Alfreda Mars (44) fulfilled her father’s legacy by running her own flourishing farm in the Swartland region of the Western Cape. All she knew growing up was farming – an honour, she says, because farmers play a critical role in the country’s economy.
“We (farmers) put food on the table. Every morning I say to myself, there lies a brighter future ahead. I’m at peace when I wake up and know that my hands must be on land.”
Her father, Frans Mars, grew up on a farm in Ceres. Her family later moved to Saron with 500 sheep and farmed on the church’s lease land. This is where Mars was raised.
She says, “My dad farmed and that’s all my family knows. I grew up with three sisters and as the eldest, with no brothers, I had to be the son in the family.”On their family farm, when it was time to plant, Mars would drive the tractor, plough and even weld and do all the mechanical work that needed to be done.
She attended Saron primary and matriculated at Stellenbosch High. After high school, four new farmers who bought a farm in Gouda with a loan from the Agricultural Credit Council approached her to partner and help run the farm.
After five years with no available operational funds the five farmers struggled to repay their loan. “We could not run that farm as a proper business at that time,” she recalls. Mars was left alone when the other four partners resigned from the company. She had no option but to sell that farm in 2003.
“It became clear to me that not one of them were real farmers,” says Mars.
She started her own sawmill business, which she successfully sold a decade later.
Today she farms in Moorreesburg, on a farm she acquired in 2014 through the Proactive Land Acquisition Strategy (PLAS) programme. The PLAS land acquisition model operates on the “willing buyer, willing seller” principle and is based on the state pro-actively purchasing land with high agricultural potential. The department then selects beneficiaries who can lease the land with the option to purchase it.
She farms with grain, cattle and sheep.
Farming, Mars says, is hard work, especially if you’re a woman. She adds that many people questioned her capabilities, but with three years of farming successfully on her own farm that doubt is a thing of the past.
“You have to prove what’s in the pudding. In South Africa there are only a few black female farmers that have moved from emerging to commercial. Like the Afrikaans saying goes: Jy moet hare op jou tande het om te kan boer (to farm you must have hair on your teeth).”
When asked for advice for new farmers, Mars says: “Don’t let the challenges bring you down.
“No road is easy to walk. Try, be passionate and do it with a positive mindset. Set goals and be actively involved on your farm. Elke boer se spore moet gesien word op sy lande en nie iemand anders s’n nie (Every farmer’s tracks should be seen on his lands and not on anyone else’s). Think like a business person, because farming is like running a business and we are growing the economy of South Africa.”
Looking to the future, Mars hopes to get more land to farm more successfully and expand her grain farm. Her biggest achievement, she says, is developing from a small scale farmer to a black female commercial farmer.
“In five years’ time I want a feedlot established. I also want to give back to the community in the form of mentorship to emerging farmers and young farmers,” says Mars.
She believes a farmer is a social worker, policeman, judge and leader. But, more importantly, farming is a passion. “My motto as a farmer is ‘keep out of the politics of the day then you’ll survive’.”