Many of us are having a love affair with our gardens, whether we are pros or new to the hobby. Some of us have popped a few tomato seed packets into pots on our balcony while others planted rows of vegetables and herbs in the soil or in raised planters. Some of us might have started this new-found passion because we found it relaxing and stress-reducing; others don’t feel safe venturing into grocery stores as the pandemic continues, and still others couldn’t secure the produce we wanted or felt that what we could grow healthier yields than what’s on our grocery store shelves.
And despite the pandemic, many of us simply have found joy in watching our seedlings and plants sprout as we water, nurture them along and then reap the benefit by using them as a main part of many of our meals. In fact, for centuries homeowners grew their own food supply rather than relied on markets or farmers.
Nowadays, the focus on growing food at home has become a choice and much more commonplace. As a result, residential developments called “agrihoods,” a portmanteau (a word combining the meanings of two others) -- agriculture and neighborhood, are emerging nationwide. They rely on a farm, professionally managed, as the centerpiece of the design rather than a golf course, which until recent decades was often the case. These new developments also typically are sustainable and include other healthy related features such as a community supported agriculture cooperative (CSA), farm store, walking trails, fitness center, community garden and acres of preserved conservation land.
Among the first of the agrihoods was Serenbe outside Atlanta, which was developed by Steve Nygren, a former restauranteur and his family, in the early 2000s. He first built his family a home, then bought up more land and eventually started building housing and other features for other homeowners. These features include stables, trails, a swimming pool, and inn for guests, and houses in different hamlets or clusters on a site now containing about 1,000 acres plus a large 25-acre farm. Altogether, there are about 650 families and individuals living there. Nygren and his colleagues are also regularly asked by other potential developers for their advice since Serenbe has become a prototype for agrihoods throughout the country.
In fact, there are now said to be more than 90 nationwide, and many more on the way, according to Anna DeSimone, author of the recently released book, Welcome to the Agrihood (Housing 2020 Publishing, 2020). We recently talked with DeSimone about the trend and its offshoots and what this option offers as a viable lifestyle, especially for those over age 50. Her edited, condensed comments follow.
Q: Does the agrihood go back to the increase in farmers’ markets or what? You write that the number of farmers selling to consumers at local farmers’ markets has quadrupled over the last 10 years. What are the key reasons? If the agrihood has a farm store or CSA, does the income from that get put back into the community and how?
Answer: The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has reported the increase in local farmers’ markets, due to the significant investment made by the USDA to help local farmers, beginning with the “Know Your Farmer—Know Your Food initiative, which dates from 2009. Many agrihoods with professionally managed farms operate a farm store as well as a CSA. A number of agrihoods extend their CSA program and/or host farmers’ markets in nearby towns. Larger farms often support the local community by partnering with other farmers, ranchers, and artisans, or supplying fresh local food to restaurants and community grocers.
Q: There are lots of variations in agrihoods; what are the most common denominators?
A: The five most common denominators for suburban agrihoods include:
- Expansive open space of heritage farmland—pastures, woodlands, watershed, or natural preserves where people can enjoy wildlife, walking, biking, hiking, swimming, and boating.
- Majority of agrihoods have a clubhouse or gathering space for meetings, events, social clubs, demonstration kitchens, kids’ activities—mostly with swimming pools.
- Historic structures such as barns and silos are usually repurposed and used for gathering spaces in agrihoods built on heritage farms.
- Agrihood communities generally follow an esthetic that reflects the architecture of the area’s landmark neighborhoods. You’ll see American farmhouses of all sizes, mid-century, cottage, and prairie homes.
- Homes are often built in clusters, with several hamlets—each with a unique style, size, or amenities.
Q: Are they always suburban or are there urban ones too? What’s the difference?
A: There are a growing number of urban agrihoods, which include opportunities for people to rent an apartment or purchase a condominium. Urban agrihoods are generally situated in a metropolitan area and consist of “mixed-use” buildings, such as office space, retail shops, age- or income-restricted units. You’ll see professionally-managed organic farms on rooftops, as well as community gardens where residents grow their own produce. There’s one in the Bronx known as Arbor House with a large farm on its roof.
Q: Who’s likely to like living at an agrihood? Is there a typical profile?
A: Agrihood demographics typically are influenced by the geographic region. For example, in Boise, Idaho, or Denver, Colorado, the majority of residents are young families who work full-time. In the south or southwestern states, the demographic mix includes a higher percentage of retirees. Across the nation, agrihoods are reporting a growing interest from “empty nesters” looking for a healthy retirement lifestyle.
Q: Do you have to be a foodie or farmer to be happy living at an agrihood? Isn’t community i.e. working the land together another huge draw? Does everyone have to work the land or can what is grown just be enjoyed?
A: Most agrihoods report a mix of those wanting to plant their own vegetable gardens, along with residents who are just happy to live near the farm or enjoy the outdoor amenities. Agrihood developers are increasingly offering optional floor plans for multi-generational living or at-home offices.
Q: How important is sustainable construction and energy efficiency of the homes and other buildings that go up at most agrihoods?
A: Sustainable construction and energy-efficient features is a strong priority for anyone buying a new home. Because the agrihood concept is relatively new, most homes are energy efficient. A number of agrihoods have won “green building” awards throughout the nation.
Q: What about the home styles and how much variation is there in style, placement on lots, amount of land around a home; again are there common denominators or are they all very different?
A: For the most part, the price and size of a home in an agrihood is consistent with new home developments in the same geographic region. The median price is also consistent with the nation’s median home cost, around $350,000. However, there are “luxury” agrihood communities where you’ll see 4,000 to 7,000 square-foot-homes, on large lots for more than $1 million.
Q: Do you think the trend will continue or will they become unpopular at some time the way golf developments have?
A: The popularity of agrihoods is about the diverse range of healthy-lifestyle activities. There are many agrihoods with professionally-designed golf courses, along with resort-style clubhouses. As long as there is a wide range of activities that appeal to demographics of the community, the agrihood trend should be sustainable.
A: What about the new Kiawah River Coastal Community agrihood in South Carolina, said to be that state’s first?
A: For every completed agrihood in America, another plan is in the works. Because developers work with city planners, environmentalists, and land conservationists, the planning and development process can take several years. The farming operations of the new Kiawah River agrihood is great, since the developer is partnering agricultural activities and administration of the CSA program with successful local farmers. It’s a unique business model that assures quality food production and less financial risk on the homeowners’ association or developer.
Q: What is resale like? Is this a good investment? Are there waiting lists to get into these communities?
A: Depending on the geographic region, there are agrihoods with waiting lists, and/or have “pre-sold” future phases. The resale value is strong, and generally in line with the home appreciation rates for the region.
Q: Any favorites?
Arden by Freehold Communities in Palm Beach County, Florida, is a healthy-living community centered around a 5-acre farm where residents enjoy a “living classroom” by working alongside Arden’s professional organic farmers. The community has a 24-hour manned gatehouse and a clubhouse with resort-style pools and offers 10 different single-story home plans from three builders. Arden received the 2020 Gold Award for “Best Amenity” by National Association of Home Builders.
Photos courtesy of Freehold Communities