Something I have always dreamed about has become a reality. It is called an agrihood, a residential neighborhood with a farm at the center—not a golf course, club house or pool, but something really sensible: fresh, organic food!
My dream of long ago was to buy up a large track of land in New England where I live, invite family and friends to invest, and build homes around a central place to grow our own food and be self-sustainable.
In one model neighborhood called Agritopia, a small community based near Phoenix that currently counts 152 families, grows fruit trees, grapes and raises animals. For $100 per month, members go to the town farm to pick up groceries. The central "square" also functions as a community hub with a coffeehouse and a farm-to-table restaurant, according to The New York Times. Agritopia is also in the process of creating "Generations at Agritopia" for independent and assisted living.
Now many other agrihoods are popping up across the country, such as Serenbe in Chattahoochee Hills, Georgia; Prairie Crossing in Grayslake, Illinois; South Village in South Burlington, Vermont; and Hidden Springs in Boise, Idaho.
“I hear from developers all the time about this,” Ed McMahon, a senior fellow for sustainable development at the Urban Land Institute, a nonprofit real estate research group in Washington, D. C., told the Times. “They’ve figured out that unlike a golf course, which costs millions to build and millions to maintain, they can provide green space that actually earns a profit.” In addition, community residents get a potential tax break for preserving agricultural land.
Agrihoods fulfill a need for people who want open space and fresh air, and lush fields of organic crops, near an urban center. One of the largest suburban farm consultants is Agriburbia in Golden, Colorado, and another near Atlanta, Georgia, called Farmer D Organics. Apparently these similar agencies are inundated with requests for information—and not just from developers but from golf course owners who are anxious to transfer their costly maintenance to a more profitable venture.
Some of these agrihoods have a central farm market, coffeeshop or restaurant, even craft shops, plus views of their food growing right before them. It gives the residents a sense of secure sustainability—healthy food for themselves and their children right in their own back yard, so to speak. The homes in these areas are no more expensive than similar homes nearby. Because one or two crops won’t cut it, these farms must be very diversified so they need a farmer who can understand the community’s needs. The farmer must plant a variety of crops to sell to residents, then have a good enough business sense to sell any excess to local chefs or farm markets. This farm-to-table initiative is growing all over the country.
In older times this way of living would be called tribal. Sharing food grown with all, caring for elders and children first. We Native Americans were not impoverished when we fed ourselves without so much government help. Health and nutrition, food production and economic growth on reservations is now pretty sad. Even here there is new hope in the projects funded by First Nations Development Institute, Native Agriculture & Food Systems Initiative (NAFSI), Native American Food Sovereignty Alliance and other smaller educational grants. I mentioned several of these in my article Grow Food, Not Lawns! (February 22).
This spring will see many elementary schools in indian country involved in planning and planting their own gardens while learning agricultural practices to last a lifetime. The notion of agrihoods is so sensible for all people. Native communities have an edge because they are already a community; they only need to customize the residential side of this farm living to their needs. It will be very interesting to see how agrihoods play out in the coming years throughout the country.
Dale Carson (Abenaki) is the author of three books: New Native American Cooking, Native New England Cooking, and A Dreamcatcher Book. She has written about and demonstrated Native cooking techniques for over 30 years. Dale has four grown children and lives with them and her husband in Madison, Connecticut.