Forget the golf course. The hot new "amenity" being offered to
residents of new subdivisions is a working farm. You don't have to weed
it (unless you want to), but you can have access to food that could not
be more local and participate in a slice of vanishing farm life.
Ironically, the housing developers that are so often the culprits in
farmland extinction are starting to save some of it.
There is a difference, of course, between the old farming community
where everyone farmed and a planned community with a farm included, but
something of the old sense of rural village life can be retained by
clustering homes and having them anchored by a farm, as part of
set-aside open space. Often a farm market is set up, or a
community-supported agriculture program through which residents can buy
food shares. Farm-centered festivals and activities bring residents
Several hundred projects like this are underway or in the planning
stages throughout the country, but there is no one formula for setting
one up. Two well-established residential-farm developments: Bundoran
Farm (http://www.bundoranfarm.com), near Charlottesville, preserved 90 percent of its 2,300 acres, including orchards and cattle pastures. Serenbe (http://www.serenbecommunity.com)
in the Chattahoochee Hill Country, near Atlanta, combines New Age vibes
with historicity, with three constructed "hamlets" and several farms.
By contrast, Prairie Crossing (http://www.prairiecrossing.com) in Grayslake, Ill., is an easy commute to downtown Chicago yet boasts a 90-acre farm and a "learning farm." Agritopia (http://www.agritopia.com),
in Gilbert, Ariz., is smack in the middle of an urban area, with an
ambitious farm project underway. In Colorado, ranches are being
preserved with narrow lots encircling them like piano keys.
Most of these projects start with a matchup between a fine old farm
to save and a smart developer with a vision, but in the case of Potomac
Vegetable Farms (http://www.potomacvegetablefarms.com),
west of Tysons Corner, the farmers saved it themselves. Hiu Newcomb and
her family now have a co-housing project (a community with shared
common areas and responsibilities) clustered in one area, but most of
the popular farm remains.
Another uncommon example is the South Village Community (http://www.southvillage.com)
in South Burlington, Vt., where a percentage of house sales will help
fund a farm's infrastructure. Will Raap, founder of Gardeners Supply
Co., provided interim funding as a "slow money investor" to create what
he calls "a new farming and food hub." Happily, getting the farm off
the ground first has paid off in buyer interest, as well as providing
several farmers with an honest wage.
It remains to be seen whether development-based farms will progress
from enticements to resources that can feed an entire planned
community. Encouragingly, a project called Brewster Point in Rockport, Maine, will have a farm that is scaled to provide a significant amount of produce to all the homeowners.
But any progress is good, since farm soil, once lost, is nearly impossible to recover. As Julia Freedgood, head of American Farmland Trust's Growing Local Campaign
puts it: "It's fantastic to see the increasing trend recognizing local
food as a key element in creating sustainable communities. Ultimately,
it's helping keep farms in agriculture."