Welcome to the agrihood, home of the suburban farmer

New suburban residential developments feature community gardens, agricultural lands and open space.

Move over, subdivisions with golf courses. More and more residential developments feature community gardens, cropland or open space so residents can enjoy a dash of farming with their suburban comforts.

About 200 projects of different sizes have been built or are in development, according to Ed McMahon, a senior fellow at the Urban Land Institute in Washington, D.C.

While that’s a small fraction of the total housing market, McMahon said the number is growing.

McMahon said developers have learned that many people who bought homes on a golf course were more interested in the view than in actually playing the game.

Appeal to homebuyers

Providing open or agricultural space is much less expensive than developing a large golf course so the idea has grown in appeal to developers and is catching on with homebuyers.

McMahon said developers call him almost daily asking for information about agrihoods.

In some developments, residents are actually involved in farming while others leave the job to professionals, he said. But even when residents don’t work the land, they have ready access to fresh produce and the opportunity to engage with good environmental practices and healthy communities.

Agritopia near Phoenix

One of the early agrihoods or agricommunities in the United States was Agritopia in Gilbert, Arizona, a suburb southeast of central Phoenix. Launched in 2000 by the Johnstons, a longtime farm family, the 160-acre development now has 450 residences.

The Johnston family got the idea for the development after it became evident that the farm they had owned and worked since 1960 would be surrounded by suburban housing. With two sons who were farmers and a third who was an engineer, they were able to launch Agritopia as a family project and they still live there.

Village-like atmosphere

In addition to homes and farmland, Agritopia has some commercial developments as well as open spaces, and it is designed to be very walkable with pathways that connect farms, parks, schools and commercial areas much like a village of old.

Crops include cauliflower, broccoli, herbs, lettuce and tomatoes. The farm also has groves of date, olive, citrus, apple, peach and plum trees.

Residents can buy produce grown by the Johnstons from the Farm Stand, which is unstaffed and operates on an honor system. Or residents can rent a plot of farmland and grow their own.

Prairie Crossing

Prairie Crossing

Energy-efficient housing

Prairie Crossing, in Grayslake, Illinois, northwest of Chicago is another established agricommunity that also features energy efficient housing. Located midway between Chicago and Milwaukee, the 675-acre Prairie Crossing is also adjacent to train stations so residents can commute to work in either city.

A 10-acre certified organic farm anchors the development while another 100 acres of farmland produces non-organics. The farm produces vegetables, fruit, herbs, flowers and free-range eggs.

Residents can receive training and can help with daily work on the farm, subscribe to receive a basket of produce each week, or maintain their own community garden plot.

The organic farm emphasizes sustainable agriculture techniques, including composting to enrich the soil, maintaining wild prairie surrounding the farm to control insects rather than using pesticides, and rotating crops.

Model for development

The farm was to be developed as a conventional subdivision in the 1980s. But conservationist Gaylord Donnelley, who owned a neighboring farm, bought the property. Eventually, Donnelley’s heirs and other landowners in the area developed Prairie Crossing.

George Ranney, Donnelley’s nephew, said one aim was to create a demonstration project, an example that other developers might follow.

McMahon of the Urban Land Institute called Prairie Crossing “a landmark community,” noting that it saved open space, fostered agriculture in a developed area, and “spawned a new generation of families living in harmony with the land.”

The Cannery

The Cannery

The Cannery in California

A new agricommunity development in California, The Cannery, opened last summer and more than 500 homes equipped with solar panels are planned.

Located near Davis, the Cannery farm produces tomatoes, sunflower and corn.

New residents Samrina and Mylong Marshall said the idea of having fresh produce was a strong attraction. Even if they do little farm work, Samrina Marshall said, “We really have come to appreciate what it means to eat locally and to eat seasonally… Being more connected with how food is grown – that is important to us.”

Community engagement grows

If all goes according to plan, the farm will be deeded to the City of Davis, which will lease it to the local Center for Land-Based Learning, which trains new farmers.

Although trained farmers will do most of the work at The Cannery, residents will have opportunities to volunteer, according to Mary Kimball, executive director of the center. Kimball said that would promote engagement.

“It is a very different level of ability to engage when it is in your backyard or it is down the street and you drive by it every day,” she said.

McMahon said he has seen that spirit at more established agrihoods like Prairie Crossing.

“It has fundamentally changed the relationship of the residents with the land,” he said. “It’s about a lot more than growing vegetables; it’s really about growing community.”

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