Growing up in the town of Saron in the Western Cape, surrounded by agriculture, Warren Bam always intended on joining Mzansi’s agri-industry. But it was a Sunday morning church service and a conversation with his 9-year-old son that sealed his farming fate.
A stranger visiting their local church predicted that he would one day own his own grape farm. “The man prophesied that I would one day own my own grape farm. I was standing in front of the entire congregation, thinking, this guy must be crazy. Does he even know how much it costs to establish one hectare of table grapes? Of course, I didn’t believe the prophesy,” he says.
Then, a conversation with his son, Gabriel (9 at the time), had Bam thinking differently.
“I asked my son, Gabriel what he’d like to do when he was older, and he answered ‘farming’. When he told me this, I realised that the best thing that I could do is to start my own business and give it to him,” Bam explains.
Today, Bam is an award-wining organic grape farmer in the Western Cape, with 34 hectares of table grapes that he grows on rented property on Gunsteling farm. He also owns shares in two adjacent farms called Wesland, where Bam and is his partners produce olives and grapes. Meanwhile, 15-year-old Gabriel tends to his own half-a-hectare vegetable garden.
The birth of WCB Boerdery
Bam started his farming career in 2004 at Lushof Farm, where his late father, Herman, was also employed. Before joining the farming industry, Bam worked in construction management for six years and in retail for ten.
The owner of Lushof Farm, Breda Van Niekerk, discovered that Bam had an interest in agriculture, but couldn’t study due to the apartheid system he had grown up in. Van Niekerk offered Bam a position as farm manager – an offer Bam says he couldn’t refuse.
In 2012, eight years later, Bam managed to convince the farm owner to rent 12 hectares of land to him and his farming enterprise, WCB Boerdery, was established.
“The man prophesied that I would one day own my own grape farm. I was standing in front of the entire congregation, thinking, this guy must be crazy.” – Warren Bam.
WCB Boerdery, also situated in the small town Bam grew up in, was financially empowered by the Western Cape Department of Agriculture through its Comprehensive Agricultural Support Programme. The Cape Agency for Sustainable Integrated Development in Rural Areas, who renders project management service to Departments within the Western Cape Government, managed the funds.
“I had over ten years of farming experience behind me and I thought to myself that if I was able to show the same discipline and work ethic that I had working for someone else, then theoretically I should be able to make a success of my own business,” Bam explains.
WCB Boerdery produces his organic grapes for the international market. Currently his main markets are in the UK and Europe with Canada and the USA next on his list.
Faith, childhood and expanding his grape empire
Thinking of his childhood triggers fond memories for Bam. The farmer recalls several vegetable gardens in the backyards of people in his community. Others had small plots to plant on. His father’s plot (about 4 hectares) was covered in crops and it is there where Bam’s love for farming was sparked.
“At first it was all about getting onto the tractor and driving with the driver while they were ploughing and preparing the soil for planting. I admit, as a child there was no better feeling,” Bam says.
Growing his grape empire is far from over. The farmer plans to increase WCB Boerdery to 60 hectares of table grapes within the next three years. There are also plans to do the same with the two farms Bam is a shareholder in.
“As a farmer, you have to expand because your fixed costs (salaries, rent, loans etc) decreases when you expand your hectares,” he explains.
The farmer attributes the longevity of his career to God, favour and discipline – in that order. According to Bam, owning your own business can be quite straight forward. For him, the basic things have been discipline, work ethic and his relationship with God.
“I depend on God completely because as a farmer I need strength and courage – God provides that for me. Money can’t buy me strength, nor can it buy me courage. I need to outsource this,” he proudly exclaims.
Reaping the rewards of selflessness
In 2013, the farmer won the first prize in Toyota’s New Harvest of the Year competition as SA’s Young Farmer. He has also been named South Africa’s top emerging farmer by the Agricultural Writers SA twice.
Apart from snatching awards for his hard work and commitment, the farmer is also stealing the hearts of the workers he employs with his philanthropic deeds.
Most of Bam’s workers live in RDP houses near Saron and a few years ago he made a promise to himself that every year he would improve the life of one of his employees by renovating their house.
“I’m a very blessed man. There are a lot people out there struggling. So, I always make sure that I give back. It may cost me money at that stage, but I know that I will reap it back somehow, even the Bible says so,” Bam explains.
Apart from his success as a farmer, Bam is also making moves in the boardroom, where he serves as a director of the South African Table Grape Industry.
The farmer says the proudest moment of his career was when he packed his own grapes, grown in his vineyard. “I get goosebumps when I reflect on that moment. I had been packing grapes for other people my entire life and to finally do it for my own enterprise was an amazing moment. Me and Gabriel even took a picture that day,” he says with glee.
Bam’s advice for those who are inspired by his career is simple. “Everyone needs their passion. Once you have found it, you must be successful. You were born for that purpose so pursue it with everything in you.”