What started out as a side hustle during her maternity leave, soon became not only Joandra Gregory’s main passion, but a much-talked-about poultry business. She did it without any tenders and favours too.
“Everything that you see here, I put here,” she proudly tells Food For Mzansi. “This was just a blank canvas. I had to build the house. I had to build the coops. Everything that you see, I built.”
This year alone, she was a finalist in both Agri Western Cape’s Young Farmer of the Year as well as the AHi Small-Scale Farmer of the Year competitions. This is testimony to the quality of her work as a farmer.
She says, “My baby boy was about three days old when I started this crazy venture. I’m a very impatient, very crazy busy person. So, when I looked at six months of maternity leave, I [thought] ‘Joandra, what are you going to do with yourself?’”
Gregory, who hails from Cape Town, had just become a mother of two then, and was looking for ways to get a second income. Up until that point, she had always worked corporate jobs, either as part of management or in sales.
“Often people ask me, ‘Why didn’t you go for sheep or cows?’ It would have been [like having] another child. When I did my research, [I saw how] long it takes for a sheep to be ready to slaughter or for a cow to be ready to be sold. I [thought], ‘No girl, you don’t have that time. You don’t have that money.’”
Gregory wanted to use the money she had saved up to make a career comeback as soon as she could, which is how she ended up in poultry. “When I read up on poultry farming, I realised that after six weeks, if I put my savings in there, I can actually make a profit. And that’s how it started.”
Unexpected growth and an unexpected setback
She started her business in 2016, with 300 day-old chicks, and her base of operation was in Mfuleni, a township in the Western Cape.
“When they were ready to sell, I didn’t know what to do with them. So, I got into my car. At the time I was driving an Opel Corsa Lite, and I put the chickens in my boot. I drove around and sold it out of the boot of my car. And after that, I just grew.”
In Mfuleni, she quickly developed a customer base and soon resellers were contacting her for more chicks. “Before I knew it, we were doing 2 000 chickens every two weeks.”
Gregory’s business continued growing, and within two years, she reached a point where she needed more space than what Mfuleni had to offer.
“I applied to lease agricultural land from Stellenbosch [municipality] in 2018. For some reason, I was [declined]. I said to them, ‘This is basically to grow my business and I need to extend.’
“Afterwards, I found out that they leased the land to five men, and two of those men approached me to come and help them to set up a poultry farm. But one of the requirements was that you have to have your own farming activity going already?!”
The land issue
Currently, Gregory has another lease application pending with Stellenbosch Municipality since 2020. She has not yet received feedback but is holding out hope that the application will be successful.
“I’m a farmer without land, and when I was declined in in 2018, I had to make a different way because I wanted this business to grow. I have so many awesome ideas and there are so many jobs that I could create and so many families that I was going to feed.”
Our Poultry Place, which is the name of Gregory’s operation, is currently based in Joostenberg Vlakte outside Kraaifontein. When she moved there, it was undeveloped, so she used the profits from her business to build the necessary facilities.
While no official pronouncements have been made regarding the land she farms on, Gregory says she does not feel secure in her agreement.
“I don’t have security because I’m in somebody else’s hands. As you can see, the [housing] developments are coming closer. They actually rezoned this whole area into an industrial area. So, we are becoming ancient in [our] own environment. It’s like being a dinosaur. Things are happening and we are bound to leave very soon.”
For Gregory, the lease application to Stellenbosch Municipality now feels urgent, but the application wheels are turning slowly.
“I’m still waiting on an answer. I sent emails to the mayor. I sent emails to the municipality. Nobody is getting back to me regarding the process. I don’t know where I’m going to go to. But I guess it’s [about] faith. I just believe that, when the time comes, God would have opened that door already.”
‘They don’t have faith in us’
On the flip side, there are currently more women farmers than ever before. Still, Gregory sometimes finds it hard to navigate the sector as a woman. She thinks that this may be the reason she lost out on the municipal land in 2018.
“It almost seems like they don’t have faith in us, even though we are natural nurturers and [therefore] it should be automatic that we [are] great at farming. If you look at a lot of women in this sector, [you see that] we make it. We are the ones that persevere. We are the ones that push through. We work extremely hard, but we get overlooked a lot of times.”
Physical strength does not matter to Gregory, though she cites it as a possible reason for some of the issues people have with women who farm.
“Maybe they think we can’t physically do all of the things, but who can? You can employ people to do certain things for you. As a woman, you do face issues, and you very often feel that you’re overlooked.”
Despite these issues, Gregory still strives to move forward in the sector. Her passion for poultry farming demands that she shares her knowledge, which is why she recently headed a training programme called Boer maak ’n plan (“A farmer makes a plan.) The programme catered to aspiring poultry farmers, and Gregory acted as a mentor, teaching the participants the ins and outs of the business.
“I can still remember the first weekend, the Friday before our first workshop, because it was raining cats and dogs. That evening, the [mentees] sent me WhatsApp messages and emails asking, ‘Joandra, is the workshop still on tomorrow?’ and I said yes. They said, ‘But it’s raining?’ so I said, ‘Then you need to get out now because, as a farmer, you can’t just farm when the sun is shining.’”
Gregory’s practical training course took place over three months, and consisted of three theoretical workshops, three site visits, and then six weeks of mentoring. It was free of charge, something that was important to Gregory.
“I am a strong believer that information is power. You see, sharing something, training somebody, might change the life of a whole generation. Not just a household, not just one life, but it can change a whole community.”
To aspiring poultry farmers, Gregory recommends they only get into the industry if they are passionate about it. “I believe that passion drives success. So, you really need to have the passion for it. You have to tap on your own chest and say ‘Ok, do I understand what I let myself into?’”
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