Crossways Farm Village5th Dec 2019
New towns, old farms, 21st-century opportunities
Forget gold, and forget the stock exchange – agriculture is the basis of our economy, the source of our wealth, and the single most important economic activity on the planet. Without agriculture, we will die. But most people today live in cities, and acquire food from supermarkets without a thought to the agricultural processes that actually produced that food. It’s efficient, but it’s alienating. It doesn’t have to be like this, though, if we return to basics by reconnecting with our agricultural roots. ‘Agriculture,’ says Chris Mulder, ‘is the new golf.’
Dr Mulder – founder of CMAI, a multidisciplinary planning and design firm, and former horticulturist/farmer turned landscape architect, developer and urban designer behind three of Knysna’s most successful communities (Belvidere Estate, Pezula Private Estate and Thesen Islands) – has now turned his attention to Crossways Farm Village midway between Port Elizabeth and Jeffreys Bay.
CMAI Architects, as the company is known now, began applying for the development rights more than 10 years ago, Dr Mulder’s intention being to put into practice the things he’s learned about our connection to the land, and to the food and livelihoods.
Lost links to the land
When people first began aggregating into settled communities all over the world, we built hamlets that fed villages, and villages that fed towns – with agriculture at the core of their economies. Even as the size of these settlements grew, their physical centres remained within spitting distance of the farms (or forests, or oceans) that supplied their people with the nourishment that allowed them to thrive. But that’s no longer the case: most city dwellers today have no links to the land that feeds them. This is not a new problem. By the end of the 19thcentury, people like Ebenezer Howard recognised how the industrial revolution had impacted on the way people lived, so he came up with the concept of garden cities that would allow people to live in harmony with nature.
‘This was known as the New Urbanism – but instead of urbanism,’ says Mulder, ‘I became interested in the New Ruralism because of the opportunities it could create for South Africa.’ Land use, he says, can be divided into only three categories: conservation, agriculture and human settlement. The latter category he calls uitvalgrond, i.e. land that is suitable for human settlement because it isn’t required by, or doesn’t have to be preserved for, agriculture or conservation.
Dr Mulder and CMAI spent years trying to create new rural developments close to Plettenberg Bay, Cape Town, Velddrif and Montagu, but they came up against the Subdivision of Agricultural Land Act, and the phenomenon of ‘urban edges’. While this law was designed to protect farmland from indiscriminate development, it also precluded the development of new rural ‘towns’ that would, by design, protect such agricultural land.
Which is why Western Cape Premier Alan Winde has recently tasked his officials with finding a solution to the situation, because this regulation stands in the way of the national priorities for food security, rural development, poverty alleviation, and job creation and training.
Nevertheless, the status quo sent Dr Mulder searching further afield – and he found his opportunity in the Eastern Cape when a successful dairy farm close to the Van Staden’s River Bridge, and on the historic Apple Express narrow-gauge railway line, came up for sale.
Crossways Farm Village – welcome to the New Ruralism
CMAI’s design ethos has always sought to build environmentally and economically sustainable communities by creating networks between people of different incomes, and by creating links between human settlement and the natural environment – so Crossways was always going to be a perfect fit. The 520-hectare property had ‘strong rural-urban linkages, is close to an impoverished urban village with a high unemployment rate, while being in an area of great natural beauty.’
CMAI Architects, studied the property in minute detail – analysing every aspect of the environment, testing the soils for compatibility with agricultural use, and learning and understanding the make-up of the landscape – before recommending which portions should be designated as ‘no-go’ areas (about 180ha of the farm now reserved strictly for conservation), ‘slow-go’ areas (167ha reserved for agriculture), and ‘go-go’ areas (173ha suitable for human settlement).
The design concept for Crossways Farm Village thus establishes a number of smaller ‘hamlets’ within the farm environment, with unimpeded access paths for the cattle (‘the members of our exclusive club, with their own clubhouse in the milking parlour’). There’s also a light industrial work area that faces the N2, and that has space for non-polluting businesses, as well as a visitor node.
Life is an adventure
But Crossways is not just about agriculture and light industry. It’s in an area of spectacular natural beauty, and it’s an adventure paradise. The village is criss-crossed by MTB and hiking trails, and the equestrian centre is ground zero for some fabulous horseback exploration. It’s adjacent to the Longmore Forest, and smack in the middle of the 3 Rivers Trails network, which has more than 200km of trails, including about 65km of single-track – and also some nice gentle, kid-friendly routes. Crossways hosted the Weekend Warrior roadshow late last year to great acclaim. Of course, such events are on hold for the moment but, once we’ve all come to terms with SARS-CoV-2, the Village is poised to host many more such events.
Crossways is close to Jeffreys Bay, which offers some of the best surfing on the planet, and keen paraglider and hang glider pilots can fly over the spectacular Van Stadens River after taking off from the nearby Lady’s Slipper. The Van Stadens Gorge is a climber’s mecca with in excess of 300 sport routes and 150 trad routes, as well as some fabulous bouldering. For an equally exciting, but much less strenuous adventure, the Van Stadens Wild Flower Reserve is a great place to amble around looking at birds and flowers, and the fabulous views.
Family is everything
Crossways is a great place to bring up a family. Kids can hike, run, bike, ride a horse and/or just explore outdoors in perfect safety. The fabulous Woodridge College and Preparatory School, which offers holistic education from pre-primary to Grade 12, is a short drive away. And, for any real urban needs, the city of Port Elizabeth, and its airport, is a mere 40 minutes’ drive. So Crossways offers the best of both worlds – a fabulous rural lifestyle free from the hustle and bustle of urban life, but with the opportunity to take advantage of the energy and resources of an urban centre when you need to.
Governance is central
The interesting aspect of Crossways, though, is its management model. While all properties are sold freehold (stands range from 220 to 8,500 square metres in size), all buildings on the project must conform to strict design and environmental guidelines, with requirements for energy efficiency, water harvesting (depending on stand size), and sewerage (which is fed into the farm’s own bio-scrubbing system that delivers clean water to a wetland that further purifies it into its organic, chemical-free, natural state).
As ‘South Africa’s first declared Rural New Town’, Crossways Farm Village’s HOA (which was constituted almost four years ago after the first two phases were sold out, and which is currently in sound financial condition) runs the development as a municipality of its own, buying its top-up electricity needs from Eskom, and its potable water from the municipality of Port Elizabeth, and selling them on to residents. It has also built its own wastewater treatment plant, and manages the public areas, including streetside vegetable gardens and the commercial dairy operation – with all its infrastructure – on behalf of the residents. The farmland – the land on high-potential soils – has been registered under a separate title deed so that it will remain zoned for agriculture forever.
‘Although Thornhill isn’t a direct neighbour, we have made provision for the people who live there – creating jobs as well as entrepreneurial opportunities that will benefit them directly,’ says Dr Mulder. This includes what he calls ‘embedded design’ or ‘labour-intensive design’. For example, lamp-posts or bollards must be made by local workers from raw materials, and must conform to a high level of artistry.
‘In addition, we’ve created sustainability for the Thornhill Trust – which sees to the needs of Thornhill Village – by mandating a donation of 2.5% of the initial purchase price of each title deed as a donation to the Trust, and a further 0.5% of the resale value of each property in perpetuity.’ (This requirement is included in each title deed.)
Membership of the HOA is compulsory for all home owners, who are required to assent to, and sign, a raft of different documents, including the constitution, and environmental and architectural design bibles.
Sustainability is not negotiable
From the centre to the perimeter, sustainability was a conscious decision right from the start. Not just by providing municipal services such as sewerage, water and electricity that would – eventually – remove Crossways Farm Village from the grid, but also for the broader community.
Designed around the principles of food security, rural development, job creation, poverty alleviation and training, Crossways Farm Village is not an island of privilege. Rather the village works as part of the surrounding community, because the New Ruralism does not just look in – focusing only on what is within the development – but also looks out, acknowledging that, as communities, regions and provinces, and as a country, we stand or fall together. Crossways’s relationship with its neighbours encompasses more than the community trust it’s set up – it’s a living, breathing, interactive relationship. A partnership set up for the long haul.
When you think of the implications of living this reality, you begin to understand why Chris and Pat Mulder have decided to move permanently from their home in Thesen Islands, Knysna, to Crossways. It’s not just to concentrate on making a success of Crossways Farm Village, but because, quite honestly, it’s the way they want to live. It’s a far cry from the standard golf estate, so you have to wonder why Mulder thinks agriculture is the new golf when, in reality, agriculture looks more like the new future.
Crossways Farm Village consists of several Agri-hoods, with over 700 stands in total. The Castle Ridge Neighbourhood is well under way with a number of homes completed. The XW Hub (around the well-known Crossways Country Kitchen) with commercial and industrial stands, including a mountain-biking hub, has recently come on to the market, and the XW Main Street above the dam is eagerly anticipated. Stands range from an affordable 250 square metres to magnificent 8,500 square-metre ‘gentle farming’ homesteads. Browse the full property portfolio.
Crossways at a glance
- Crossways Farm Village is approximately 540 hectares, consisting of:
- 13 developments, of which 9 are residential, two are commercial, and two are industrial
- 660 residentials stands
- 67 commercial/industrial and agricultural stands
- 110 hectares under irrigation, supporting 400 cows
- five waste handling stands.
- Significant progress has been made:
- Phases 1, 2 and 11, all bulk services, have been completed.
- 97 stands have been sold in Phases 1 and 2, with 50 currently on the market.
- Nine commercials stands have been sold in Phase 11.
- 29 houses have been completed in phases 1 and 2, and 10 new houses are currently under construction.
- Phases 3 to 10 are awaiting construction for internal and bulk services.
- Some industrial and commercial areas will soon be launched to go on the market.
- Various smaller development pockets will be available to individual investors to develop.
- All rights are in place, and bulk services available.
- It’s estimated it will take 10 years to reach completion.