by Callie

Agrihoods: Back to the Soil?

They call it the “farm-to-table community movement.” As if it were the new black in lifestyle amenity developments, when it’s really bringing a castoff way of living back to life. Some say it’s a rebirth of utopian 1960s hippie dreams, but the concept is much older than that. Dig back in history to the days of settlements that followed the arrival of the Europeans in North America. The commons used for pasturing livestock and at times food has been revived… with a modern twist. Which, yes, has some similarities to communal living, but that’s stretching things quite a bit.

Community Agriculture Is Back

Agrihoods aren’t new, though The Cannery in Davis, California certainly is. It’s a concept in 21st century housing developments that started 20 years ago in the Midwest, and not so different than any other themed development, except perhaps that the lifestyle amenities have broader vision than boating and golf courses. Though both of these kinds of developments have strongly focused on mixing in wildlife preserves and natural green space – not one of them concerns itself with sustainable living. They are affluent communities built around the preferred past times of 6-figured income crowd.

Eating, whether well or poorly, is not a leisure activity. Nor is being conscious of natural space and wildlife conservation, though there are numerous preserve-based communities with sizable lakes where many acres of forest was clear cut and dammed to create miles of waterfront property where Nature never had such a plan. Somehow this doesn’t go along with the ‘environmentally friendly’ back to nature concept such communities portray. To date, no of the farm-to-table foodie developments are on this kind of land. An agrihood is a development built on farmland just outside the city, or conveniently accessible to it. At The Cannery, the housing development sits alongside the remnants of a working farm. The farmhouse looks to be merely decorative office space since the farmers don’t live on the farm.

Some Don’t Get It

To each his own, just as some think GMOs are wonderful…

Bloomberg would have you believe that the agrihood is just a marketing gimmick to lure home buyers away from standard themed subdivisions, and for some of them this may well be true. But there are other aspects to some of these new agricultural themed neighborhoods that those who want to eat local find very attractive too, like sustainable homes to reduce carbon footprints with things like solar energy, and geothermal heating and cooling as part of the original construction. A lot of them are upper end communities with detached homes starting at $600,000 or more, but not all, and location will determine the price range as is normal with all houses for sale.

Basically, they’ve replaced the golf course with a farm, but that’s a huge step up in terms of land use. Most people living in golf course communities don’t even play, and its such a huge waste of good soil and natural resources, though all that turf is a good carbon sink. But it’s not feeding anyone, and requires lots of fertilizer, weed control, water, and weekly mowing to maintain it’s value. The agrihood with organic farm, orchards, neighborhood farm stands, cutting gardens for fresh picked flowers, and gardening plots offer zero miles food, in addition to the spas, trails, stables, community pools, local shopping, and a host of other amenities today’s affluent home buyer seeks. And there’s no reason that modestly priced home developments can’t contain the same. Just nix the excess, built it, and they will come – because good food grown locally is important to so many people.

Some agrihoods have enough space devoted to food production that the harvest will also provide consumers and restaurants beyond the development with fresh, organically grown foods through CSAs, area market shelves, and restaurant fare. So while the mortgage may only work for a limited number of people’s budgets, if the developer sees the bigger picture and has planned accordingly, the agrihood has the potential to enrich the greater community too.

A Little Agrihood History

The very first agrihood in California was actually built in the 1970s, and in Davis, too. The Village Homes development is rich on gardening space, park areas, and open space. Of the total 70 acres in this still very desirable neighborhood, with 220 homes and 23 acres of it are devoted to greenbelts, mature orchards and vineyards, and edible landscaping. But none of the homes are new… and currently only 1 of them is for sale.

There is an agrihood that’s 20 years old in the suburbs of Chicago known as Prairie Crossing. It encompasses a huge tract of land, large sweeps of natural space, and several organic farms along with an attractive set of upscale living amenities. The produce supplies not just residents, but has been providing the area with locally grown food for years.

A decade ago the agrihood, Serenbe, was developed near Atlanta, Georgia, and it too is rich in luxury amenities – including fresh, locally grown food. It’s a foodie’s idea of heaven on Earth, and a beautiful community with lots of natural space for residents to enjoy.

Rapidly Growing Trend

They’re popping up everywhere. It’s likely not a trend that will grow, not fade out. No matter how much a person makes today, most want to buy local and eat locally grown food. If anything this is just the beginning of a major movement, and affordably-priced agrihood homes are coming too.  Farm-themed communities where the houses start at $200,000.

Other agrihoods in the U.S. – planned, under development, and existing:

And it looks like Canadians will soon see agrihoods as a lifestyle option too… Check out Creekside Mills in Vancouver, BC. The first of its kind in the provinces.

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Only strangers knock on the door at Callie's house. People who know her don't bother if the sun is shining - they know to look in the garden.