Developers have long built neighborhoods, especially high-end neighborhoods, around a pool or tennis courts, or a golf course. Lately, urban and suburban neighborhoods, dubbed agrihoods, are being built around a community farm.
Or a community farm comes to an urban neighborhood.
Why do people establish agrihoods? Often because suburban sprawl threatens once-rural areas. If development will happen anyway, why not try to direct its course?
I have looked at a dozen or so agrihood websites. Conservation, a village atmosphere, and rejection of the stereotyped suburban lifestyle often seem more important selling points than the farm. The websites also tout the educational benefits of agrihoods. Children participate in the process from planting to harvesting to cooking. They will grow up knowing that food doesn’t come from the store or drive-through.
Rancho Mission Viejo, which developed the communities Esencia and Sendero in Southern California, trademarked “agrihood” in 2014, but the term is older than that and applied to about 150 communities in the US alone. It refers to master-planned communities built around working farms.
Good luck with the trademark. Already people use “agrihood” to describe inner city neighborhoods with urban farms or community gardens.
As to the farm, it usually uses organic methods. Residents can volunteer to work it under the leadership of a professional farmer. People who share the work receive portions of the harvest. The farm may also sell its food at farm stands or local restaurants, or operate its own restaurants.
Newly developed agrihoods
Many agrihoods are marketed to millennials, today’s largest segment of homebuyers in the US. An earlier generation of rich young people gravitated to communities built around golf courses or other recreational status symbols.
Millennials want to be closer to nature without giving up the advantages of city life. Farm owners who watch urban sprawl spread in their direction want to keep farming their land.
Agrihoods help both groups achieve their ideals. Many are built around existing farms, with the farmers’ active participation. Rural agriculture becomes urban agriculture instead of a standard urban neighborhood or shopping area.
Millennials are older than in previous generations were when they stop renting and buy their first homes. They care about sustainable living more than any previous generation. In fact, some agrihoods have returned golf courses to farmland or orchards.
New construction in agrihoods is expensive and built to high environmental standards. The farms at their heart often include greenhouses for year-round production. They also have paths for walking and bicycling, outdoor community kitchens, exercise stations and other amenities not usually associated with farms.
I have examined websites for a dozen agrihoods. They often resemble real estate ads, and often don’t make it easy to find useful information about the farm.
Here is the top of the home page for Sendero:
Need more out of your life? Rancho Mission Viejo’s Ranch has plenty of places to exercise, retreats to relax, parks to play, trails to explore and more.
With Esencia Farm, Oak Canyon, The Canyon House, Canyon Coffee, Sendero Farm, The Outpost and Gavilán® exclusives, there’s plenty of space to savor and take in our elevated view of the surroundings for any age.
And of course, Esencia and Sendero residents are welcome to share in the many amenities, while the 55+ crowd enjoys all the amenities that Rancho Mission Viejo has to offer.
Agrihoods revitalizing inner city neighborhoods
Detroit, Michigan Urban Farming Initiative
Not all urban agrihoods have a wealthy clientele in mind. The Michigan Urban Farming Initiative (MUFI) has begun to turn a desolate neighborhood in Detroit’s North End into one. The collapse of the automobile industry led to a steep decline in the city’s population and near abandonment of whole neighborhoods.
Urban agriculture has been leading Detroit’s revitalization efforts for more than a decade.
The number of community gardens and urban farms has grown from about 100 in 2004 to about 1,500 now. They are turning Detroit into one of the world’s greenest cities.
MUFI, a volunteer project begun in 2011, has grown more than 50,000 pounds of produce over the last four growing seasons. It has distributed it, mostly for free, to more than 2,000 recipients, including food pantries, churches, businesses, and households.
Its newest project occupies three acres of land surrounded by a blighted neighborhood of some occupied homes, some abandoned houses, and vacant lots. It includes two acres of garden, 200 fruit trees, and a sensory garden for children.
The city government supports the urban farming movement, but it encounters some problems with it. For example, farms typically have farm animals. American cities have banned farm animals for generations. That’s only one issue where the government has had to devise laws to keep up with the growth of urban farming in Detroit.
Detroit, Wolverine Human Services
Wolverine Human Services, a non-profit youth services organization, envisioned an even more ambitious urban agriculture project. It purchased 11 acres of mostly vacant land and proposed to convert it to a large-scale apple orchard.
The plan required razing several houses. Rumors circulated Wolverine would force the youth it cared for to provide free labor. Wolverine leaders held a series of meetings to find out what residents wanted.
Essentially, the neighborhood people wanted the kind of investment happening in other parts of the city. They wanted job training and housing. Based on these concerns, Wolverine scaled back its plan to 350 trees on less than half an acre.
The reduced orchard will include picnic areas and a path for walking and biking. It will also include a hoop greenhouse. Residents can sign up for membership and garden there year-round. They can sell their produce at a weekly farmers market in the summertime.
Wolverine already operates a soup kitchen across the street. It wants to renovate it and make space for entrepreneurs to start food-related businesses. It hopes that residents will see the benefits and welcome expanding the project.
Why would a youth services organization want to operate an orchard? Because so many of its clients wind up in the juvenile justice system. Research demonstrates that green space reduces mental fatigue, and therefore violence. The orchard will therefore help reduce crime as well as provide fresh food for the neighborhood.
Indianapolis, Flanner Farm
Flanner House, a century-old non-profit organization serving northwest Indianapolis, recently opened Flanner Farms. It’s a 1.9-acre farm in Indianapolis’ largest food desert.
It’s not the organizations first foray into gardening. Flanner House led an initiative that focused on gardening, food preparation, and nutrition in the 1940s.
Brandon Cosby, Flanner House’s executive director, grew up on a farm. When he got to college, he realized that most people don’t know how to grow their own food. In poor urban neighborhoods, people have gotten so used to being told that they need more government services that they easily forget about self-reliance. Cosby intends for Flanner House to use food to guide the community back to that concept.
Some youth in the neighborhood are not in school, either having dropped out or gotten pushed out. Flanner Farms offers a chance to learn to grow food. They also learn business skills and help to operate the farmers’ market.
These inner city projects may not fit the definition of an agrihood. People around them live in housing that’s older than the farms. But in either case, the farms serve as community centers. They promote nutrition, health, greenspace, and give city people the opportunity to learn to grow food.
Whether residents are rich or poor, agrihoods bring concepts of sustainability to city life like nothing else can.
12 agrihoods taking farm-to-table living mainstream / Beth Buczynski, Sharable. May 14, 2014
Detroit urban farming plan shifts to be more neighborly / Serena Maria Daniels, Next City. May 9, 2017
Detroit’s green-fingered residents are turning swathes of the city into urban farms / Adam Smith, Metro. May 12, 2017
Harvest for the hungry: Partnership tackles food deserts, prepares for 2018 expansion / Keshia McIntire, Indianapolis Recorder. October 27, 2017
Rich millennials are ditching the golf communities of their parents for a new kind of neighborhood / Tanza Loudenback, Business Insider. October 30, 2017
Blatchford, Edmonton. Source unknown
High Point, Seattle. Public domain from Wikimedia Commons
Earthworks, Detroit. Some rights reserved by Sam Beebe
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Copenhagen. Some rights reserved by Mark Stevens