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Meet the New American Dream: Farm-to-Table Neighborhoods

The housing market is recovering, baby boomers are aging, and millennials want to raise their families on organic food. These three seemingly unrelated trends may be creating the perfect storm to water a new real estate development movement: the Agrihood.

The idea isn’t totally new, but progress has been sluggish since 2008’s housing market crash. Now these farm-to-table communities are gaining more traction and attention, and they’re becoming a desirable housing option for many Americans, young and old.

How it works

In short, communities that were once developed around golf courses or fitness centers are now reconfiguring around working farmland. The produce and livestock grown and raised on the farm goes straight to local markets and restaurants, dramatically shortening the food supply chain. The movement caters to rising interests in good health, local economy, and residential community.

A recent Associated Press piece quotes Ed McMahon, senior fellow with the Urban Land Institute in Washington. His view is that many purchasers are second-home buyers, retirees, or parents of young children. He calls them the “barbell” generation, “The millennial generation that wants fresh everything, that wants to know where their food is coming from. Also the senior generation, the baby boomers. They don’t want big yards to take care of anymore.”

Speaking of big yards, farms just happen to be much cheaper to build and maintain than golf courses. Perhaps that’s because the farms give back. It’s like the C.S.A set up shop in the town square. Oh, and there’s a tax break for preserving agricultural land. In the end, the land actually earns a profit, and it’s providing thousands of homebuyers across the country with access to open space, fresh food, and neighborly interdependence.

The neighborhoods work in a variety of ways. “Some developers rent acreage to farmers,” says McMahon. “Some set up non-profit C.S.A. (community-supported agriculture) programs. Some have the residents doing it (the growing) themselves.”

No matter how it operates, an agrihood makes good business sense. Brian Cullen, head of the development team for the Willowsford community in Virginia says, “a farm is about 20 percent of the cost of a golf course.” Willowsford’s farm is operating in a deficit now, but it plans to break even by 2018 when additional residents, restaurants, and local markets are purchasing its food. It’s a plan that can take some time to develop because the benefits will only increase over time, and demand isn’t going away. We all need food to survive.

Where it lives

Start in Agritopia, a more established community in the Phoenix metro area. The Arizona desert is arguably not the most ideal setting for a farm, but many more prototypes are springing up around the country to build and feed sustainable communities and plant farm-to-table living firmly in the American residential mainstream. So far, communities are sprouting in Georgia, Arizona, Vermont, Virginia, Illinois, Idaho and Hawai’i, to name a few.

What it means

For many, it’s not just about boosting home sales. Weaving farms into subdivisions offers opportunities for education in a “culture of care” that can have a truly positive impact on American communities and our perception of sustainable land use. Food, unlike golf, brings all kinds of people together. Instead of disappearing behind their garage doors, people are coming out onto their porches. The model encourages intergenerational living as well. Generations at Agritopia offers 117 assisted- and independent-living units, and so far developments draw equal interest from retirees and millennials with young families.