How would you like to live in a neighborhood that has a working farm, ample green space, community gardens, edible landscaping, and rows of fruit trees?
Agricultural neighborhoods – called “agrihoods” for short – are housing developments that are centered around farming. The rising popularity of farmers’ markets, community-supported agriculture (CSA), buying local, and sustainability have led people to seek out communities that support those interests. Green spaces are a feature of agrihoods.
Agrihoods include gardens that can provide food, employment, education, and socialization for the community.
In the article Growing Agrihoods: The Next Frontier in Urban Revitalization, Julia Travers explains that the definition of agrihood is evolving:
The size, geography, and socioeconomic culture of agrihoods vary; they can be found in rural, suburban, and urban spaces, using diverse locations including housing built around existing farms or built into repurposed unused commercial or industrial spaces. The term “agrihood” itself is still fluid. “It hasn’t been well defined yet,” said Daron Joffe, a veteran farmer who has worked on a number of agrihoods and farm-centric communities in the U.S. “To me, an agrihood is a working farm that’s really connected to the residents, the local community outside the neighborhood, and connected to the larger region and foodshed.”
And while the definition is changing and growing, a report by the Urban Land Institute notes that agrihoods are “master planned or residential communities built with a working farm as a focus.” Rancho Mission Viejo, a housing developer and longtime ranching family in southern California, has even trademarked the term “agrihood” and applied it to their new Esencia development.
An agrihood in Michigan is credited with being the first in the country.
The first sustainable urban agrihood in the US was created by the Michigan Urban Farming Initiative in Detroit’s lower North End. The “alternative neighborhood growth model” established a two-acre farm, fruit tree orchard, and children’s sensory garden, reports Neighborhoods.com:
“Over the last four years, we’ve grown from an urban garden that provides fresh produce for our residents to a diverse, agricultural campus that has helped sustain the neighborhood, attracted new residents and area investment,” Tyson Gersh, president and co-founder of the MUFI, said in a 2016 press release.
Annually, this agrihood provides fresh, free produce to roughly 2,000 households within two square miles, giving the residents a strong connection to the sourcing and handling of their own food.
Agrihoods are increasing in popularity in the US.
There are more than 200 agrihoods in the US so far, and more are in development. The trend “appeals to consumers who want a slice of country life – big gardens, nature, and outdoor recreation – near urban centers”, according to a recent report from the Des Moines Register:
“The problem with suburban neighborhoods is that to get to anything other than more houses, you have to drive,” said Adam Mekies, associate at Design Workshop in Aspen, Colorado, an architectural firm that’s designed several agrihoods.
“Instead of pushing agriculture farther and farther from town, how do you bring it back in?” Mekies said.
Steve Bruere, a partner in Diligent Development, is planning to build an agrihood on 400 acres near Cumming, Iowa. He told the Register his project would include an organic vegetable farm, vineyard, orchard, and residential gardens which would anchor a massive home, condo, apartment, and retail development.
There are challenges associated with building and maintaining agrihoods, but the payoff is enormous.
Agrihoods are not an easy thing to do – they are “not business as usual,” Joffe told the Register. Typically, the developer helps set up the farm, including providing the land, greenhouses, and tractor. The farm needs the startup assistance to be self-sustaining, whether as a nonprofit or a private operation, he explained.
It is important that farming ties the community together, both physically and through programs such as cooking and gardening classes, Joffe added.
“The biggest challenge is sustainability. Most agrihoods are set up as a membership fee to use the facility and share in the crops.
In addition to health benefits, they [agrihoods] offer the ability to understand the process of farming from seed-to-table. We’ve found that this also serves as a valuable education program for children who can learn to eat what they grow and understand the real source of fruits and vegetables.”
Here are some of the benefits agrihoods provide.
Having access to produce that was grown right in your neighborhood greatly increases your food’s freshness and nutritional quality. Farm-to-table food doesn’t travel thousands of miles, losing freshness along the way.
In low-income areas, agrihoods can make access much easier for residents.
Community gardens have been shown to directly contribute to reductions in chronic disease and depression, especially when residents are involved in gardening.
The number of food hubs – local centers that connect farmers to food-using businesses and
support local food production and distribution – increased 770 percent between 2000 and 2016.
Local foods are often produced using organic methods, which can be better for health and the environment.
Farms bring people together – they create a closer, healthier community.
What do you think about the agrihood concept?
Are there any agrihoods in your area? Would you like to live in a community like this? Please share your thoughts in the comments.