What if instead of driving to the grocery store, we walked to the farm? If instead of convening at the local fast food joint, we gathered around a crate of freshly harvested vegetables? If new real estate development didn’t mean another strip mall, but an expansion of farmland?
Sound like a utopian dream? This certainly isn’t how most communities in the United States function, but in an era where farm-to-table is becoming more and more normal, there are a growing number of places that put fresh food before golf courses. The New York Times recently did a piece titled “Farm-to-Table Living,” taking a look at “agrihoods, residential developments where a working farm is the central feature, in the same way that other communities may cluster around a golf course, pool or fitness center.” Farming in the ‘burbs so to say.
There’s Agritopia in Arizona, Serenbe in Georgia and Hidden Springs in Idaho, just to name a few. Are places like these working? If the market is any indicator, yes. Brent Herrington who oversaw the building of an agrihood in Hawaii told The New York Times that he regularly receives calls from developers that want to incorporate farms into housing projects.
In 2009, the Liberty Prairie Foundation released the report Building With Farms, a comprehensive overview with insights from developers and architects, developers and farmers on what it takes to integrate agriculture and development. One of the authors, Michael Sands, highlighted that “If there is any market for new development in the near future, evidence indicates communities that distinguish themselves with integrated farms are gaining momentum in the marketplace.”
When you think about it, building communities around farms makes sense. In fact, it’s what we used to do before we could drive everywhere to get all of our food essentials. These sustainable communities which are pedestrian-friendly and not only promote fresh eating, but also better connection between neighbors, aren’t simply forward thinking, they’re applying concepts that our forefathers used but that we have long forgotten.
Have access to fresh, locally grown food, be able to walk to the post office and enjoy ample outdoor space; isn’t this what suburbs ought to look like? The developments aren’t just idyllic, there’s also an economic benefit for developers. “They’ve figured out that unlike a golf course, which costs millions to build and millions to maintain, they can provide green space that actually earns a profit,” Ed McMahon, a senior fellow for sustainable development at the Urban Land Institute told The New York Times. As the Building with Farms report highlights, there is also a lot of potential for local jobs with developments like these.
What do these agrihoods look like? Here are the basics of four of them. Here’s to hoping more of them start popping up and developers realize the multitude of benefits that come from building sustainable communities with access to real food.
1. Agritopia, Arizona
Residents: 450 residential lots
Farmland: 16 acres, certified organic
Cool fact: Agritopia hosts its own farmer’s market every Wednesday.
2. Serenbe, Georgia
Residents: Approximately 170
Farmland: 30 acres
Cool fact: outdoor lighting regulations ensure clear, starry nights.
3. Willowsford, Virginia
Residents: 135 families
Farmland: 30 acres
Cool fact: A trained chef teaches classes in how to prepare whatever is in season.
4. Prairie Crossing, Illinois
Residents: 360 homes, 36 condominiums
Farmland: 100 acres, certified organic
Cool fact: There is a 5,800 acre preserve with trails that residents can use to walk, bike, run or ski.
Photo Credit: Aaron Charlton