Catching up the farm behind Mooberry eggs

Photographs by Dan Colpo.

On one of my recent farm visits, I spent some time with Mandy driving to the farmer in the Cradle where the Mooberry eggs are grown. I always find a farm in the Cradle to be special. It’s such still un-spoilt but close enough to town – great area for farming.

Being winter it was dry but a delight just to see how much good outdoor space these chickens have to run around being chickens in. They have a huge barn that they go into at night that really looks like some sort of glamorous chicken hotel. Quiet, calm – a few chickens had wandered in from outside and were just meandering about. Mandy’s Northriding farm has always had that kind of feel. Despite the pressure of running that farm and the challenges they have had, her farming style and approach has always been relaxed and just kind of ‘it is what it is’ and you feel  it too through the animals.

The farmer Cornelius that is looking after them for Mandy is a gentle soul that the atmosphere was just so relaxed. It’s just real farming making no pretenses to be anything other than that.

What matters to us most is that it is free range in the true sense of the word, the chickens have ample outdoor space to roam in and spend their days outside.  The feed doesn’t contain any antibiotics or growth promoters and the farm is set in a beautiful space.

I can’t wait to go back in summer when all the green on the trees that surround their outdoor field are back. It always amuses me but is so true that farmers hate it when  you want to visit them in winter. The first thing they do is apologize for the lack of green and that it’s winter, with the difference in foliage and the look of the farm obviously being so different. As a result didn’t go at the greatest time for photographs but we’ll go back in spring.

The door to the barn is open all day and you see the odd one just wandering in and out and some going in to lay when they feel like it but most are outdoors. This is always the first sign of a true free range farmer – you find the chickens far more comfortable being outdoors and not stressed about it.

My daughter was merrily throwing mielie kernels for them so that Cornelius could show her how greedy they are and how it feels to have them chase you around for food. She found it most amusing.

When you find ‘free range’ farmer that actually does the reverse, keeping the chickens indoors in barns with a token open back door – you find chickens that aren’t used to going outside and are too skittish to do so.

Chickens encouraged to be outdoors are pluckier, more confidant and far more relaxed.

There is nothing more peaceful to me on a farm than being around happy chickens and cows – something about it is just so soothing. Relaxed cows are so curious about humans and have no fear about coming to check you out and chickens are similar.  You see evidence of it, on more stressful farms when cows and chickens lose that part of their nature and cower away from you, never a good sign for me.

We took some photographs for you while we caught up with Mandy and Cornelius and then headed back to Northriding to catch up with what’s happening on the Mooberry farm with the Jerseys. A new dairy was being built and the cows were all meandering back from the surrounding fields they graze on as is their custom at around 3pm every afternoon. Again, all in just such a relaxed manner.

We are soon going to visit a new farm that Mandy is getting her milk from. Mooberry is growing and Mandy has had to find a farmer that farms according to her philosophy from which to get more milk.

She now has her milk also coming from Iva. This is a farmer farming Jerseys according to the same philosophy as Mandy – outdoors, grazed and with no antibiotics and growth promoters in the supplement feed.

We’ll bring you news from this farm shortly. Raising chickens on Mandy’s farm is just not feasible now with the focus being more squarely on the dairy and the growth of that herd and needing to focus on getting other farmers to farm according to her philosophy but I’m very excited about this model.

Right back at the beginning of our journey, Mandy was one of our first suppliers. Her farm just up the road from us and we ordered just eggs and milk and she had 2 cows!

Back then we used to talk about how it needed to work in the future and we would chat up visions of small scale farmers getting to a place where they had enough customers to be sustainable and then having to encourage another farm to join and farm according to the same principles. The memories of those Thursday afternoons in the garage meeting the farmers to receive the produce always have a very particular golden haze to them now because there literally was always afternoon sun coming into the space in the afternoon, I can still remember the feel of that.  Our receiving tables and fridges set up everywhere and the counting of the stock while catching up with the farmers. Some days more frenetic than others.

We were all just so battling to make it work, but we’d day dream on so many of those Thursdays together about a day when there would be enough customers that we could encourage more farmers to join and serve the demand and change the food model one farm at a time and it occurs to me as I write this, that this is precisely where we are.

That Mandy from Mooberry Farm now, 8 years later-  is in that place. The 2 jerseys have grown to a herd of 24 with another 6 coming in towards the end of October.

All because people like you – supported a small, local farmer. Thank you!

That the small egg where her chickens were running around soon couldn’t keep up with the demand for local, free range eggs and she had to quickly mentor other farmers to do it her way which now has Cornelius from The Cradle farming according to her philosophy.

He has 3 half-acre spaces each running around 400 chickens in each.  This works out to around 5 square meters of space per chicken. With roughly all chickens laying on average 1 egg a day, around 6 a week – there are enough eggs to cope with the growth without compromising on her standard and this is how I would love to see the food revolution shape.  A network of small farmers all being mentored by those who have tried and grown enough to encourage more – to do it in this way because consumer demand means they can.

That’s what we dreamt about in the days before it felt feasible, 8 years ago when she had 2 cows and a few chickens.
I have to smile deeply thinking about where she is at now and the fact that we have to get other farms to farm like her so that she can keep up with her growth and acknowledge, it has happened.

That impossible forward scenario we dreamt about on sunny Thursday afternoons from a garage in Northriding in a time when nobody could get local, free range eggs anywhere.

It happened because of farmers who ventured out to give us local properly farmed food and it happened because of you. Because you voted with your feet and stood to support a local farmer. And now there are more of them.

And this is the very real, very rewarding food (R)evolution being co-created by you – and your support of these farmers and Mandy and Mooberry is a part of the Jozi Real Food (R)evolution, she changed our ability to get free range eggs and local farm milk to something possible.

You supported her and now she is able to take on more farmers to do it her way and this dusty track we all trod together has the promise of one day being paved.