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Welcome to the Agrihood: Building Communities with Community Gardens, Farm Stands and More

Agrihoods_Neighbors Dining Outside

Agrihoods help build community spirit when neighbors can gather to enjoy the veggies they’ve grown together.

Swimming pool. Clubhouse. Golf course. Hiking trail. Farm. These are among the many amenities new homebuilders offer buyers in today’s new communities.

Wait a minute. Farm? Yes, you read that right.

Whether it’s a working farm, vegetable gardening plots, farm stands, participatory cooking classes or Happy Farmer family nights, builders are finding ways to introduce community agriculture, or so-called agrihoods, into new-home developments.

The Agrihood Craze

Offering homebuyers both practical and emotional benefits, the agrihood trend builds on such themes as health, wellness, slow food, whole food and hyperlocal food production, says Brent Herrington, executive vice president of DMB, a developer of residential communities in Arizona, California and Hawaii.

“I see it as a slow revolution that has taken hold and started to be an animating force in the real estate industry rather than just a fringe lifestyle choice that individual people may have made in decades past,” Herrington says.

The tangible benefits are primarily edible as community agricultural efforts produce a bountiful harvest. Tenant farmers and residents grow lettuces, kales, herbs, tomatoes, onions, squashes, okras, peas, mushrooms, garlic, peppers and much more. Produce is also bought and sold at farm stands and used for communal meals.

The emotional benefits include the social aspects of community agriculture and aesthetics of farmscape, which is a landscape that includes open space, crops, trees, streams and other natural elements.

“Growing food, and then later gathering, harvesting and enjoying preparing and sharing food you’ve grown with your own hands is deep, emotional, powerful stuff. It draws people together,” Herrington says.

Farm and Garden

In some new-home communities, ag is just another amenity. In others, it’s a way of life.

Within those extremes, communities offer a variety of options. There are working farms, community gardens and backyard grow-your-own plots, all with varying degrees of help from local farming, gardening and food preparation experts.

Hillwood Communities’ Harvest project in Dallas offers residents three amenities within the community agriculture theme, says Tom Woliver, director of project management.

The centerpiece is a working five-acre farm. Tenant farmers sell greenhouse-grown microgreens to local restaurants, educate homeowners about farming and donate a portion of the produce to a local food bank. A demonstration or “test” garden in front of the farm shows residents how to grow their own watermelons, popping corn and other popular crops. Individual community garden plots allow homeowners to grow their own produce on their own time with their own tools, materials and efforts.

“We built 50 rentable raised garden beds in the first phase and they were sold out with our first 50 homeowners. We’re now building 70 more,” Woliver says. “We also have the option for every homeowner to build, through their builder or the association, raised beds in their backyard so they can grow their own food.”

“Everything You Need”

The new-home community of Willowsford in Ashburn, Va., features a working farm, farm stand, raised beds for demonstration projects and an on-site kitchen, says Brian Cullen, who leads the development operation for Corbelis Development.

The farm stand — soon to be joined by a second one — sells locally sourced chickens, eggs and dairy products as well as the farm’s fresh produce. “If you want to have a barbecue,” Cullen says, “you can walk to the farm stand and get everything you need for your dinner.”

Some early agrihoods required residents to participate in farm work. Newer communities tend to favor volunteer models that allow residents to pick and choose their own activities and levels of involvement.

Many activities are low-intensity and suitable for all ages, Cullen says.

“We have a front farm that is part of the farm stand,” he says. “It has raised beds and we use it for education or pick-your-own, like when strawberries are in season. We also use that front garden on Thursdays when we have Happy Farmer nights. The kids come out and do weeding or mulching or picking something.”

Life in An Agrihood

Homeowner John Pellerito, 35, and his wife, Kristy, 37, have lived at Willowsford since August 2014 with their two children, Sophia, 7, and Tommy, 4.

Pellerito says the agrihood wasn’t why he and Kristy chose their home. Rather, the main attraction was the two-story floor plan, a contemporary open arrangement with 6,000 square feet of space.

Still, they’ve enjoyed the agricultural component of their community.

“We’ve always been health-conscience and shopped mostly at Whole Foods for our produce and meat. The notion that there would be a farm within the community that would produce a good portion of the food we eat was very attractive and interesting to us,” Pellerito says.

The farm is located more than a mile from their home, so they haven’t been affected by any noise or odor, Pellerito says. Nor have they participated in any grow-your-own or hands-in-the-dirt activities. “This is all done for you. It’s well-packaged and managed,” he says.

Their primary interaction has been with the farm stand, which they visit every Saturday when it’s open, Pellerito says. They’ve also attended dinner events and daytime activities a few times each month when they’ve been able to secure places at the table.

“I would like to be able to do more,” Pellerito says. “It’s an open registration and you have to register immediately or they are sold out.”

Perhaps the biggest benefit has been the opportunity to educate the next generation. “We really like the aspect of teaching our children about farming,” Pellerito says, “that you grow food and it’s much healthier to eat food that you grow locally.”

In an agrihood, that might mean right around the corner.
Marcie Geffner is an award-winning freelance reporter, book editor and blogger whose work has been published by a long list of financial, mortgage and banking websites, trade magazines and newspapers. You can find her on Google+.
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