En­tre­pre­neur En­dive, or “white gold”, is now grow­ing in the Free State

En­dive is one of the health­i­est and most ver­sa­tile leaf veg­eta­bles, but also one of the tough­est to grow. Thank­fully, South Africa’s old­est fam­ily en­ter­prise, Bron­aar in the Koue Bokkeveld, is al­ways will­ing to take up a chal­lenge.


Let’s start with the bad news: that per­fectly formed, fairly ex­pen­sive creamy white and yel­low-green tor­pedo-shaped leaf vegetable you may have no­ticed on su­per­mar­ket shelves in the city un­der the name wit­lof, chicory or (Bel­gian) en­dive is avail­able nowhere in the plat­te­land. This de­spite the fact that Bron­aar, the only farm in South Africa to grow en­dive – on a mere 10ha of land – is lo­cated near Op-die-Berg, a Lil­liputian set­tle­ment on the R303 be­tween Citrus­dal and Ceres in the Western Cape.

And now for an­other snip­pet of not-so-great news: “Grow­ing en­dive is a drawn-out, com­pli­cated and labour­in­ten­sive process,” says Fanie van der Merwe, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor at Bron­aar.

Three years ago, Bron­aar spent R7 mil­lion build­ing a fa­cil­ity on the farm from where they hope to de­liver ap­prox­i­mately 5 tonnes of en­dive per week to the lo­cal mar­ket within the next five to 10 years, and to take over 2–5% of the salad mar­ket in the process.

And what do we tell Plat­te­land read­ers who may be con­sid­er­ing grow­ing en­dive at home? Fanie gives a lit­tle laugh, shakes his head and emits a long sigh: “All I can say is, good luck. And Google. In that or­der.” (It’s not im­pos­si­ble – see our prac­ti­cal tips on page 94.) Be­cause, says Fanie, what makes en­dive so very in­ter­est­ing and quite a dif­fi­cult leaf vegetable is the fact that its root is the most im­por­tant part. The be-all and end-all. The al­pha and the omega. The bit­ter-sweet root cause of every­thing. A chance dis­cov­ery

Bel­gian en­dive ( Ci­cho­rium in­ty­bus) is a mem­ber of the chicory fam­ily, which in­cludes the leaf veg­eta­bles radic­chio, es­ca­role, frisée let­tuce and curly en­dive, as well as the well-known chicory root sold as a cheap cof­fee sub­sti­tute.

The en­dive that the Bel­gians call “white gold” (“Wit­lof” is Flem­ish for“white gold”; the SouthAfrican ver­sion of white gold is, of course,

more valu­able. – Eds.) was ac­ci­den­tally dis­cov­ered in the 1830s when a Bel­gian farmer, one Jan Lam­mers, for­got about the cof­fee chicory roots he had thrown into a dark barn. A few months later, they had de­vel­oped into a tor­pe­doshaped vegetable with knotty, crunchy, tightly packed leaves: creamy white on the un­der­side, with a yel­low to bright­green shad­ing to­wards the tips of the leaves. The vegetable was mar­keted com­mer­cially for the first time in 1846.

• Taste: Sweet­ish and slightly nutty, with a hint of bit­ter­ness sim­i­lar to that of spinach and some let­tuce leaves.

• Ver­sa­til­ity: En­dive is crispy and de­li­cious eaten fresh, but just as tasty steamed, baked, grilled, boiled, fried or caramelised in any­thing from soups to stir-fries. (Don’t miss our seven recipes and ideas on page 96-102. If you’ve never cooked with en­dive be­fore, now’s your chance to try it.)

• Health ben­e­fits: En­dive is widely re­garded as a su­per­food, as it con­tains

nu­tri­ents such as vi­ta­min A, var­i­ous B vi­ta­mins, vi­ta­min K, potas­sium and cal­cium. It is also an im­mune booster, helps to con­trol blood-sugar and choles­terol lev­els, helps to pre­vent os­teo­poro­sis and artheroscle­ro­sis, and keeps the di­ges­tive sys­tem in bal­ance. From ap­ples and pears… Bron­aar farm forms part of the orig­i­nal Bo­plaas farm, which has be­longed to the Van der Merwe fam­ily since 1743 and was de­mar­cated in 1965 by Fanie’s fa­ther, Haupt­fleisch.

Fanie and one of his four sis­ters, Hen­drien (who is the fi­nan­cial di­rec­tor at Bron­aar), are part of the 11th gen­er­a­tion of the fam­ily in the Koue Bokkeveld and the ninth gen­er­a­tion to farm here. This of­fi­cially makes their farm­ing en­ter­prise the old­est fam­i­lyrun one in South Africa.

On Bron­aar and the three ad­di­tional farms bought over the years, ap­ples and pears (250ha in to­tal) and onions (100ha) are the big­gest crops. Over time, 50ha of pota­toes have been added, along with the roughly 10ha of en­dive. When it comes to veg­eta­bles, Bron­aar is in­volved in the en­tire value chain: they pro­duce, pack and dis­trib­ute via Bamco, a part­ner­ship they con­cluded with the Môrester and Donker­bos en­ter­prises. In Septem­ber, Bamco will open a mas­sive fruit-pack­ing fa­cil­ity.

The idea to grow a niche prod­uct such as en­dive was their own, says >

Fanie. “The unique cli­mate of the Koue Bokkeveld in­spired the late Kobus Klop­pers from the com­pany En­di­via to ap­proach me in 2002, 2003 with the idea of grow­ing the vegetable for them. He had a small hy­dro­ponic fa­cil­ity in Stik­land and it had sim­ply become too ex­pen­sive for him to im­port the roots.”

Fanie vis­ited the Nether­lands a few times with Kobus to see how things were done, but af­ter five years of bat­tling away, the di­rec­tor­ship at Bron­aar in­formed Fanie that his ef­forts were tak­ing 20% of his time but made less than 2% of his turnover. He and Kobus parted com­pany on good terms. Kobus passed away and his daugh­ter con­tin­ued with the busi­ness for some time, but even­tu­ally it came to an end. Yet Fanie con­tin­ued to re­ceive queries over the years, par­tic­u­larly from restau­rants, and af­ter a few more visits to the Nether­lands he re­alised that the only way to farm en­dive prof­itably was to “es­tab­lish and con­trol the en­tire value chain”.

This year marks their third sea­son and they are fi­nally in a po­si­tion to sup­ply en­dive to the lo­cal mar­ket for 12 months of the year. “I call it a windgat prod­uct,” says Fanie. “A niche prod­uct. It’s one of a kind. It's dif­fer­ent. No one on this farm had tasted en­dive be­fore or knew any­thing about it, but now we all eat it, just like we’ve been eat­ing ap­ples all these years. Now, we just have to con­vince the rest of the coun­try to try it too.”

Fanie van der Merwe, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor.

This is what the en­dive plants look like two months af­ter sow­ing, and on the right are two photos taken in the Bron­aar onion-pack­ing fa­cil­ity.

Jurine Joseph, here with Fanie, is one of 15 women who work at the Bron­aar en­dive fa­cil­ity.

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