Rustlers Valley Farm is situated 23 kms from Ficksburg in the Eastern Free State, nestled in the scenic Mautse, a part of the Maluti Mountains on the Lesotho side of the Great Drakensburg Mountain Range.
The land is 273 hectares in size, of which 130 hectares is arable and 143 hectares is suitable for grazing. Historically, the farm exported asparagus and was later converted to large-scale permaculture food gardens where food was grown to feed the restaurant and lodge. No chemical fertilisers or pesticides have thus been used on the land for over 20 years.
The farm was also world- renowned amongst music lovers for the Rustlers Valley Easter Rock Festival, held there for many years. But after the land was devastated by fire in 2007, and following the death of the main shareholder in 2008, the property fell into disrepair.
A portion of the land is occupied by the residents of Naledi, who for several decades worked on the farm and provided their families with a primary source of income. The village residents subsequently built the Franshoek Primary School, water connections and a reservoir. Permaculture food gardening was introduced to the village as well and, for a time, every household maintained a productive vegetable garden and some small livestock.
More recently, the villagers have started grazing their cattle on the land, using income from grazing fees to maintain the fences and provide water for the animals. Residents have been waiting with eager anticipation for a decision by the shareholders regarding the future of the farm, so that they can develop the land and the village.
In August 2013, following a decision by the shareholders to sell the farm, and by unanimous resolution of the shareholders, Earthrise Trust was considered the preferred buyer, due to the vision outlined by trustees to use the land to develop an integrated participatory partnership approach to building sustainable rural communities, as well as a commitment to transfer a portion of the land over to the residents of Naledi Village. Following a successful bid and conveyancing process, the sale was registered in December 2013.
Since September 2013, at the outset in the course of negotiating the sale agreement for the Rustlers Valley Farm with the shareholders, members of the Earthrise Trust organised and hosted a series of meetings and conversations with key individuals linked to the farm and the surrounding area. These included the village elders, the elected Village Committee, the school teacher and the school governing body, previous workers and owners of the farm and a selected group of owners of surrounding farms. The trustees also spoke to residents working on social development projects in the area.
The primary purpose of these conversations was to listen, learn and understand the farm’s history, the relationships that exist between and among the various players in the village, to share and to listen to responses to Earthrise’s ideas and if and how these ideas and objectives could be implemented at the farm.
In the process, the trustees began an important process of building relationships based on mutual trust and respect, and consensus on how we could all work together to bring new life to the Rustlers Valley Farm and the surrounding areas.
In addition, the trustees also began a series of consultations with key leaders, both young and old, in local and international not-for-profit organisations involved in the fields of rural community development, small-scale farming, social justice, environmental protection and organisation building.
The purpose of these consultations was to share ideas and to seek alignment and mutual co-operation in building Rustlers Valley Farm as a collaborative development space and a hub for social innovation, integrating active natural resource guardianship.
It is necessary to note that in these conversations, the Earthrise Trustees were very pleased and encouraged by the warm words of welcome and struck by the genuine eagerness, including by the neighbouring farm owners, to work together to develop the valley. The village elders in particular played a key role in facilitating these conversations and providing wise counsel every step of the way.
In addition, a team comprising architects, construction engineers, renewal energy experts, agricultural scientists and fresh produce marketing specialists have visited the farm and provided ideas and support for the project. Earthrise is deeply grateful for their technical expertise and support that have enriched this process greatly over the past six months.
The kind of overwhelming support received from the outset has been the prime motivating factor for the trust to invest financially. This was done by securing the land, as well as by rebuilding the farm and creating the design and development of this initiative.