeks to create a support structure that promotes sustainability, no waste and regenerative farming lifestyles to farmers and foodies alike.
According to Tracey this is just the beginning. “We are learning as we go, and plan to keep expanding the initiative to include as many people as possible,” she says. “The beautiful thing is that everyone involved – from the producers to the consumers to the chefs and chefs-in-training – have a similar mindset. We really are birds of a feather and I’m making it my mission to bring us together!”