Sustainable Living Communities: What It takes
WeCommunities, a brand under Vivaasv Infra Pvt. Ltd., brings together people who wish to live in a community aligned on shared ideas and goals. We started with the idea of a community which wished to explore sustainable living as a long term goal and started the Tamarind Valley Farming Collective in 2017.
People ask us many questions. What is a Collective? How can I be a part of it? How do you bring together people aligned on shared goals and interests? What are the steps and complexities involved in setting up these Collectives? To address all these questions and also to share our learnings so far, we created this as a sort of a ready-reckoner. A really long one though :)
Many people in urban areas are interested in growing their own food, growing food sustainably, own and live on a farm, and be part of a place and a community which has shared ideas and goals around sustainable living. We spoke to many people who had these goals and tried understanding some of the issues they were facing. Some of the common points aired by people were — lack of knowledge about farming aspects, lack of information about finding suitable land, navigating complex procedures and laws, not having enough time to take care of the land, managing farming, cost of operations if done individually and more.
Two other issues facing people living in urban areas in India are polluted air and contaminated water.
Our community-first approach in building our collectives, and the way we operate them is one way to mitigate the practical issues faced by people who wish to do these things, and to create ecologically and economically sustainable communities.
The following are the important constituents of our sustainable community projects:
- collaborative community model
- naturally and organically grown unadulterated food
- clean air and water
- economic and ecological sustainability
We consolidated all the issues that were of serious concern and started working on a framework to address each point. We broadly categorized them into the following:
- How our Collectives work
- Farming & Infrastructure
This image represents in a nutshell the entire process/steps involved in setting up a sustainable farming collective.
Land & Location
There are two ways we start working on a possible collective, 1. existence of a land parcel about 2–3 hours driving distance from a city, or 2. existence of an initial group of people who are interested in a specific location.
In either case, we do not buy the identified land parcels. And, there is a good reason for that. Unlike typical land development or real estate development projects, we do not buy, design and then sell.
We do the exact opposite. We first form an initial community, do collaborative design and then build.
Our capital does not get ‘locked’ in a long and uncertain sales cycle. We can, thus, work on thinner margins resulting in end-benefits for the members.
Formation of an Initial Interest Group
First, we bring together an interested group of people. We have deep and intense discussions about our model of setting up these communities and how the entire process works. We do not ask for upfront financial commitments. That comes much later.
A strong like-minded community takes shape. This initial group invariably brings on board their friends/family to be part of the collective. We are deeply passionate about the coming together of this community. This initial group also collaborates in finalizing the specifications (per member land parcel, farm strategy, house sizes, common amenities) of the Collective.
We ‘go ahead’ with a project only when about 40% of the total envisaged members group is in place. The viability of the project becomes stronger with 40% of ‘sales’ completed even before the project has started.
The community is the core of all our Collectives.
How a Collective takes shape, how engaged it is, and how it grows into a vibrant, rich and resilient place depends entirely on the members. We talk to every interested person, and spend a good amount of time to understand their ideas and motivations of being a part of one of the Collectives.
Those who align on long term shared goals of a Collective and contribute to and agree with living with like-minded people in a community are the ones whom we allow to become a part of the eventual community. We, invariably, say no to many potential members — those looking for short-term investment appreciation products, wanting only land parcels, not aligned to the long term ideas of being part of a sustainable collaborative community, etc.
The community members are also part of all the steps involved in setting up the Collective — farm and architecture design, all farm activities (nursery set up, planting, harvesting, dairy & poultry operations, etc.), framing and operationalizing the Collective’s rules, conducting workshops, interfacing with existing surrounding communities, running experiments around sustainable living and farming, work on ideas to add value to farm produce, and more.
Our business and longevity as a responsible business organization lies in us adhering to strict processes we follow since we deal with complexities associated with buying land in different states of India. We work with leading lawyers and have developed deep domain knowledge in the vagaries associated with different state-mandated land laws. We follow a strict process of due diligence in making sure land titles are clear and free of past and potential litigation.
How our Collectives Work?
Based on extensive discussions with a wide variety of people, and potential issues faced — lack of knowledge about farming aspects, lack of information about finding suitable land, navigating complex procedures and laws, not having enough time to take care of the land, cost burden if done individually, inefficiency, etc. — we feel setting up these Collectives are the way forward to tackle some of these problems.
Individuals buy small portions of a farm as part of a Collective, which together purchases a larger land footprint — 80–100 acres+. We build an entire ‘village-like’ infrastructure — low-footprint, local-design houses, integrated farm (poultry, dairy, and more), and other necessary infrastructure (power, irrigation, earth works). We also create housing for farm support families (usually landless families) to become our community partners and work on the farm. The Collectives’ members can participate and also ‘own’ various farm and other projects of the community.
We also create and partner with like-minded organizations to run hospitality services at these Collectives.
Lowered risks and cost, efficient usage of natural and resources and creating vibrant resilient communities is the long-term goal.
Our processes are also transparent and we keep all members updated about execution milestones, approval cycles, delays, issues via common forums (WhatsApp, Email, meetings, others).
Once a Collective is 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 relevant legal entity — a co-operative or a Farmers Producer Company — to run the P&L and other accounting related activities of the Collective. WeCommunities will plant, harvest, brand and sell produce via the members’ Co-operative/FPO.
Farming & Design
Sustainable design, processes and operations form the bedrock on which we build our Collectives. We have deep in-house capabilities in sustainable natural integrated farming based on the principles of agro-forestry and permaculture. The idea is to create self-sustaining natural farms grown with ideas borrowed from agro-forestry, permaculture, natural farming methods, etc. Local and native species of plants and trees, all possible fruits and vegetables, integrated food forests and wildlife corridors, longterm timber, ecologically sustainable design and practices are factored in while designing the Collectives.
- local sourcing & procurement
- material choice
- permaculture study and zoning design
We have extensive experience in
- setting up and running indigenous breed poultry and dairy operations
- sourcing of resilient, low-maintenance and high-yield seeds and saplings
- natural and organic farming methodologies
- natural pest management
- professionally set up and managed farm communities
Infrastructure and experience
We are a 5-year old company with experience in building, construction, design, legal and implementing various real-estate development projects. We have domain knowledge of legal intricacies, processes, approval requirements and liasoning with various statutory and regulatory authorities/agencies.
We have implemented projects in two different states and are now working on a new project in the northern part of the country. We work like an agile start-up business, with a small core team.
We have built capabilities in various engineering and construction areas, and have access to a rich and experienced team, including managing and scaling up as and when required.
Dwellings and design
The houses and other dwelling units at our Collectives mirror local design and architecture elements and are cognizant of overall footprint, light, air, energy and impact on the land and ecology.
We work with leading sustainable and integrated design practitioners who study, measure and implement designs based on the interplay of factors shaping the local ecology: geographical location, land topography, rivers and waterways, rainwater catchments and our interventions in each of these. Long term energy efficiency of the buildings and reduced energy usage during the construction phase are an important factor of the dwelling units.
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 Vivaasv Infra Private Limited, is responsible for -
- Project conceptualization 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
- Engaging with partners for 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 1.5, 2.5 or 5 acres or varies from one Collective to the other
- For 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
- For the 5 acre unit, 4.2 acres is farm land registered in individual owners’ names, and the rest as part of the common pool
- All construction — of the individually owned cluster 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 the Collective association/co-operative
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 1.5/2.5 acre land really mean? Are all lands 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 18–20 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 ones 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 commuity guidelines.
What are the annual maintenance charges? How is this fixed?
Maintenance charges for the first three 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. 5k/month, and we target cost neutral operations in 3–5 years.
WeCommunities — a brief
- Brand of Vivaasv Infra Pvt. Ltd.
- 5-year old company
- Multi-state multi-project experience
- Diverse design, engineering, construction, farming experience
- Tamarind Valley Farming Collective, Tamil Nadu (75+ acres collective farm)
- Rose Valley Collective, Tamil Nadu (80+ acres collective farm)
- The Maralwadi Hamlet, Karnataka (20 acres community project)
- Tijara Heritage Collctive, Rajasthan (70+ acres collective farm)
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