More people are looking to experience farm life without buying an entire farm. That has prompted an emerging type of community that is catching on from coast to coast centered around food production, dubbed “agrihoods.”
Suburban agrihoods began appearing in the U.S. in the 1990s. At first, developers offered them as an alternative to golf-centered communities.
“What we learned over time was the majority of buyers in golf course developments did not play golf,” says Ed McMahon, senior resident fellow at the Urban Land Institute.
So developers began putting farms at the centers of communities, which was a lower-cost form of green space that also helped to differentiate their neighborhoods. They discovered that home buyers were drawn to the tranquility and the fresh organic food of a nearby farm.
Many of these agrihoods offer farm stands and community-supported agriculture programs where residents can pay up front for weekly shares of the produce. Adults and children can volunteer on the farm to get hands-on education about food.
“People are interested in living with like-minded people who are interested in knowing where their food comes from,” says Bill Maines, director of sustainability and leadership at the Leavey School of Business at Santa Clara University in Silicon Valley. “This provides a way for people to connect to nature without having to pull up roots and buy a farm.”
Living in an agrihood doesn’t come cheap, however. In Willowsford, Va., a 4,000-acre agrihood about 45 minutes outside of Washington, D.C., has single-family homes starting at $599,000 and stretching up to $1.3 million or more. As comparison, in the D.C. metro area, the median home price is lower at $463,300.
Agrihoods are also developing in the city. An agrihood is credited as helping to revitalize a struggling neighborhood in Detroit’s Lower North End. The three-acre farm known as the Michigan Urban Farming Initiative is volunteer-staffed. It is housed on a vacant site from where an apartment complex had burned down a long time ago and had never been replaced. Skyscrapers are just a few blocks away and the farm is surrounded by older single-family rental homes.
"It started as a simple initiative to increase access to healthy food options for residents," says Tyson Gersh, who founded the initiative. About 20,000 pounds of produce are donated to community members each year.
Soon after he started the farm, he discovered a big pull of people wanting to live next to it. "People were buying homes [in the neighborhood] because we were here," he says. "We’ve seen property values increase very fast, and a lot of that is driven by our farm.”
The neighborhood has become a mix of seniors and millennials. Eventually, Gersh’s group plans to purchase surrounding homes and to rehab them and then sell them to locals at cost, with interest-free loans.
"We’re redefining what life in the urban environment looks like, and that involves some sort of integrated agriculture," says Gersh, who lives a block away from the farm. "People love to be around plants, growing food.”