It’s safe to say that young farmer Robert Patson is a bit of an adventure junkie. As a boy growing up in North Pine in Cape Town he was always on a quest. However, Patson’s journey of discovery did not start out positively. After being addicted to drugs for a few months in his teens, his saving grace proved to be his high school rugby coach.
“I used tik (methamphetamine) for six months daily, as it was floating around like sweets. My rugby coach told me he is aware of my problem and I had to make a choice.”
He cleaned up, and directly after he matriculated from Settlers High School in 2005 he moved to the United Kingdom, where he worked in retail for a short while. A customer told Patson adventurous tales about the army and thought he would fit right in and organised an interview at the local recruitment office in Leeds, England.
A few months later, after passing all the tests, Patson found himself in the British army as a paratrooper. He dedicated four years of his life to the British army until he returned to Mzansi.
“Looking back, if I never got a new perspective of life by moving away, I was going to be in prison or dead as many of my teachers professed,” Patson says.
Today the 32–year–old is on a farming crusade with his free-range chicken farm in Kyalami, Gauteng. “I never thought farming was for me. I was conditioned to think that it was only for a specific group and that it’s all rocket science,” says Patson.
In 2010 he moved to Gauteng where he started working as a sales consultant at trucking company. Three years later he founded his own company, AfriHemp. Patson started processing raw hemp from Canada to make creams and oils in South Africa.
“We import raw hemp materials from Canada and process them locally into our own creams, lip balms, powders and oils. We would love to farm and source it locally.”
One day while scrolling through his YouTube feed, Patson came across the documentary, Food, Inc, and it immediately changed his perspective on food and farming. The Academy Award nominated film looks into the horrendous methods of how some chicken, beef and pork agribusinesses produce unhealthy food and causes harm to the environment, animals and humans.
“I thought this must only be in the USA and that we South Africans will never engage in those inhumane practices as we love our food. Until I sneaked into a local farm nearby in Hartbeespoort, and to my shock it was so much worse,” says Patson.
He had restless nights thereafter and wanted to find a solution. “I knew I had to do something about it to ensure that I don’t slow poison my family. They should eat food that is nutritional and contains good energy. I always believed that food is medicine.”
The young farmer started researching the best free-range practices and how he could start in his backyard. In 2016, he started setting up his agribusiness, Happy Land Farm, on a rented piece of land in Kyalami, but needed more knowledge on how to run his free-range chicken farm.
Patson approached a few local farmers, but they were reluctant to help him sharpen his knowledge. Desperate, he reached out to Pamora Farm in the Philippines in Southeast Asia for an opportunity to expand his farming knowledge.
“I then ended up in the Philippines as they were the only ones who offered a hands-on experience to learn how they use medicinal herbs for feed and natural medicines.”
The name Happy Land Farm was chosen because their main objective is to have happy chickens and animals, and they plan to expand into sheep farming as well.
Patson co-runs the farm with his wife Quaymberley, who is also an artist and yoga teacher. The couple met at the gym when Patson decided to join yoga classes that was instructed by Quaymberley. She “ticked all the boxes as a wife” says Patson, who instantly fell in love. It did, however, take some time for him to win Quaymberley’s heart over.
“I told her about my chickens and invited her to come see some chicks hatch. She eventually came after much nagging, and then it reminded her of her family in Swaziland, who live the farmer’s lifestyle and she felt quite at home.”
The two decided to move in together. Just for the record whoever believed that farmers cannot be cute and romantic is totally wrong, and Patson proved it. During a photoshoot on the farm he decided to propose. “I wrote Marry Me on a piece of wood. I secretly pulled it out and photo-bombed the photoshoot, before getting down on one knee.”
They were blessed with a daughter, Thandi. Patson says she is the future owner of Happy Land Farm. As his farming business is moving forward, he plans to establish his brand as a household name. They are working towards expanding the land they are working on.
“Our plans for Happy Land Farm is to create a trusted ethical brand with a strong national footprint in SA before we cater for the export markets.”