Rick James always dreamt of becoming a farmer. When his family bought a seven acre smallholding in the Assagay Valley of Kwa-Zulu Natal, a small crop of coffee was already established there. The James family decided that they wanted to try their hands at coffee farming, and started sowing seeds in 1992. Through gradual experience and success with the product came the inspiration to reach further and further into the market. Five years ago Assagay Coffee moved to a much larger farm of 100 acres in Cato Ridge – now home to 30 000 coffee trees.

“We’re a dedicated family of coffee growers, who over many years have researched and developed our product through carefully chosen cultivars. The end result has been the creation of a fine, full-bodied South African coffee,” says Rick James. “We realised the demand for local products through trial orders with some of the outlets near us. Orders were good, and this encouraged us to take the concept further,” he adds.

Coffee is not usually grown in South Africa. Being one of only two coffee farms in the Kwa-Zulu Natal area, Assagay Coffee have a distinctive Calico cloth packaging – marketed locally under their original farm name of “Assagay Coffee“. For the international market, they have created the “Zulu Brew” range, which has been very well received overseas through export agents.

Assagay Coffee has 12 full time staff members and in the picking season anything from 14 upwards of part-time labour. “All training is on going done on site, and is very much hands-on,” explains Rick. Benefiting the community with job creation as well as providing a locally grown, locally manufactured coffee, Assagay Coffee is definitely proudly South African. “Ever person working on the product, from the pickers in the fields, to the staff in the factory is South African. The coffee is grown, processed, and packed in South Africa,” says Rick.

As for challenges, Rick says marketing a locally grown and manufactured coffee in a primarily import and big corporate controlled industry is not easy. But seeing increased sales and very often positive feedback from customers is however extremely rewarding.

“For those starting a business, I recommend that you research the market you wish to enter extensively, and be very sure you have the finance to compete,” advises Rick. He also adds that marketing and packaging is extremely important. “Our packaging had proved to be a winner because of its distinctiveness.”

Rick and his wife Lesley will take you on a tour of the farm explaining the coffee harvesting process. Afterwards you can indulge in a cup of their delicious home-brewed coffee. The farm is also currently being renovated to include a venue for barista courses – including a lecture area and accommodation overlooking the exquisite rolling green hills typical of the area.

For more info tel 031 782 1268 or e-mail assagay@ionet.co.za

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