Rivers Road Organic Farms is a unique rural development located on Rivers Road, Canowindra, NSW, Australia. For over 2 decades it has allowed small growers to cooperate and become independent and viable organic farmers. The development makes use of the NSW Community Land Management Act to create 12 farm blocks and 10 additional residential blocks in an Eco Village concept. A Management Statement contains the by-laws of the development, most of which are specified by the Act but of which this is the most important:
“The objective of this Neighbourhood Scheme is to facilitate the creation of viable intensive organic agricultural developments by promoting co-operation and self-reliance among the proprietors of Lots in the Neighbourhood Plan.” By-Law 1, Neighbourhood Management Statement, Rivers Road Organic Farms, DP 285610.
The above by-law can only be changed by unanimous decision by all members of this neighbourhood plan, and therefore is an effective organic covenant.
This unusual application of organic certification formed the basis for Cowra Council approval of the Development Application in 1998. The Council was at the time accutely aware of the risks of rural subdivision in areas of prime agricultural land. They referred to a NSW shire council which had been sued by a resident of a subdivided block adjacent to cotton farms, because of the chemical drift.
The use of an organic covenant within a community title subdivision effectively took this risk away, as it passes the decision making authority to an independent third party – an accredited certification body working to an internationally recognised standard for non-toxic, clean agriculture: the National Standard for Organic and Biodynamic Agriculture.
The next question was the minimum allowed size for the blocks. This was a function of a simple question – what size can generate a basic (minimum) family income. It was decided that 8 hectares was such a size, when on the rich Canowindra red clay, with the availability of reliable water from licences held on the Belubula River and a bore. The sizes of the 12 farm blocks range from 7.75 to 14 hectares, plus a 20 hectare commons, which includes the laneways and biodiversity belts of trees between the farm blocks, as well as the irrigation system. The irrigation system is maintained by the group, but the energy costs and usage charges are born by the users, depending on their usage, as all blocks have their own water meters.
Cowra Council still imposed a rule the design of the development so that residential development would not take place all over the place, but rather in one part of the subdivision. The idea is that the integrity of the agricultural land needed to be protected. The resulting “village” in the middle of the farm has now become an asset to the community. The ten 0.5 hectare (60m x 80m) house blocks are like an “eco village” with owner-built houses and families who are great friends and organic farming collegues. Many, but not all, of the house blocks adjoin the farm blocks.
More building is being planned, but the type of ongoing development is now directed by an evolving Landscape and Architectural Standard, created by the existing members. So far, all of the houses are built of strawbale, or mudbrick, or hybrids of these and modern building systems. The main thrust of the current Standard is that future buildings should continue in the theme of earth building materials. Also, a Noise and Odour Standard has been created and continues to evolve, and it protects village amenity whilst also noting that the development is primarily agricultural, and therefore the keeping of animals and the use of tractors and machinery, are permitted.
At present, the majority of the farm has been developed to organic viticulture, olive growing, livestock and vegetable growing by the members. There is a substantial amount of informal cooperation between the members, but no formal joint ventures or partnerships. The members have come from diverse backgrounds and bring unique skills, and investment, to Canowindra and all are developing successful and sustainable businesses. Members who have internet sites include Rosnay, Gardners Ground, Kala Vista and Rayz.
A model small farm development
We believe that Rivers Road Organic Farms is a working example of the application of Community Title for the development of prime agricultural land for the co-existence of residential, environmental, and agricultural production values. Indeed, in the last decade, our Annual General Meetings have had nothing to discuss except the compulsory issues of budget, insurances, executive committee elections, etc. This in itself is the sign of a healthy community. We thank Cowra Council for its vision and hope that other people will find the structure to be of interest.