Niklaas Jakobus Slinger – Clanwilliam, South Africa
How long have you been growing tea?
32 years. I started working as a laborer on a neighboring Rooibos Farm and for the past 14 years I have been growing Rooibos on my own farm.
What got you started in the tea industry?
I grew up on a Rooibos Farm. After I left home, I worked on different farms producing a wide variety of agricultural products, but my love for Rooibos and the area in which I grew up brought me back home. Since I was a small boy, I dreamed about owning my own Rooibos Farm and 14 years ago my dream came true with the help of my previous employer who helped me to loan money to purchase my own Rooibos farm.
Can you describe a typical day out in the field? How many hours would that be?
During Harvesting season (January – April), I leave home at 05:00 in the morning to turn the Rooibos fermentation heaps on the drying yard. I then go to the fields and start harvesting the Rooibos. At 10:00 I return to the drying yard to open the fermentation heaps and spread the Rooibos thin and evenly to dry. I then continue harvesting till we break for lunch at 12:30. After lunch (14:00) I take the harvested Rooibos to the drying yard for further processing. After cutting and bruising the tea is put into fermentation heaps around 18:00. After that we collect the dried Rooibos from the drying yard. My day ends at around 19:30. A typical working day is around 13 hours during harvesting season.
What is your favorite part of growing tea? What inspires you to keep going?
Although we experience extreme weather conditions (temperatures in excess of 40°C) during this time of the year, harvesting is still my favorite as we can then see the reward for all our hard work and effort.
Conversely, what is the hardest part of your job?
As a Rooibos farmer you work in extreme weather conditions. Planting takes place during winter when it is cold and often raining. It is very labor intensive and tremendously strenuous on one’s back.
How has tea farming changed over the years?
It has become more challenging as a result of higher input costs. In recent years mechanization started playing a bigger part in the industry although the bulk of Rooibos is still planted and harvested by hand. International standards and food safety requirements meant that we need a lot of certifications and as a result, paperwork plays a more important role.
What do you think makes your tea more unique or better than others?
The area in which I farm and the fact that I am personally involved from harvesting to processing.
What makes the difference between a successful and unsuccessful harvest?
Soil preparation, good plant material, rainfall, pest- and weed control and the ability to make a good quality Rooibos. Obviously price also plays a major role in the income that we generate.
Do you exchange growing secrets with other local farmers?
Yes, I supply them with information when needed.
Are there any tips you can give on how to best brew your tea?
Yes. Even though it is time consuming, the best way is still to let the Rooibos brew in a pot on the stove throughout the day.
What is your favorite tea to drink & why?
Definitely Rooibos as it is great tasting and also completely pure and natural. The fact that it is naturally caffeine free and rich in antioxidants is an added bonus.
If you had any advice to give western tea drinkers, what would it be?
Consume more Rooibos as it is good for you and your support also makes a difference in our lives!
What does this project & contribution mean to you?
It makes me proud to be part of this project and to be able to inform people more about Rooibos and a typical day in the life of a Rooibos farmer.
What would be the main benefit of receiving this donation?
The money will be very welcome as I have already identified the need for a new rotavator to better aerate the fermentation heaps in order to make an even better quality Rooibos. At the moment it is all done by hand.