Agrihoods: Coming to a farm near you?

A gardener plants a broad bean plant in a raised bed.Feeding off the continuing interest of eating fresh, local food, home developers are ditching the once typical golf course subdivisions and designing communities around farms, offering residents a taste of the pastoral life — and tasty produce, too.

According to a recent article, the latest incarnation of “harvest homes” is The Cannery, a community designed around a small farm in Davis, California — about 20 miles west of Sacramento. The development company responsible for the community said their market research showed that people wanted to connect to community, so “it made lots of sense to take this 7.5-acre piece of property and turn it into an urban farm, have that be the focus point,” said Kevin Carson, president of the development company.

Residents can sign up for a weekly box of produce from the farm, and no matter what their level of participation, they get to feel part of something, Carson added. “They can see the pumpkins being harvested, the tomatoes being planted, or the different seasons that happen on a farm.”

Building homes close to food sources isn’t new, the article explains. Back before refrigerated trucks and sophisticated delivery systems, it was the norm. But modern housing design took a different tack as suburbs sprouted around cities. Soon developers wanted to distinguish their offerings and began designing golf course communities. As it turned out, however, many buyers weren’t into golf so much as the view, said Ed McMahon, senior resident fellow at the Urban Land Institute in Washington, D.C. Since golf courses are big and expensive, developers moved to open spaces, then orchards and pastures, and now gardens and/or urban farms.

It’s still a niche; McMahon explains he is tracking almost 200 projects of various sizes, a fraction of the overall market. Some “agrihoods” are big, some small and a few actually involve residents working on farms. Most, like The Cannery, however, have professionals handling the agricultural side of things.

The Cannery opened in August 2015 and is planned to be a 547-home community, with prices starting in the $400,000s for town homes. The farm has produced tomatoes, sunflowers and corn, which were harvested by volunteers and donated to a food bank. Nationwide, other examples of agrihoods include areas in Virginia, Arizona and Illinois.

Living in an area where the farm-to-fork movement is particularly strong, “we really have come to appreciate what it means to eat locally and to eat seasonally,” said Samrina Marshall, who is moving her family into The Cannery. “Just the concept of being more connected with how food is grown and produced — that’s important to us.”

Figuring out how the farm will work and who will own it is crucial to success in an agrihood. “Everybody likes the outcome — fresh fruit, flowers, beehives — but you really need somebody who knows what they’re doing to do the growing and the harvesting,” McMahon said.

The plan at The Cannery is for the development company to deed the land to the City of Davis, which will then lease it to the Center for Land-Based Learning, which helps beginning farmers get their start.

“It’s a place that I would say has fundamentally changed the relationship of the residents with the land, particularly children,” McMahon said. “It’s about a lot more than growing vegetables; it’s really about growing community.”

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