Growing Food, Growing Community

At your last dinner party, did guests crowd in the kitchen? Why do people so often huddle by the stove rather than spread out in the living room? Because that’s where the food is.

Food attracts people to congregate – a phenomenon that is increasingly reflected in planned communities around the U.S., with neighborhoods centered around food markets, community gardens, and even entire farms. Access to fresh, local, organic produce is a magnet for residents seeking healthy lifestyles, a sense of community, and green spaces. Projects that feature food-based amenities such as community gardens, farmers markets, and farms have been found to offer substantial appeal as well as financial, health, and environmental benefits.

How Does Your Garden Grow?

Community gardens offer a natural, family-friendly opportunity for residents to grow their own vegetables and flowers while getting to know their neighbors. And they are not just another amenity—the National Green Building Standard also recognizes community gardens as a significant green feature within a community.

Daybreak is a 4,127-acre, mixed-use, master planned community in South Jordan, Utah, being developed on surplus mining land that will have an estimated 20,000 units at buildout. Daybreak is considered a model community for comprehensive sustainable design, with extensive parks and open space. The community gardens at Daybreak are among the most popular amenities for residents. There are hundreds of garden plots in six community gardens, and a growing season that lasts from March through October. The gardens are so popular that there is often a waiting list.

To Market, To Market

The village center at the Pinehills in Plymouth, Massachusetts includes a large, two-acre village green as a centerpiece linked to nearby homes via a network of walking paths. The Pinehills is a mixed-use community 45 miles south of Boston and 8 miles north of Cape Cod designed to preserve 2,200 acres of open space (only 30 percent of the land is developed). The planned community includes 3,065 homes ranging from condominiums, apartment and 55-and older residences to custom homes, townhouses and cottages, with 1.3 million square feet of commercial space. The National Association of Home Builders honored the Pinehills as the Best Community in the United States in 2016 with its Best in American Living Awards. Recognitions also included Platinum as the “Best Mixed Use Community, Suburban,” and being a finalist in the “Best Green” category.

Photo Courtesy of The Pinehills

The Pinehills Village Green is a classic New England town center anchored by The Market, the state’s first “Healthy Market.” The Market is an independent, full-service grocer specializing in a wide variety of fresh and locally grown organic produce, freshly cut meats, seafood and a bakery.

The “Healthy Market” designation is through Healthy Plymouth, an initiative established in 2011 by Jordan Hospital, the Town of Plymouth, and the Plymouth Public Schools to help residents reduce obesity, improve nutrition, and promote active living. Plymouth’s Healthy Market program guides shoppers to healthier food and drink options with “healthy option” tags to help them select better choices.

Photo Courtesy of the Pinehills

The Pinehills Village Green is also host to several eateries, including the historic Rye Tavern, a “farm-to-table” restaurant featuring local, seasonal ingredients — some grown in the Tavern’s own garden.

Welcome to the Agrihood

One of the biggest trends in the last decade is developing a planned community around a working farm, often called an “agrihood.” The Urban Land Institute’s Food and Real Estate Project, which highlights the integration of access to fresh, local food in real estate development, has mapped dozens of agrihoods around the country.

Earlier established agrihoods have been around for over a decade, such as Agritropia community in Gilbert, Arizona, the Serenbe development outside Atlanta, and Prairie Crossing in Grayslake, Illinois.

The Elgin Agrarian Community, about 30 minutes from Austin in central Texas, is a 23-acre mixed-use community featuring 80 one- to three-bedroom cottage-style homes built around a 3.5-acre organic farm, a 1-acre fruit orchard, walking trails, a community center, and commercial spaces such as a craft brewery and health spa. With the growth of the Austin metro area, Elgin’s population of 11,000 residents is expected to double by 2030.

The plans for food production will provide residents with at least 10 pounds of fresh, organic produce weekly. The compact size and design of the 80 houses make them more affordable (especially compared to Austin prices). Energy efficiency, rainwater catchment, and rooftop solar panels also help to keep utility bills low.

Projects with food-oriented amenities are clearly increasing in popularity around the country. Some say the thoughtful sustainability of these planned communities with community gardens and working farms provide a welcome antidote to sprawl of past decades – delivering a benefit not only to the residents, but to the larger community, and the planet.

Post by Deborah Myerson, Executive Director at South Central Indiana Housing Opportunities (SCIHO) in Bloomington, Indiana.

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