When life gives you lymphoma, make collagen and turn it into a business – Catherine Clark

It is not uncommon for people who are going through a life threatening disease like cancer or even a major emotional upheaval, to consider changing their lives and their diets drastically. There is also with greater awareness of what we are doing to our planet a big shift to a meat-free diet. But these diets mean that our bodies may be lacking many nutrients such as iron and Vitamin B12 and most importantly; many find that they have to add some kind of protein to their diets. This is what Catherine Clark found when she wanted a major change. And when she could not find the products she wanted locally; Clark searched overseas and started the company The Harvest Table with her own blend of products which contain collagen. – Linda van Tilburg

When I was 20 years old I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, which is a cancer and I went through treatment for that. I had radiation, but it really made me re-look at how I live my life and what it actually means to be whole and healthy. And I realised that diet was a really important part of that, as well as looking after my mind, my soul and my body, exercising and things like that. And so, it started… that was 20 years ago when I  started this journey of investigating what it meant to have a healthy diet and what were those building blocks that I needed to put into my body in order to achieve health and wellness.

So, I’ve studied ever since then and researched, and I just found a lot of the products I wanted to include in my own diet. I couldn’t find locally and we started looking overseas to source products that we really wanted but also blending products in the way that we wanted them without all of the additives and the preservatives; so I could get the product that I was looking for. And that started The Harvest Table. So really, it came about from a personal passion and a desire to see my family whole and healthy but also very much driven by wanting to see other people achieving everything they can in their life from the foundation of health and wellness.

So, it is basically a collagen product. Why the emphasis on collagen? 

Collagen just ended up being one of our core products. I don’t really eat a lot of meat at all. I was vegetarian for many years, but I didn’t find that I achieved everything I wanted to through my health, through being vegetarian. And also, when I eat meat, I just found, like a lot of people; it was quite difficult to digest it and it doesn’t leave me feeling great;  it’s quite heavy for me. And I started really investigating what proteins we need and how much protein we need in order to achieve health and collagen just kept cropping up.

It probably started from a place of investigating bone broth which is really popular; I know it’s something a lot of people are interested in. So, bone broth would be a slow cooked broth, really the way our ancestors used to eat that. They would eat an animal nose to tail; they would take out all the good meats and then they would boil down whatever was needed to make a stock and they would use that as the basis for a lot of their meals. They would eat a lot of soup and stews with the stock as a base. That’s actually where the collagen sits, predominantly in an animal. And so, through this bone broth they were getting a lot of collagen and all of the amino acids, a lot of minerals into their diets which is probably why they didn’t suffer from as many of the issues that we suffer from today.

I was really interested in bone broth. I know a lot of people like making it themselves, but I just found that by drinking the liquid; it was quite difficult to get enough collagen into my diet. I didn’t enjoy the fat content in a liquid bone broth and is time consuming. If you’re really busy and you run out of bone broth; it’s going to take you three or four days to make your next batch. It just wasn’t working for my lifestyle.

And so, we found an amazing organic product from Sweden and because it contained collagen; I started investigating collagen. I’ve realised how important that was and how many of the issues I was facing; I had early onset arthritis in my hands; my skin wasn’t what I wanted it to be; nail and hair strength and gut health and by supplementing collagen; I quite quickly started addressing some of those issues. Those are the two products that sit at the front of our range and everything has been developed around those two collagen products.

Some of the science on collagen is quite controversial because it is said that if you take it in through your stomach; not a lot of that is eventually taken up by your body. What is your response to that?

So, it’s just important to remember that your body doesn’t use the collagen that you take as a whole; it breaks it down into amino acids and then it absorbs it and it uses those amino acids to build its own collagen. So I know that some people do still struggle with their digestion. I think stress is a major part of our lack of good digestion in our modern day diets because we are so stressed, and some people still find they struggle even with the collagen and they find that if they take it; they get a bit of a burning sensation. We always recommend that they then add something like an apple cider vinegar or something like that to help their body digest.

But once you’ve done that and your body and your digestion is working well; I found that people quite radically and quite quickly see the benefits. And so, I can only think it must it must be working for them. We get too many good reports for people not to be making use of this product in their system. I don’t eat a lot of meat, but I’ve just found quite a radical improvement in my health from including this in my diet. When I do eat meat, like I said, I feel kind of heavy and sluggish. I don’t feel that with the collagen; I know that my body is able to digest that and use it. I’ve seen the benefits; my arthritis has cleared up; my skin has improved; my hair and nails have improved, and I think that speaks for itself.

Catherine Clark
Catherine Clark, Owner and Founder of The Harvest Table, with her family.

You mentioned skin. There is probably massive room for growth selling it as a skin product because there’s so much emphasis on how people look. What are the benefits for your skin? 

Collagen is actually the building blocks that your body uses for your skin, your hair, your nails, your joints, ligaments and gut lining and because we’re not getting enough of that, because of the way that our diets have changed, you might find that you are getting fine lines sooner than you thought, that your skin is losing plumpness quite quickly. You know, I’ve had ladies that message me after two or three weeks to say; my skin is literally plumping out from adding this into my diet. It’s really exciting.

The one thing I would say to people is your body will use the collagen where it sees fit first. So, you might want to see an improvement in your skin, but you actually might feel it in your joints first. So, your body will prioritise what it wants to do and unfortunately we can’t tell it to do what we want with it. So, you just have to be patient. We believe that collagen is like a lifelong journey.  It’s not something that you take today, you see the improvements and then you stop.

You need to continue; your body keeps needing to do the work. And so, it’s a commitment to taking the supplements; we would hope for the rest of your life and seeing that continual improvements in your skin, your hair, your nails. I mean my gran is 94 years and we started her on collagen. Her nails are thick and beautiful and where she was taking 10 minutes to get in and out of the car when we took her out for tea. She’s now jumping in and out. We’ve seen quite a radical change in her. So even at that age, you know it’s never too late to start.

If we can look at the business; where are you now. Are you expanding?

So, we are based in Pinetown just outside of Durban. We employee nine people on our team now. We have only been running this business for two years, from development of the brand idea and where we wanted to go through to today. My journey has been 20 years and sort of culminated in this business that started more recently. We are an online store and you can find us on Facebook, in stores and on Instagram.

We’ve grown really quickly, and I think it’s just because we are offering beautifully sourced products that are earth consciously packaged; as well as some nice exciting different ways to use the product. So, we’ve got things like collagen hot chocolate and turmeric latte and just fun ways to get healthy products into your family without them maybe realising that they are health products. We’ve really stuck to our values – to give people a product with a really good nutritional value, to give them a product at the best price we can, earth consciously packaged and to create employment in our economy.

You know those are really important things to us. We believe in educating our consumers and taking them along in this journey with us. So, it’s not just about educating them on the products we sell, but just in terms of general health and wellness. We do a lot of videos on Instagram, just showing people how to use the products and getting the family involved. And I think people have really warmed to that and they’re coming on this journey with us, which is really exciting.

So, what are the prospects for growth?

I think education is one of our key things. I believe there are probably whole sectors of the economy that haven’t even heard of these things yet. We are looking for ways to educate people and make them more aware of what healthy eating means and how it can improve your health and how some of these base products can be life changing. That’s one of our major focus areas and then we are also looking at expanding into Southern Africa. We already have had a lot of interest in Namibia and Botswana and orders going out. We want to continue in that line to see if we can expand. At the end of the day we want to create more employment for our economy.

Is it easy to find funding? Are you funding yourself?

We are self-funded, we have found funding is the most difficult thing to get and I think what happens when you start a business, is no one obviously trusts you. And so, when you buy stock; you’ve got to pay cash. But then when you supply stores; they all want payment terms of 60 days with discounts and so that’s probably been our biggest challenge.

You know I haven’t drawn a cent out of the business. My commitment is to grow it at first and to let it  grow on its journey. And so that’s been really tough. I think that’s the toughest part about being an entrepreneur. We’ve approached a lot of different funding options in terms of funding assistance and found that interest rates are ridiculous, or the payment terms are ridiculous. And so, it’s almost unachievable for small businesses to receive assistance.

We are now working with SEDA, the Small Enterprise Development Association and they’ve been phenomenal; so that might open up opportunities for us in terms of paying for some of the development costs. There are so many things we need, such as certification and SEDA is looking at helping us at achieving some it. Entrepreneurs biggest challenge is funding.

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