My business entails the processing of top quality pork products. My husband William is a pork producer. I buy between 10 and 25 baconers from him a week depending on how many orders I have that week. The pigs are delivered on the lorry to the Cato Ridge abattoir for slaughter and are then collected by my driver the following day and brought back to the farm for processing. I have a small factory on the farm where we process the baconers. We only use traditional methods, for example, dry curing and oak smoking, and all our products are handmade. I then market these products directly to housewives, lodges, hotels, Bed and Breakfast establishments and a few select supermarkets. We do monthly deliveries to Johannesburg, Durban, Kloof, Westville, Pietermaritzburg, Nottingham Road, Mooi River and surrounding areas. All our customers are e-mailed or phoned on a regular basis. They then put in their orders and collect them from a central point. Weekly deliveries are done to our hotels, lodges, restaurants and supermarkets. Public may also come to the factory on the farm by prior arrangement only to buy their pork.
Thirteen years ago I was made redundant from the local school in our area where I was the PR / marketing person. They felt that they could not afford a person in that position. During this time I had a small business on the farm growing flowers and doing country bunches. On giving up this job, William and I realized that the farm, with two families living on it, would not be able to support us and educate our children. We both realized that to stay on the farm we had to supplement our farming income. After lots of discussion between the two of us about what I should do William suggested that I should add value onto something that we were already producing on the farm namely pork and/or beef. I love cooking and experimenting so he suggested I should try and make some pork pies. This was the birth of Dargle Valley Pork. I decided on the name as we live in an area called the Dargle Valley and I thought that it sounded like a wholesome country product. I then ordered my first pig. I did not even know at this stage what a pig carcass looked like let alone knowing what to do with it.
The carcass arrived and was dropped onto the kitchen table. My lady that worked in the garden was called in and we both looked at each other and thought where do we start. I found an old band saw in the garage and phoned an old retired butcher friend of mine and said I needed him to help (he thought I had gone mad). We soon learnt how to cut a pig up. I went onto the Internet to find a pork pie recipe and the first of many pork pies was in the oven. The first few were absolute disasters - if you had have thrown them against the wall the plaster would have shattered. At this stage I realized that pies were not the only things that you could get from pork and that I would have to make and sell a lot of pies to use up a carcass. I decided to make some bacon and sausages. The first lot of bacon and sausages I marketed to friends and family - they were a great success! At this stage I realized that there was a demand for good quality pork products and customers were looking for tracebility in the meat that they bought. Being a housewife myself I knew what the housewife wanted when buying meat. I also realized that the kitchen and my Kenwood Chef mincer that I was using just could not cope. We enclosed our double garage with the help of a few of the men on the farm. I borrowed some money from my mother (who by the way has very little) but she had great faith in me. I explained to her that it could take 5 years for me to pay it back if the business did not take off. I wanted to do the business properly with attractive packaging, and the right equipment. I did not want a backyard operation. I bought a vacuum sealer, went to the auction sales and bought a mincer, cold room and stainless steel tables. I managed to find an excellent band saw from a local farmer in the area. With the help of my next-door neighbour who is in the advertising industry we created a very appealing sticker for my products. It was at this stage that I realized that the public wanted exciting pork products, not just chops and roasts. I experimented with different stuffing’s and cuts and we now have over 35 products on our product list. Most of these products have been my own creations. For an example, I had far too many legs and needed to do something that was appealing to my clients, so I came up with the Pork Texan steak, kebabs, schnitzel, and plain and marinated stir-fry. I could not find any decent marinades as they all just tasted so synthetic, so I decided to create my own marinade for my products, which is preservative free. Our ribs are famous, and to make the loin roasts more interesting I created two of my own stuffing’s, one being bacon and prune and the other fig and couscous.
The majority of the public still has some very old-fashioned ideas about pork – it gives you worms, pigs eat rubbish, bad for the heart etc. I had to make sure that I had the best and most interesting pork products and then educate the public about them. I then went about informing all our customers that our pork is artificial hormone free, and that we only use female pigs, thereby eliminating any chance of boar taint. Also that our pigs are only fed on a maize/protein diet that contains no animal by-products. Word of mouth I believe is the very best marketing tool when you are supplying a niche market. One unhappy customer can wipe out a hundred happy ones. The first six months of the business I donated a lot of meat to various charities as I felt that it was not of the quality that I was happy to sell. We still have our odd problems but this I feel is all part of the learning curve and you can only learn by your mistakes.
I have the most wonderful dedicated team of staff which are all women.
As with all business's the firt two years were very testing but through sheer perserverance and dedication we now have a very successful business on the farm which has created employment for local ladies.