When you talk to Basil Williams, it is immediately apparent that he is a man who knows his stuff. The owner of Herbal View Hydroponics has over 21 years of experience in horticulture and agriculture and prides himself on his range of naturally grown and organic herbs and salads.

Herbal View had humble beginnings on a small parcel of land on Basil’s parents’ property and has since grown to an operation with two growing sites – in Kylemore and Lynedoch in Stellenbosch, with a third site in the pipeline. The company uses cutting-edge hydroponic techniques to cultivate their product, while at the same time also propagating plants and doing their own processing.

Basil has extensive experience in his field. After completing a Diploma in Horticulture, Basil started working at the Elsenburg Agricultural Research Centre where he cultivated Fynbos before moving onto projects involving the propagation and cultivation of medicinal plants such as Buchu, Devils Claw, Hoodia and blueberries. It was while working with these plants that Basil became interested in herbs, not only as plants, but as a means of adding value to the food chain.

Herbal View was established in 1998 while Basil was still working at Elsenburg and with assistance from the Department of Agriculture, he was able to access enough land and the necessary equipment to make his business financially viable.

Initially Basil was supplying fresh produce in small quantities and providing product to processing factories such as Ina Paarman and Pesto Princess, but by 2015 he started seeing the value in processing his own product and began to experiment with a Herbal View range of processed herbs. In 2018, the Department of Agriculture afforded Herbal View an opportunity to exhibit their products at the annual Cheese Festival where the product range received overwhelmingly positive feedback.

Once Basil realised that he could run a business that covered all the bases – from propagation and cultivation, to production, he applied for assistance from the Western Cape Economic Development Forum who supplied him with blenders and cutters. He also received further support from the Cape Winelands Municipality (CWM) Small Farmer support programme.

Basil is an ardent lifelong learner and believes in the power of knowledge. Apart from his horticultural qualification, Basil completed an SBA Executive Programme with the Stellenbosch University Business School in 2010 and with the assistance of Ranyaka Community Transformation is currently enrolled in the SBA Business Management Programme.

The Nedbank-funded Ranyaka Building Business programme has supported Basil greatly by helping him to connect with various development programmes. “Ranyaka are doing great things for entrepreneurs in Stellenbosch,” he says, “their workshops are different to others I have attended. They make sure they are speaking to you at your level, and they go the extra mile.” Between his studies and the Ranyaka programme, Basil has learned that “administration is key”. You cannot just focus on working in your business – you also have to develop structures in areas like finance and marketing to make sure that your business has a solid foundation.

Herbal View currently has six employees, including Basil, Elroy Daniels, Lawton Williams and Basil’s sister, Caroline. Basil is currently busy expanding his team to accommodate his business growth which currently includes 6ha of vegetable and herb farming and production in Stellenbosch. In the short term, Basil is focused on expansion and the implementation of new projects including brand and label development. In the longer term, Basil is working towards expanding his operation to a third site which will substantially increase his yield. He is in the planning stages of this project and in currently busy with his business plan.

In his industry, Basil believes that access to land is the biggest obstacle. Land for agriculture is available, but the processes, rules, and conditions imposed on new growers wanting to start a business can be a deterrent. He says that there is a lot of failed land reform that occurs due to lack of guidance/mentorship, negligence, and vandalism. He goes on to say that in his experience, farmers who rent land and therefore have a vested interest in its success often have better results.

Basil says that it can be difficult to know what is best for your business. Supplying fresh produce in small quantities, for example to restaurants, is time intensive and often not profitable and so he generally packages his fresh herbs for sale to bulk distributors who can then sell it on to their retail and food industry clients. He does, however, think that a town like Stellenbosch is a perfect place for the fresh produce street markets such as those in Europe. The town is ideally located, and surrounded by producers of all kinds of seasonal produce.

Residents and visitors in Stellenbosch can purchase items from Basil’s range at the recently launched CoCreate Hub at 7 Victoria Street, in the heart of town.

When it comes to what motivates him, Basil said, “In the early years it was my passion. Now it is my vision which is to grow. Having a strong team to work alongside you makes all the difference.” He believes that small businesses are the backbone of the South African economy because he knows “that development and success is sown by small businesses. Products that come from small businesses are locally made with love. When you buy a product from a small business, you buy a story.”

The Covid pandemic was a test of Basil’s leadership. He says it allowed him to assess what kind of boss he was, and forced him to move into a space of creativity and passion. He used the time to think out of the box and experiment with new products.

His advice to aspiring entrepreneurs: “Find your passion. Do what you love. Don’t be driven by money – be driven by your vision. Learn to communicate, you need to be able to “sell” your product or your skills.”

For more information, contact Basil on 076 729 6463 or herbalviewnursery@hotmail.co.za.

Visit the deli at the CoCreate Hub at 7 Victoria Street, Stellenbosch to purchase Basil’s products and support local! Read more at www.cocreatehub.co.za.