Royal Agricultural Society finds a ‘new home’ at the Mount Verde Estate, Hilton

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The Royal Agricultural Society (RAS) has found a ‘new home’ at the Mount Verde Estate, Hilton’, where it will serve as a showcase for agricultural and quasi-agricultural activities into the future.

The location – 4 kilometres from the Hilton Village, 8 kilometres from Howick, 12 kilometres from the Pietermaritzburg CBD and only 1.5 kilometres from the N3 – caters for ease of access and affords logistical convenience for visitors and exhibitors alike.

The move is scheduled for September 2023, following the final Royal Show (as we know it) which will take place at its current address from 26 May through 4 June.

Terry Strachan, CEO of the Royal Agricultural Society, said, “Whilst the relocation from the much-loved Royal Showgrounds, that has served as ‘home’ for the past 120 years, will sadly be the end of an era, the move to Mount Verde will signify a ‘new beginning’.  This will see the Society returning to its agricultural roots, with a business model prioritising agricultural endeavours, innovation, education and technology.”

The revitalised business model that zones in on agriculture, moves away from the broad, mixed approach of the traditional Royal Show. As such, the large-scale entertainment including funfairs and concerts, will not form part of the refocused plan. Instead, envisaged events will be largely agriculturally focused and of short-term duration. 

Agricultural focus

Established in 2006, Mount Verde is an agriculturally focused estate with various sizes of actively farmed properties within a secure environment. It is set within 2500 hectares (6000 acres) of prime farmland and made up of 2-hectare to 90-hectare farms. As an agrihood, it is a mixed development that combines agriculture, food and real estate, where an active farming community operates working farms alongside the Mount Verde Village, providing residents with an authentic farm living experience.

The RAS will relocate to the existing 8-hectare Mount Verde Equestrian Centre. The site is centrally located in the Mount Verde Village and already has much of the required infrastructure, including over 2200 sqm of undercover floor space as well as various arenas.

Mayor of uMngeni Local Municipality, Chris Pappas, said “We are delighted to welcome the Royal Agricultural Society to the Umngeni Municipality, where agricultural development remains a priority. As the municipality, we are proud to be leading the way for farmer support, and the Royal Agricultural Society and its partners will no doubt benefit from this like-minded focus in their new location.”

Public Process

Mount Verde property developer, Voigts Property Group, part of Voigts Group, said a professional team was in place to consider all aspects of the RAS relocation and are working closely together with the uMngeni Municipality in this regard.

“Mount Verde’s focus and vision is to create a sustainable and socially integrated agrihood. The RAS new strategic plan fits seamlessly into this vision, with agriculture and agriculturally sustainable businesses being the agrihood’s primary economic development targets,” said André Voigts of Voigts Property Group.

He added, “Mount Verde has a range of farming activities and the RAS vision of showcasing agricultural products, technologies and innovations will benefit not only owners within Mount Verde, but also the surrounding and greater agricultural communities across the country. Mount Verde provides the perfect backdrop to the RAS’s new vision and strategy.”

All RAS events and activities would comply with the Mount Verde Management Association Rules. Activities envisaged include:

  • partnerships and associations to promote, showcase, and increase awareness of agriculture, agri-business and agri-processing opportunities.
  • affording exposure to individuals, organisations and interest groups involved in horticulture, silviculture, viticulture, biosecurity, food security, agricultural education and training, information and communication technology, renewable energy, hydroponics and organic farming
  • agri-focused events including a Red Meat Festival, agricultural and construction equipment exhibitions, equestrian events, feather and fur expos, livestock shows, cattle auctions, sheep, wool and goat exhibitions, apiarian (honey and bee) exhibitions, silviculture and forestry exhibitions, as well as events showcasing local crafts and home industry, viticulture, other land produced produce, craft beer and gin, and local artworks.
  • The venue will also provide facilities for smaller scale conferencing and appropriate social events.
  • community focussed, with the on-site RAS Showgrounds at Mount Verde supporting local stores, restaurants, Mount Verde and neighbouring Farmers.

Agrihoods on the rise

Agrihoods such as Mount Verde Estate are part of the larger real estate trend of “new urbanism” to create walkable, mixed-use communities.  At its core, Mount Verde consists of working sustainable farms that promotes local farming, healthy living and an appreciation for fresh, organic foods. While the agrihood concept is still new and evolving worldwide, demand for this lifestyle is growing rapidly, as millennials and other homebuyers seek out contemporary lifestyles that support healthy living, a strong sense of community, food security, simplicity, space and sustainability, accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic and the shift towards remote working.

Mount Verde is poised to become the biggest residential active farming estate within Southern Africa, with current planning to integrate a village, hamlets and smaller farmettes that is akin to traditional agricultural village development within an agricultural environment.

The first phase of Mount Verde established in 2008, consists of farms that fall under the jurisdiction of Mount Verde Farmers Association (MVFA) and focus on intensive crops such as rosemary, thyme, lavender, blueberries, macadamias, avocado and proteas, along with sustainable tree production.. The next phase of Mount Verde is currently underway and consists of Mount Verde Ridge farmettes, and the Mount Verde Village which shall be made up of farmettes, a mixed-use village centre and higher density residential hamlets; with a vision of a comprehensive plan for the future that is intentionally rural promoting wellness and sustainability.

At the recent RAS AGM, Strachan stated that the synergies that exist between the Royal Agricultural Society and the bucolic nature of the Mount Verde Estate will cater for a functional, harmonious and pleasing association for all stakeholders. Accordingly, the Society is looking immensely forward to a new beginning and returning to its original roots.