In late 2017 a unique Public Private Partnership (PPP) was established and the Trust signed a 50 year Notarial lease for La Rochelle for the establishment of the following:
- Agricultural Training centre
- Accommodation for training centre and
- Expansion of country house
The PPP is in synergy with the vision of the NTZ and La Rochelle Organics (Organic Africa) and their business partners have a very good reputation for looking after the environment and being socially responsible in their business operations. Needless to say the project presents an exciting opportunity for ensuring the economic viability of La Rochelle, training and supporting small scale farmers, caring for the environment and raising the profile of the NTZ regionally.
Based on the positive feedback in response to the new management of the property and the upgrading that has taken place, there is enormous potential for growth. This past year has been a busy and eventful one for La Rochelle and we are very happy with how far we have come in working towards our end goals and vision for the “La Rochelle Project”.
The property consists of three main sections: The hotel and Beauty Spa, the grounds and the new organic herb farm. Here are some of the highlights of the year:
Country House Boutique Hotel and Beauty Spa
- A research programme was undertaken in December 2017 and January 2018 to determine attitudes to and understanding of the property in order to obtain information that is useful in planning longer-term future strategy for the venue;
- Occupancy greatly improved with an average occupancy rate of 40%;
- The hotel successfully hosted the following events:
- 10 conferences with top corporates such as Old Mutual, TelOne, ZIMPLATS, Pearl Properties, IDBZ and more;
- Bird courses, vintage car rally, art retreat, jazz evening, food and wine pairings, educational workshops and four weddings;
- A series of musical events were performed by the Peterhouse instrumental group and the Iona Jones Singers of the Phoenix Choir;
- A thatched rondavel was upgraded to house the beauty Spa adjacent to the swimming pool area.
African Apothecary products that are 100% organic and natural products are used for treatments.
- Work on identifying and recording the signatures etched on the famous windows continues, the result will be of great historical significance and will result in a publication;
- The well-known Tjaart Walraven, famous South African chef and judge on the popular show SA Bake Off, came to train the catering staff and new menus;
- The coffee shop area was renovated and extended outside on the patio area;
- High-tea’s in the garden or lunch in the Chinese Pergoda were introduced in the 20ha arboretum, a tranquil venue set amongst exotic trees with a breathtaking view towards the forested mountains on the Mozambique border.
- Further improvements were completed to the orchid house;
- The very rare Lady Virginia Orchid flowered again. It flowered for the first time in 2016 after 40 years of not flowering. The Courtauld’s discovered the rare species and kept it in their greenhouse at Eltham Palace, London. When their greenhouse was destroyed in the Second World War, only a tiny piece of the orchid remained which miraculously they were able to identify and save and it is now on show in the Orchid House;
- Visitors are enjoying exploring the extensive grounds that are continually being improved upon;
- New trails have been established for hiking, biking and horse riding;
- Volley ball and croquet facilities were created;
- A petting farm was opened;
- The dam was restored; children can paddle in the dam, go fishing and boating;
- The large swimming pool was restored.
Organic Herb Farm
The herb farm training centre has seen the establishment of 10 hectares of ‘field test’ of organic herbs and the trials are well on their way and fast expanding. Herbs that have been planted include Lemon Verbena, Peppermint, Chilli, Chamomile, Lemon balm, Fennel, Stinging Nettle, Safflower, Calendula, Caraway, Tulsi, Basil, Thyme, Dandelion, two varieties of Ginger, and three varieties of Turmeric Anise and many have seen their first harvest. Visitors to the hotel can now wader down to the farm and pick fresh herbs to make a cup of herbal tea or pick a few to garnish a sun downer drink with.
The trials were conducted by Mr Dominik Collenberg who holds a Master’s Degree in Organic Farming and Master’s Degree in Economics of Development which means that he has the expertise to implement the project. He is the Director of Organic Africa a company who focus on organic production and are the only company certified in organic fair trade products in Zimbabwe. They are also the only company in southern Africa whereby its small scale farmers have their land certified and so are able to produce high quality herbs.
Calendula growing under acacia tree Lemon Verbena
Organic Africa works extensively with all their producers to help them attain Ethical Biotrade, Organic and Fair Trade certification. An export market was secured for the crops by a leading herbal tea producer based in Europe.
Since September 2017, the farm has trained some 3,889 farmers (2377 female and 1512 male). 47 of them comprised 4 farm managers and 42 contract farmers.
Future plans include the building of a regional agricultural college to train small scale farmers, mainly women, on how to grow crops without using chemicals or fertilisers and how to make compost according to strict organic global regulations.
We are proud to report that the year has been a busy and successful one overall.