How our Farming Collectives work?

WeCommunities on Medium
11 min readMar 15, 2021

Sustainable Farming Communities: What It takes

WeCommunities brings together individuals who wish to live in a community united by shared ideas and goals. Our journey began in 2017 with the creation of the Tamarind Valley Farming Collective, inspired by the vision of sustainable farm living as an attainable goal.

We often receive questions such as: What is a Collective? How can I join? How do you unite people with common goals and interests? What are the steps and complexities in establishing these collectives? To answer these questions and share our experiences, we developed this comprehensive guide — a detailed ready-reckoner for anyone interested.

The Trigger

Many urban residents are interested in growing their own food, practicing natural farming, owning and living on a farm, and being part of a community with shared sustainable living goals. We spoke with many individuals who share these aspirations and identified several common challenges they face: lack of farming knowledge, difficulty finding suitable land, navigating complex procedures and laws, insufficient time to manage the land, high individual operational costs, and more.

Additionally, urban dwellers in India struggle with issues like pesticide-laden food, polluted air, and contaminated water. Our community-first approach in building and operating our collectives addresses these practical challenges, helping to create ecologically and economically sustainable communities.

The key components of our sustainable community projects include:

- A collaborative community model

- Naturally grown, unadulterated food

- Eco-friendly housing

- Economic and ecological sustainability

We identified all the major concerns and developed a framework to address each one. We broadly categorized them into the following areas:

  1. Land/Location
  2. Community
  3. How Our Collectives Operate
  4. Farming & Infrastructure
  5. Dwellings

Land & Location

There are two ways we initiate a potential collective:

1. Identifying a land parcel within a two-hour drive from a city, or

2. Forming an initial group of people interested in a specific location.

In either case, we do not purchase the identified land parcels, and there is a good reason for this. Unlike typical land development or real estate projects, we do not buy, design, and then sell. Instead, we do the exact opposite. We first form an initial community, engage in a collaborative design process, and then build.

This approach prevents our capital from being locked in a long and uncertain sales cycle, allowing us to work on thinner margins and provide greater benefits to our members.

Formation of an Initial Interest Group

We begin by bringing together a group of interested individuals. We have in-depth discussions with potential members about our model for setting up these communities and the entire process. We do not ask for upfront financial commitments, which comes much later.

A strong, like-minded community starts to take shape, often involving friends and family of the initial group members. We are deeply passionate about fostering this community. This initial group also collaborates on finalizing the specifications of the collective, such as individual land parcels, farm strategies, house sizes, and common amenities.

We move forward with a project once the seed member group is in place. The project’s viability is strengthened by having this seed community established before the project begins.

Community

The community is at the heart of all our collectives. The way a collective takes shape, its level of engagement, and its growth into a vibrant, rich, and resilient community depend entirely on its members. We engage in thorough conversations with every interested person to understand their ideas and motivations for joining one of our collectives.

We only accept those who align with the collective’s long-term shared goals and are committed to living with like-minded individuals. We often decline potential members who seek short-term investment opportunities, are only interested in land parcels, or do not share the long-term vision of a sustainable, collaborative community.

Community Involvement

Community members participate in every step of setting up the collectives, including farm and architectural design, all farm activities (such as nursery setup, planting, harvesting, and dairy and poultry operations), framing and operationalizing the collective’s rules, conducting workshops, interacting with surrounding communities, engaging in experiments around natural farming and farm living, and developing ideas to add value to farm produce.

Due Diligence

Our commitment to being a responsible business lies in adhering to strict processes, especially given the complexities associated with buying land in different Indian states. We work with leading lawyers and have developed deep expertise in navigating state-specific land laws. We meticulously ensure that land titles are clear and free from potential disputes and future litigation.

How our Collectives Work?

Based on extensive discussions with a diverse range of individuals and an understanding of their challenges — such as a lack of farming knowledge, difficulty finding suitable land, navigating complex procedures and laws, limited time to manage land, high individual costs, and inefficiency — we believe that setting up these collectives is the way forward to address these issues.

Individuals purchase small portions (1 to 1.5 acres) within a larger farm area (60 to 80 acres). We develop comprehensive “village-like” infrastructure, including housing made from local and natural materials, integrated farms (poultry, dairy, etc.), and essential infrastructure (power, irrigation, earthworks). We also provide housing for farm support families, typically landless farmers, who become our community partners and work on the farm. Collective members can participate in and “own” various farm and community projects.

Our long-term goal is to reduce risks and costs, use natural resources efficiently, and create vibrant, resilient communities.

Our processes are transparent, and we keep all members informed about execution milestones, approval cycles, delays, and issues through common forums (WhatsApp, email, meetings, etc.) and monthly meetings. Once a collective is completed and handed over to the members, WeCommunities enters into a multi-year agreement (usually 25 years) to manage the farming and other operations. The members form a legal entity — a cooperative or a Farmers Producer Company — to handle the P&L and other accounting activities of the collective. WeCommunities takes responsibility for planting, harvesting, branding, and selling the produce through the members’ entity.

Farming & Design

Sustainable design, processes, and operations are the foundation of our collectives. We possess deep in-house expertise in sustainable natural integrated farming, guided by principles of agroforestry and permaculture. Our goal is to create self-sustaining natural farms using techniques from agroforestry, permaculture, and natural farming methods. We incorporate local and native plant and tree species, various fruits and vegetables, integrated food forests, wildlife corridors, timber, and ecologically sustainable practices into the design of our collectives.

We collaborate with leading sustainability design firms to incorporate local sustainable design elements in:

- Local sourcing and procurement

- Material choice

- Construction

- Permaculture study and zoning design

- Implementation

We have extensive experience in:

- Setting up and running indigenous breed poultry and dairy operations

- Sourcing resilient, low-maintenance, high-yield seeds and saplings

- Natural and organic farming methodologies

- Natural pest management

  • Professionally managing farm communities

Infrastructure and Experience

We are a seven-year-old company with experience in building, construction, design, legalities, and implementing various real estate development projects. We possess domain knowledge of legal intricacies, processes, approval requirements, and liaising with various statutory and regulatory authorities/agencies.

We have successfully implemented projects in two different states and are currently working on a new project in northern India. Operating like an agile startup, we have a small core team with expertise in various engineering and construction areas. We also have access to a rich and experienced team that can scale up as needed.

Dwellings and design

The houses and other dwelling units in our collectives reflect local design and architectural elements, mindful of their overall footprint, light, air, energy, and environmental impact.

We collaborate with leading sustainable and integrated design practitioners who study, measure, and implement designs based on various factors influencing the local ecology: geographical location, land topography, rivers and waterways, rainwater catchments, and our interventions in these areas. Long-term energy efficiency and reduced energy usage during construction are key considerations for these dwelling units.

FAQs

What are the principles on which our Collectives are conceptualised?

While each Collective community will frame a detailed set of rules that everyone will agree to, and sign an MoU, a set of baseline ideas are as follows

· Ownership is individual (except for the common pool of land), but the farm planning, operations, maintenance are jointly done by WeCommunities in association with the members of the collective.

· The team employed for farm and hospitality operations are employees of the Collective.

· The farm will be developed in accordance with the principles of agro-forestry and permaculture, with small adaptations and deviations agreed to by the majority of the Collective, adhering to sustainable farming practices.

· All members, current and future, will sign the MoU that ensures they automatically agree to the above, the rules framed by the Collective and any amendments made in the future.

· To attain long term goals of the Collectives, WeCommunities enters into a 25-year farm operations and management agreement.

Who is driving the Collective? What are their authorities and liabilities?

WeCommunities, a part of Vivasv Infra Private Limited, is responsible for -

· Project conceptualisation and execution

· Signing up and managing architects, farm consultants, infrastructure vendors, etc

· Farming operations for 25 years through a contract signed with the individual members and manage through Co-operative/Farmers Producer Company comprising of members of the Collective

· All land acquisition, construction, civil work

· On-boarding and managing contractors as necessary

· Hospitality operations and marketing through a contract for the same with the community, as well as with individual home owners where desired

How is the land owned? Definition of each unit? Land usage?

· Each unit is 1, 1.5 or 2 acres or varies from one Collective to the other

· In some of our previous collectives, we have the concept of cluster-based housing. For e.g.: In the 1.5 acre unit, 1.25 acres is farm land registered in individual owners’ names, with a 2400 sq ft portion for the housing (in a cluster format) and the rest as part of the common pool

· For the 2.5 acre unit, 2.1 acres is farm land registered in individual owners’ names, and the rest as part of the common pool. In the prior collectives, the shared land is registered under the cooperative’s name, becoming an indivisible asset among the collective’s members.

· In our on-going and up-coming collectives, the house will be built on the individual demarcated land which is registered on the member’s name.

· All construction — of the individually owned units, common infrastructure, staff quarters, hospitality infrastructure will be on the common pool. Other usage may include roads, water bodies etc. Except for the individual units, the ownership of all other assets, and of the common pool of the land itself, lies with WeCommunities

Who takes decisions on future development?

· The community — association/co-op does it in accordance with the bye laws

· The bye-laws are themselves framed by the community with inputs from a legal expert

What does having a 1/1.5 acre land really mean? Are all land parcels the same in terms of being arable, accessible, etc? Will each plot’s land be clearly earmarked? What rights do you have on your plot?

Not all land will be exactly the same, and will not have the same usage. In a large ecosystem, the forest, various topography zones, water channels — all play a role. Each plot of land will be earmarked on a map and be identifiable. However there will not be physical boundaries on the ground.

How much effort is required to be put in by every member?

The whole idea is that while most people have an intent to get involved, the amount of effort and time they might be able to put in will vary. This is why WeCommunities professionally manages the farm and oversees the team employed there by the Collective to ensure the farm continues to make progress. However, all the effort and time members put into this will help the farm do better, and help create and connect routes to markets, value added products.

Timeline for construction?

Estimate is about 18–24 months from when all construction approvals are in place. Individual land registration of members happens immediately after signing-up.

Are bank loans available?

No direct financing options are available. Loan against existing property or existing property loan top-up options are available via our banking partner.

Can one decide what can be grown on their own plot?

Experimentation on land is welcome. Any owner can submit ideas, time frame, and help and resources needed for execution. If the association decides in the affirmative, we’ll go ahead. If it works, we expand to larger scale.

Water security — how do we ensure this?

Collective effort + permaculture consultant plans. Lakes, gully plugs, swales, trap and harvest as much water as possible.

Can we freely rent out or sell one’s property? How will this be governed?

A member can sell, with a first right of refusal within the collective or referrals from there at a price of the member’s choice. Rentals — depends on community guidelines.

What are the annual maintenance charges? How is this fixed?

Maintenance charges for the first two years are already included in the per unit cost. Post that, the P&L statement will determine charges or revenue share. Estimates indicate this will not exceed Rs. 12k–15k/month, and we target cost neutral operations in 3–5 years.

WeCommunities — a brief

· Brand of Vivasv Infra Pvt. Ltd.

· 7-year old company

· Bengaluru-based

· Multi-state multi-project experience

· Diverse design, land & legal, engineering, construction, farming experience

On-going projects

· Tamarind Valley Farming Collective, Tamil Nadu (90 acres collective farm) — Fully Subscribed

· Rose Valley Collective, Tamil Nadu (60+ acres collective farm) — Fully Subscribed

· The Madakkal Ridges, Tamil Nadu (60+ acres collective farm) — Accepting new members

· Neemli Hillside Collective, Rajasthan (70+ acres collective farm) — Accepting new members

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WeCommunities on Medium

Building communities | Regenerative Farming | Earth-friendly design