After not having visited Cape Town for quite some time, I found myself back in the Mother City a while ago. Trying to find local, halaal, and tayyib (ethical) farms, I asked friends and family where they buy their meat from. The name L.A. FARMS came up more than once, and it did not sound unfamiliar. Not too long ago, their van had passed through our street to deliver an order at our neighbors’ house. Together with my sister-in-law, we visited their shop and were amazed to hear that the farm is located by the Atlantic Sea, on the West Coast around 147 kilometers away from Cape Town. We phoned Harun, the farm owner’s son-in-law, explained who we were, and asked if we could come for a visit. “For sure! However, we are not a certified organic farm. We rather call ourselves a regenerative farm,” Harun said on the phone. “A regenerative farm?” I asked myself. We wanted to know more and a couple of days later, we found ourselves on the road, heading off to the West Coast.
L.A. FARMS, a 1800-hectares farm, is by far the largest of the series of farms we have visited. To give a visual image of the size of the farm: it stretches from the Central Business District in Cape Town (CBD) all the way to the Waterfront, Bokaap, and Salt River. The farm is surrounded by fynbos foliage, the Atlantic Sea, and 3000 animals roaming around freely. However, to get the farm to where it is today was not an easy process. “It started with a strip on the coast which was basically infertile land. During the Apartheid years, my parents-in-law couldn’t own land. After years of persistence they were able to acquire more land,” Harun explains.
As we drive further into the farm, we see an area with a shed Harun refers to as ‘the maternity ward’, a place designated for pregnant Angus and Wagyu cows, for cows that have just given birth, and for the ones that are mating. “When the cow gives birth, it goes into the shed with her calf. It’s a small but important space for it allows the calf to bond with its mother. We also farm with sheep and due to this ward, we’ve been able to reduce the lambs’ mortality rate from twenty-five percent to four percent! There are different reasons why the lambs would die: it’s either too hot, too cold, or the mother is kicking them away. We saw a massive improvement after we introduced our maternity ward,” Harun says.
The lambs as well as calves, together with their mother, would stay in the shed for up to three months. After four months the calves and lambs can be on their own.
In another, separate space we see a special kind of animal roaming around freely. Little do we know that this animal in particular is L.A. FARMS’ pride: the Wagyu, a Japanese breed of beef cattle. Having heard about the Wagyu and the high marbling in their meat, we wanted to know more about how L.A. FARMS takes care of them.
“The Wagyu’s meat is high in Omega 3, 6, and 9. All animals on the farm eat from the same land. However, the Wagyu need special care. To preserve their strong genetics, you need to feed them with the right food, which is expensive and explains their high price. Our Wagyu are fed a diet high in protein and non-GMO grains. This is the reason why we don’t claim our Wagyu to be grass-fed, but rather free-range. An animal can only be certified as grass-fed in South Africa if it consumes less than eight percent grain in its lifespan. Our Angus cattle are grass-fed certified. Our Wagyu, however, consume between eight and twelve percent of non-GMO grain. The rest of their diet is grass based,” Harun explains.
Not a big meat eater myself and having a husband who is on a mission to make me the best steak I have ever had, Wagyu beef might not be a bad option at all.
A little bit further down from the Wagyu, we approach the family house, which is surrounded by an organic vegetable garden and a fruit orchard with trees such as orange and olive trees. The latter are mostly grown to block the wind, as it can get quite windy at the coast. It soon becomes clear that L.A. FARMS does not just breed and sell meat. They are building an ecosystem.
“We do a lot of things on the farm and our main focus is our soil. If you don’t have the right soil, you can’t have the right plant nor the right animal. Everything works together, which is what a regenerative farm is,” Harun explains. “We grow, we harvest, we send the animals to clean up the land, they poop, we gather their poop and turn it into organic fertilizer. We also do co-planting to keep the bugs away and have introduced bees that pollinate the land. We’re now also selling 100% West Coast honey that’s made here on the farm.”
As Harun gives us a tour in between the vegetables they plant, we notice a lot of seashells on the ground. “This is one of the blessings of being located right at the coast!” Harun smiles. “The shells are calcium for our soil and they retain carbon.”
Being located right at the coast does not only have its advantages, it has its disadvantages too. “What’s very difficult on the West Coast is that we have to plough parts of the farm, which is not ideal. When we plough, we are ‘unearthing’ all the nutrients out of our soil. The land is quite sandy, so we are trying to look at other regenerative solutions,” Harun states. “Another issue that we are facing is that there’s sometimes a shortage of lambs in winter because it’s not the best season for them. They are still too small, and need to fight the cold which takes a lot of their energy. Besides that, it’s also challenging to farm the way we are farming. It’s expensive and it takes time. Regenerative doesn’t mean that customers can get whatever product they want throughout the entire year and that the vegetables grown this way will always look pretty. They will sometimes look ‘ugly’ and we are trying to educate our consumers about this too,” Harun says.
L.A. FARMS also educates their customers by allowing them to trace back the value chain of the meat they consume. “You are what you eat. Consuming the meat of the animal that gets hormones and steroids consistently can lead to cancer, and other illnesses, eventually. This is why we are so passionate and transparent about what we are doing. A lot of health-conscious people and people who are recovering from cancer buy from us. This is because we do not give our animals hormones or routine antibiotics,” Harun adds.
In the same way that humans get sick, animals get sick too. With so many animals living on the farm, one cannot help but think that it must be difficult to keep an eye on all of them. “All the animals are tracked through an electronic chip placed in their ear. When an animal gets sick, which doesn’t happen a lot, we get a vet. This is the only time we would give them medicine. The chip system helps us find out how they got sick. To prevent our animals from getting sick, we monitor their health and weight monthly,” Harun says.
Before we head home, Harun surprises us with one more type of animal he wants to show. As we drive closer to the coast, we can spot their fluff from afar: sheep! As soon as they see us, they come running and enthusiastically follow our car! It leaps to our mind how precious all these animals are and cannot find it in our hearts to think of slaughtering them. We ask Harun if he finds it difficult.
“Not long after I became Muslim, I had my first qurbani. When I looked at how gently the animal was treated and at the reason behind the slaughtering of the animal, and at celebrating Eid al-Adha, it became clear that this is the way it’s supposed to be. Allah (swt) has created them for us, to sustain us, and in turn we have to treat them in the best way possible,” Harun gives us an answer, and makes our hearts feel more at ease with it.
We feel that L.A. FARMS is very much aware of their high responsibility towards their consumers and animals. I could describe them best as farming with a higher intention. They are conscious of the fact that they will be held accountable if they treat their animals incorrectly, sell meat of poor quality to customers, or damage the earth through the way they farm. Not too long ago they invested in their first biodegradable packaging, which is made from recycled pulp and bagasse, a byproduct of the extraction of sugar cane juice. They are doing their utmost best to create a closed ecosystem that does not produce waste nor harms the environment, their animals, or their customers. This is what a regenerative farm is supposed to do.
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