Cultivating Purpose: A Sigma Farm Worker’s Story of Resilience, Hope and Roses

Stephen, a seasoned gardener at Sigma Farm, shares his inspiring story of overcoming challenges and finding purpose in his work by propagating and planting over 3000 roses.

Stephen Philander (52), born in Simonstown and raised in Citrusdal, discovered his passion for gardening and agriculture at a young age. Despite his upbringing in a citrus-rich region, it was the vineyards that captured his heart. “I never had much interest in citrus production,” he recalls. “But there was something about working among the vines that felt like home.”

His journey into the world of gardening took a fortuitous turn in 1996 when he bought a Keith Kirsten book about roses. Stephen delved into its pages, soaking up knowledge and inspiration that would shape his career for years to come. “I learned everything from that book,” he says with a smile. “When working in the garden, I still recall things I read in Keith’s book.”

However, Stephen’s path was not without its challenges. In the year 2000, he faced a life-altering event when he was involved in a serious motor accident. The accident left him hospitalized for eight months, battling head injuries and undergoing extensive rehabilitation. Despite the setbacks, Stephen’s resilience shone through as he embarked on the slow journey of recovery.

“It was a difficult time, some days feeling hopeless. But continuing to work and learn new things, gave me purpose.”

In 2020, Sigma Farm underwent a transformative change when Bet-El Fruits shareholders acquired the property. One of the first initiatives introduced by Bet-El’s brand manager, Evonne Nieuwoudt, was the ambitious plan to plant over 3000 roses along the 900-meter road leading to the farm.

“When I first heard about the project, I was skeptical,” Stephen admits. “But I also knew that with dedication and hard work, anything is possible.”

True to his belief, Stephen played an integral role in bringing Evonne’s vision to life. From propagating and nurturing the roses to witnessing their spectacular bloom, Stephen found fulfillment in the project’s success. “Seeing those roses in full bloom every year is a moment of pure joy,” he says.

Looking ahead, Stephen’s enthusiasm for gardening shows no signs of decreasing. With plans to expand the rose plantings and explore new possibilities, he remains dedicated to his craft and grateful for the lessons learned along the way.

As he reflects on his journey, Stephen offers a heartfelt message to those facing their own challenges: “Always trust in God. And ask forgiveness with a true and humble heart. There is always hope.”

Stephen’s story serves as a touching reminder of the resilience of the human spirit and the enduring beauty found in nature’s embrace.