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Grown in Philippi - Self-made farmer Johan Terblanche


Blog and photos by Deni Archer. This series forms part of World Design Capital 2014 #WDC585.

Self-made farmer lives his dream in Philippi

Johan Terblanche is dishing out some instructions as we arrive. After some brisk Afrikaans words, his son, Stiaan, nods and races off to manage some or other farm issue. We’re grateful Johan has made some time for us in his busy schedule - his processing plant in Philippi works from dawn until long after dusk to cater to the demands of its big retailer clients.

Johan ushers us through to the more relaxed lounge area of his on-site home, wearing the stern expression of a prison warder. He may have taken on this look in his earlier years working as one at Pollsmoor Prison, like his father before him. But he left there in 1991, shortly after meeting Nelson Mandela, to live out his dream of being a farmer. He sold his home in Lakeside for R50 000 and bought his first three hectares in Philippi.

As we walk through to the lounge, Johan holds back his dogs - an integral part of the security contingency at any farm. But once we’ve settled in and start talking, the austerity Johan initially exudes, melts away, revealing a man with a keen and intuitive understanding of the issues within the landscape he has built his successful commercial farming operation upon.

Johan (right) and his son Stiaan (left), who, along with his sister, will one day take over the family business.


Modern farming families the exception rather than the rule

Though he only began farming in his late thirties, Johan grew up in Philippi on a smallholding, where his mother raised chickens and cultivated cut flowers. Over the last 23 years, Johan has slowly bought up 120 hectares of farmland, and, including the rental lands he tills, his operation is now 300 hectares in size. “I will farm until I die,” says Johan. “It’s in my blood and it’s all I can do now. And my two kids are in the business - I have to look after them.”

But farming isn’t a lucrative business by any means, and Johan’s family is a rarity in that both children are keen to remain farmers. These days, most farmers’ children are studying to participate in other careers, far removed from the mud and grime of the land. In fact, the average age of the South African farmer is over 60, and rising. Johan explains: “There are no profits in farming. You can make a living, but not a profit. We’re lucky if we get two percent profit in a year.”

Values and politics threaten our food system

Johan thinks this is because people don’t understand that value of food. This is partly why small, emerging farmers struggle so much, in Johan’s eyes. From the farmer’s perspective, food is still being produced at the same price as ten years ago, while everything else keeps going up. The only way they will survive is if they work for the big farmers, he explains, a practice he has begun with a local small farmer who he mentors.

The biggest threat to Philippi, however, is not the developers. “Politics is a big threat to Philippi,” Johan reveals. “It all depends what the politicians think is important. If they can’t see the value of Philippi, then we have a big problem.”

Philippi isn’t promoted, and it should be, he says. According to Johan, and other local farmers, Philippi “has the best potatoes, better than Sandveld. And our carrots are the best too - so tasty and the best colour”. But it also needs proper management at the local government level. Johan says at present, the farmers aren’t getting the support they need and deserve from the police force (for theft) and municipal services. Johan describes how the electricity recently went down for two whole days, interrupting his cold chain and damaging his earnings. He explained this to the municipality, he says, “but they didn’t care!”

City understands the value of Philippi, and should protect it

It’s devastating to think that farmers are cutting such a raw deal from the City of Cape Town, when the service they provide is so critical to all of us. The City itself has undertaken numerous studies showing the value in terms of food security over the past few years, even producing a brochure on this in 2007. As for Johan, he not only supplies cabbage, cauliflower, parsley, celery, lettuce, lettuce, carrots, spinach, turnips, and beetroot to all the big retailers bar Woolworths, but also supplies 5 000 cabbages and 8 000 bunches of spinach to local informal traders on a daily basis. Neighbouring farmer, Ian Grimmbacher, also caters significantly to this market, which goes to prove that all Capetonians, rich and poor, are benefitting from this agricultural area, and the lower cost that local produce provides.

But Johan remains hopeful. “There is a future for Philippi, but there needs to be hard work to get there,” he says, earnestly. “We need to think into the future. Not just tomorrow.”


Note: The opinions expressed in this article are not those of This is a representation of the interviewee's opinion as interpreted by the interviewer.

The Grown in Philippi project is independent of Deni Archer is a founder of this project, which aims to create a relationship between Cape Town’s citizens and the food growing area at its heart. Grown in Philippi is presently a zero income volunteer programme focused on storytelling and consumer education. Grown in Philippi is fully supportive of the Save the PHA campaign, led by Nazeer Sonday. To find out more about the Save the PHA campaign, contactnasonday@gmail.comTo find out more about Grown in Philippi, contact

The farm employs 360 staff, mostly women from the local townships


Not only does the farm supply all local retailers (except Woolworths), but 5000 cabbages and 8000 bunches of spinach reach the local informal market daily


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