Women in the SA Olive industry: Briony Coetsee

Moving back to South Africa from abroad to run her family’s business, Briony Coetsee took the bull by the horns, harnessed her skills and immersed herself into the business of producing award-winning EVOOs. She believes in creating a balance in one’s life, not sweating the small things and respecting Mother Nature and the bounty and teachings she brings.

1. What brought you to where you are today – a woman in agriculture?

Family business! My father bought the farm and planted the olive trees back in 1997. After being abroad for many years, he offered me the chance to move back and take over the farm and turn it into a business. After an extended period of living and working in a busy city, we jumped at the chance to come back to what we thought would be a quieter life! Another big turning point was that we decided to start a family and I couldn’t think of a better place to raise a family than out on a farm surrounded by nature – the essentials being brought down to the basics.

2. Are there unique challenges as a woman in the olive growing and olive oil making business?

Yes of course. The biggest issue or challenge for me is trying to be a mother, as well as run a business. Finding the time and energy to do both AND finding a balance where all aspects in your life get the best of you is a constant struggle both mentally and physically. I know this is not unique to the olive industry, but it is definitely something that I, and many of my girlfriends in similar demanding industries, suffer with.

3. What are the hard skills you need to make it work?

Motivation, and most importantly confidence. Initially I found myself always second-guessing myself due to this being a completely new industry and new world for me. I would often think (and be told) that I had it wrong. I find now, with experience and resilience, my confidence has grown and with that my business and my staff’s respect for me.

4. What are the soft skills you need to make it work?

To not sweat the small stuff! Empathy is important too, but it needs to be well-balanced with mutual respect and understanding.

5. What has been a highlight in your career in the olive industry thus far?

Winning awards and being nominated as one of the top 10 and top 5 producers for three years out of the eight we have been in the industry. This all helps to balance out the hard work one puts in.

6. Why do you love what you do?

I love Mother Nature and everything she has to offer. Working alongside her and watching how she evolves as you take care of her is very rewarding.

I also love to ‘live off the land’. I want my kids to grow up with an understanding of what is really important in life and to recognise and respect our planet and all she has to offer. This kind of upbringing is very humbling – knowing that your milk does not come from Pick n Pay’s shelf, but rather from a cow that requires grass to feed off, which in turn requires water to grow. (This argument always helps to limit the shower time for my older daughter).

7. What does the future hold – for you, your business, and the country?

I find it’s never ideal to look too far ahead in life, especially in Africa. Life is happening now and it must be appreciated and enjoyed because no one really knows what the future may hold.

8. Do you have a funny story about your time in the olive business?

I am literally writing a book about my experiences of returning to Africa and becoming a farmer out in the Platteland, and all the adventures that we experience here – and often on a daily basis.

9. What does your support structure look like?

I have a fabulous support structure, which is why I am still farming and producing here. Grandparents, partner, kids and fabulous friends mixed in with good food, wine and a pre-requisite for good times are what matter at the end of the day.

10. Anything else you want to add?

I guess if I’m talking to women in the industry, especially working mothers, it’s to try to not be too hard on yourself and to just do the best you can in life. The balancing act is always going to be a challenge, but I always make sure that I also find a little bit of time for myself. That helps to make the stress and intensity of life a little more balanced and bearable.