Stories and Traveltips

ID #5158

Avocado Farming in Randpark Ridge, Randburg, Gauteng, South Africa.

I purchased a smallholding (plot) after returning home from the USA in 1980. And on this farm  (with apologies to Old MacDonald to whom we are, interestingly, distantly related) were two large avocado pear (avoe) trees. The larger one was the most productive. However, the smaller one was not far behind. In most years the trees were able to satisfy our needs, with a few to spare. One year, however, for reasons known only to the trees themselves, we had a bumper crop. We had avoes for breakfast, avoes for lunch and avoes for supper. I gave them to friend and foe alike but still we had too many.

Before I go any further, let me explain some basics to those unfamiliar with the subtlety and nuances of large-scale agriculture:

o    Avoes are considered by food nutritionists to be almost the complete food.
o    They are high in unsaturated fats and, as a result, are quite fattening.
o    Avoes do not ripen on the tree – they only ripen after being picked.
o    There are several different varieties, some of which have a thick, hard skin which is almost black (West Indian) while others have a thinner, green skin like ours (Fuerte).
o    In the Southern Hemisphere, the fruit matures on the tree in winter – i.e. March through November. When first picked they are hard and tasteless. However, after storage in a paper bag for a few days, they slowly ripen. It is quite easy to determine when they are ripe – a gentle squeeze is all it takes.
o    As with most things in life, timing is everything. Cut them open too soon and they are tasteless and hard. Too late and they develop black spots and eventually rot. But, if selected at the precisely right moment, they are undoubtedly one of God’s gifts to mankind – smooth, creamy and delicious.  Well anyway ours were.
o    Do not poke and squeeze them unnecessarily when they are ripening or they develop black spots prematurely. This is why, when buying them in a shop, one should buy them when still green and leave them to ripen, free from fiddling fingers, inside a dark cupboard for a few days.
o    Quality depends on when they are picked. The quality of the fruit is poor at the beginning of the season (March and April in our case). Thereafter they are smooth, creamy and delicious for several months (June through September). Later in the season (October through December) they become, once again, tasteless and stringy, fit only for pigs.
o    Quality also depends on the variety. In my not-so-humble opinion, our variety (Fuerte) is far and away the tastiest.
o    They are unaffected by insect pests so no spraying is required. They are the ultimate “organic” food product.
o    The plants are sensitive to cold weather. If planted up against a wall for protection, they can take the winter chill of the Highveld, which is why, unusually, our trees survived and prospered.
o    Some trees are just “difficult” – i.e. mean and ornery, refusing to produce in quantity. I am reliably informed that, before removing the tree completely, a good South African AAK (Attitude Adjusting Klap) should be attempted. Ripping off a few selected branches, hammering several long nails into the trunk or digging a furrow around the tree and chopping off the roots is apparently enough to bring such recalcitrant trees to their senses.

They are easily propagated by suspending the seeds on three match sticks or toothpicks in a glass of water (flat side down). After a week or two roots start to protrude from the base of the seed while the trunk starts to grow upwards towards the light. The window sills of our kitchen were festooned with avoe pips growing in glasses of water, which we gave to anyone and everyone as gifts, together with the fruit itself, urging them to plant them in their gardens.

Early one Saturday morning I had gone over to my neighbours, Margaret and Lammie Snyman, for coffee and a chat. I was telling them about my problem when their young son Dirk chipped in, suggesting that we sell them on the road outside my home that morning.

This sounded like a good idea so Dirk and I sprang into action. We found a large board on which we painted the words “Avoes for Sale”. Then we held a marketing conference. At the time, avoes were selling for approximately R1.50 (20 US cents each) in retail outlets like the Pick ‘n Pay across the street. However, theirs were ripe and ready to eat while ours were as green as grass. Since we wanted to make the sale of ours attractive, we decided to sell them for the “bargain” price of R0.25 each -- which we wrote in large letters below the “Avoes for Sale” leader.

Our first task was to replenish our stock so Dirk climbed into the largest of our trees, swimming pool cleaning pole in hand, and started to knock them down. I stood at the base of the tree, collecting them where they fell. However, I was careful to avoid being hit by them – being grass green they were still hard and being hit could cause serious damage. So every now and then I would ask Dirk to stop and would wander about beneath the tree collecting those that had fallen, placing them in a wheelbarrow we had secured for the purpose.

Everything was going according to plan when Dirk slipped. To avoid falling out of the tree, he grabbed hold of the large trunk, wrapping his arms and legs about it to slow his descent. However, he was wearing a short-sleeved shirt and shorts. So, by the time he reached the ground, the bark had ripped the skin from the inside of his arms and legs. Bloody but unbowed, he climbed back up the tree and we continued collecting until the wheelbarrow was full to the brim. Then we wheeled our “stock” onto the dirt road outside and set up our sign, which was visible from a distance to passing motorists. I found a few chairs and we sat down, waiting for customers to arrive.

Since Dirk, who was ten at the time, had been appointed our marketing manager, he conducted all commercial transactions. At the outset business was brisk. However, by about 11h00 it started to get hot and uncomfortable and the idea of marketing our surplus seemed less and less attractive.

We were not at all impressed by one particular customer who arrived in a huge gleaming Mercedes. She coolly stepped out, looking as though she was going to a wedding. Hair done, nails polished, the lot. What we found particularly offensive was how she picked and prodded our delicious avoes, which were being sold for a ridiculously low price. After fiddling for a while, she said: “Oh, but they are still green”. “I want ripe ones”. I explained that the best way to purchase avoes is to buy them when they are green and leave them in a paper bag in a cupboard to ripen, but to no avail. She climbed back into her posh car and sped off.

A while later she was back again. Again the prodding and poking, looking down her nose at us. I leaned over to Dirk and whispered: “Tell her we are not going to sell our avoes to her at any price”.  

Taking the bait, he looked her straight in the eye and said, deliberately and slowly: “Lady, we are not going to sell you our delicious avoes at any price”. Initially she was shocked speechless by the effrontery of someone so young. Clearly she was not accustomed to being spoken to in such a manner. After a moment to recover her composure, she said: “Humph”. Then she flounced off, climbed back into her posh car, slammed the door shut and sped off, dust and stones flying. Dirk and I collapsed, convulsed with laughter. So much so that we gave up trying to sell the few remaining avoes in the wheelbarrow.

Moral of the story: Next time you are tempted to think that, as the buyer, you can be excused for being rude and unpleasant; don’t drive down John Vorster Road on a Saturday morning.

Alan McIver

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Last update: 2014-02-28 22:32
Author: Alan McIver
Revision: 1.2

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