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The chef who’s growing ingredients for other people’s kitchens

Chefs are busy people. They don’t sit still at work, they don’t like to keep people waiting and they don’t like to wait.

That’s why former chef Bernette Roux stopped growing beans and cauliflower in her garden, and started growing salads and herbs. “You see,” she says on the patch of earth she rents in the Breërivier area outside Worcester, “I can’t sit around and wait three months before I can harvest something. Now I only do fast-growing crops.”

Bernette had been a professional chef for 16 years before an injury to her arm left her unable to prepare food. She now supplies a vast range of organic salad greens and herbs under the name VARS. Her customers include visitors to the Pure Boland Market as well as private customers who love good cooking and fresh produce. Think spinach, kale, sweet rocket, wild rocket, fennel, chives, sweet basil, opaque basil…too many to list.

Here and there she grows the odd aubergine, piquant pepper, passion fruit or gooseberry. It only depends on the time of the year (she keeps up production all year ’round) and what she fancies.

Bernette’s stall at the Pure Boland Market.

The personal touch

Apart from one assistant who helps her for an hour each day, Bernette does everything herself. That’s from growing seedlings in polystyrene containers to packaging harvested leaves to doing deliveries.

The packaging itself is part of the reason her product is so popular. Instead of supplying big bags of this or that, she uses her experience in the kitchen to sell combo packs of about 10 different greens. It usually includes about six types of salad greens and four types of herbs.

The leaves have a reputation for being jam-packed with flavour, and for keeping up to two weeks in the fridge. “I think it’s because the supply chain isn’t nearly as long as it is for store-bought greens. In the four years since I had started the garden, I’ve also learnt the little niggles and knacks of each plant so I know exactly how to treat them for optimum quality.

“I only use organic pest repellents, I have my own compost heap and I take out the weeds by hand.”

Bernette’s garden is just 100 metres from the R43, with no buildings or trees obstructing the view between the two. But it’s only upon much closer inspection that the love and attention to her plants become clear: the garden is organised, neat and abundantly green. “Motorists will never guess there’s a garden on this wide-open piece of land. But with the right amount of attention, food and water, it has become a proper little oasis.”

• Bernette sells her produce at the Pure Boland Market, which takes place on the first Saturday of every month. For more information on the market, click here.

Sweet basil in abundance.
Beautiful opaque basil (as seen from this side of some wild garlic).
Green and red spinach.
Wild garlic.
Salad greens, as fresh as they come. (Bernette grows both sweet and wild rocket).
Beautiful passion fruit waiting to ripen.
Piquant pepper and aubergine.
A better view of Bernette’s very organised little garden.
And just to prove that it’s all organic!
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