Spinach farmer finds solace in the land

2021 was a tough year for Western Cape farmer Anastasia Smith. She lost both her mother and brother and her lease was on the line after pushback from the community. ‘But the Lord doesn’t put something in front of you if you can’t handle it,’ she tells Food For Mzansi.

Anastasia Smith, a vegetable farmer from Atlantis in the Western Cape. Photo: Nicole Ludolph/Food For Mzansi

Anastasia Smith, a vegetable farmer from Atlantis in the Western Cape. Photo: Nicole Ludolph/Food For Mzansi

While 2021 was a year of loss and hardship for Western Cape crop farmer Anastasia Smith, her deep passion for farming kept her on course – even in the moments when she thought about giving up.

Giving back to the community of Atlantis in the Western Cape is of utmost important to organic farmer Anastasia Smith. Photo: Nicole Ludolph/Food For Mzansi

“It’s been nearly ten long years, but eventually I’m seeing light,” says Smith, who farms in Atlantis, 65 km outside Cape Town.

“My electricity has been cut. My lease had to be redone – all because of the animosity and jealousy of the people in the area. But you know what I always say? The Lord doesn’t put something in front of you if you can’t handle it.”

Smith is no stranger to tough times. In 2014, she got retrenched from her job as a debtor’s clerk in the air-conditioning and building sector. The retrenchment was a blessing in disguise, as it allowed her to start her own business.

“I thought I didn’t want to work for anyone else anymore. I’ve had enough. I want to work for myself. Then we saw this land for 1.1 million [Rands] here in Atlantis and we just [went] for it.”

‘Spinach for the nation’

Smith’s business is called Anastasia’s Fresh Produce. She primarily produces vegetables and caters to markets within the surrounding area. Her signage features spinach and Table Mountain, which she says tells people exactly what she farms with and where.

“When I was told to think about the name of my company and the signage, [I was told] it must tell a story. I thought, ‘Oh my God, what am I going to do?’”

Smith asked herself a bunch of questions about her business, and eventually came up with the current signage. She believes it will become a household name once the agro-processing part of her business takes off.

Western Cape farmer Anastasia Smith grows veggies for both the formal and informal markets in Atlantis and surrounding areas. Photo: Nicole Ludolph/Food For Mzansi

“I was thinking, ‘What am I growing? Look around you Anastasia. We’ve got Table Mountain in the background there. But how are we going to incorporate it?’. So, I added it into my name and replaced the ‘T’ with the spinach leaves. It tells you the place where it’s being produced is in the Western Cape, and of course, the spinach tells you what I grow. Spinasie vir die nasie! (“Spinach for the nation!)” she laughs.

When Smith first started farming, she catered exclusively to an informal market nearby.

“I took a walk in Witsand and I went to see who lives there. I asked about the kinds of veggies people eat. [I found that] there were Congolese [people], Zimbabweans, Malawians, etc. I just wanted to make a difference and not just do what everyone else was doing. So, I grew the mustard spinach and the English Rape (a brassica). [Eventually,] I couldn’t keep up with the demand.”

Since then, Smith has secured both formal and informal markets. She produces for Spar, Spur, Three Fountains, Fresh Grow Trading and Cool Bananas.

She tries her best not to trade outside of her immediate surroundings as the cost of fuel is simply too high. “Mostly my markets are in and around Atlantis because of how expensive fuel has become. I have to count my pennies [and ask myself], ‘Going to Epping? Is it going to be worth it to me?’ My stuff could stand there, but no one may take it. So, I get a loss.”

‘A double whammy of death’

The previous year has been particularly difficult for Smith, both personally and professionally. While she experienced many difficulties, her passion for her work continues to see her through. 

“My brother passed away in April, and then in May, my mom passed away. So, it was like a double whammy. It was very difficult. Then I also had the problem with the landlord of this place, with a new lease agreement and electricity cuts. There were a lot of things, but I always say there’s light at the end of the tunnel.”

Part of what keeps Smith on track is her ability to focus on the positive things. Things like renewing her lease for another ten years or like winning a top prize at the Western Cape Top Women in Agriculture competition in 2016.

“It’s been a long hard journey but I still love it. I still love what I do and I just hope that one day I’ll be having a farm that I can call my own.”

Anastasia Smith proudly says she produces “spinach for the nation”. Photo: Nicole Ludolph/Food For Mzansi

Giving back to the community

Giving back to the community is a big priority for Smith. She explains that as a member of the Food Security Board under the Western Cape department of agriculture, she assists people across the province with setting up food gardens.

“I give advice, I assist with food gardens, with community gardens, school gardens as well. As a farmer, I will go and have a look, send the soil test in, [check if] their water is okay. I will then advise what vegetables would be suitable for that area, and [also] look at what the people would want to eat.” 

Smith also contributes to the food security of the Little Angels children and youth centre in Hangberg, Hout Bay.

The centre, run by Liesl Matthews, caters to underprivileged children in the area.

“I’m also assisting a lady in Hout Bay, getting up a food garden at Little Angels. Liesl is doing a brilliant job out there, feeding thousands of families. I take my hat off for her, so whatever vegetables I can scrape together from around here and from other farmers, I take to her to help.”

Smith is an organic farmer who does not use any chemicals on her farm. She believes that, when people eat produce from her farm, they need to know it was produced safely.

“It’s basically that the food stuff that we are ingesting or digesting on a daily basis, we don’t know where it comes from, how it’s being produced, if it is safely produced. So, if you’re going to grow, grow with love because people are digesting that. It’s their health you’re talking about.” 

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