Dried fruit production is the other primary activity of the Koelfontein farming operation. In fact, Koelfontein is nationally renowned for its exceptional, high quality dried fruit.
There are significant differences between the cultivation practices employed for fresh and dried fruit. Specific cultivars are used and, unlike fresh fruit, the produce used for drying is picked fully tree-ripened, for optimal sweetness and flavour. Once picked, the fruit is taken to the farm’s large drying facility, where it is cut by hand and placed on large wooden drying trays. After treatment with sulphur dioxide (to prevent microbiological spoilage and discolouration during the drying process and to help it retain the bright natural yellow and orange colours that consumers enjoy and demand), the drying trays are laid out in the sun for anything from two days to two weeks to dry.
A History of Dried Fruit on Koelfontein
Handri’s father, Francois Conradie, was once regarded as the leading dried fruit grower in the country. By the time single channel agricultural marketing was deregulated in the late 1990s, he had won the industry’s top award, the Percy Tolmay Trophy, an unprecedented ten times over a twenty-nine year period of its existence. The last six times he was awarded the trophy consecutively. The trophy was eventually awarded to him permanently and it now takes pride of place in the At Source Handmade Foods board room, a testament to his unrivalled achievement and the undisputed position of this farm as the benchmark of sun-dried fruit production in South Africa.
In 2002, Francois Conradie was also named Western Cape Farmer of the Year. That was the year he handed over the farm to the next generation and left a legacy of excellence in dried-fruit production. Handri Conradie has subsequently taken over the reigns of Koelfontein and ushered in a new era of dried fruit production by founding At Source Handmade Foods. This innovative enterprise, which required the substantial risk of mortgaging Koelfontein to finance the building and equipping of a 6,600m2 processing and packing facility on the farm is responsible for manufacturing, packing and supplying high quality dried fruit products to South African retail giants such as Woolworths and Pick n Pay as well as to foreign markets. Koelfontein is still the primary supplier of raw material to At Source for various dried fruit products, including the company’s flagship soft-eating dried fruit and their snack-food brand, Cecilia’s Farm.