Farming could be coming to a neighborhood near you.
A concept in housing development planning known as “Agrihoods” is gaining ground.
Agrihood’s are similar to housing developments built around golf courses. Both preserve open views, promote outdoor living, and provide a sense of community in a hectic world.
“Instead of the central marketing and community feature being a club or golf course, it’s the farm,” said Lara Hermanson, principal of Farmscape LLC., a farmscape landscaper and panelist for the upcoming Nevada Economic Development Conference session, Agrihoods, at the University of Nevada, Reno in September.
Agrihoods include real operating farms, ranches and orchards. Residents of an Agrihood participate in the farming experience and can enjoy fresh-from-the-farm products a short walk from their front doors.
Rancho Mission Viejo, LLC. in Orange County, Calif., is a pioneer in Agrihood development. The company has two communities built around three farms, with more to come.
The land has been farmed by the same family for more than 130 years, explained Amaya Genaro, community service director with Rancho Mission Viejo, and another panelist for the economic conference.
After developing other planned communities, they wanted to create something that would preserve the agricultural heritage of the land. It includes the last working farm in Orange County, Genaro said.
Of the last 23,000 acres, 17,000 has been preserved as open space and the remaining 6,000 acres is open for development.
The first village of the development, Sendero, was constructed in 2013 and includes 1200 homes and apartment units. The second village, Esencia, is under construction, with several other developments planned. Build out will take15 to 20 years. Each will be constructed around a working farm.
While many developments set aside areas for communal gardens where residents can manage and harvest individual plots, an Agrihood includes residents in the work of a producing farm or ranch with the oversight of professional farmers.
“What I love most about (the Agrihood community) is, not just the large selection of produce, it’s everyone coming together, breaking bread together,” Genaro said. “It’s different than buying produce (at a farmers market) and going home.”
“When you grow food, you grow community,” says the company website.
The community also offers workshops on everything from how to grow tomatoes to how to make cheese and pickles.
“We try to introduce people to how to grow food and to integrate it into every day living,” Genaro said. “We show kids where food comes from. They learn to feed chickens and get to take home eggs.”
Farmscape’s Hermanson is excited to see a renewed interest in bringing agriculture closer to home. She has been helping homeowners replace lawns with food-producing landscapes for a decade.
“The byproduct is that I create food for a family,” she said in a phone interview with NNBW.
Hermanson and her business partner Dan Allen began Farmscape in 2008 to create landscapes that produce food crops.
The bulk of Farmscape’s 600 projects throughout California are for private clients, however they also work on larger projects including consulting for three California agrihood developments.
Hermanson said she’s not aware of any planned agrihood developments in Nevada yet, but expects the trend to grow.
While many people enjoy wide-open spaces, they don’t want to live isolated “in the middle of a cornfield,” she said.
“Agrihoods are a way to live an agrarian dream without the pressure of making (a farm) work,” she said. “It will become more and more popular as Millennials move into being first time home buyers.”
Genaro also noted the interest Millennials have in the Agrihood concept.
“Millennials love culinary experiences and a sense of community,” she said. “But they don’t have time to work the ground.”
Living in an Agrihood offers the experience of farming without having to work the land every day, she said. And the opportunities to participate in the community are abundant.
Planning for an agrihood development is more involved than planning for a standard housing development.
“An agrihood developer, if they don’t come from an agricultural background, first need to connect with someone in agriculture (as a consultant) to help come up with a design to take to the city council. There are a lot of nuts and bolts to work through,” Hermanson said. The plan needs to be beautiful, provide adequate farmland and access to the farmland, and HOA details are more complex than other developments.
“Coming up with a design is a process that can take two years to pass muster with the city.”
Agricultural details like soil preparation take on more importance in Agrihood than a housing development, Genaro said.
But residents don’t have to wait for Agrihood developments to make changes to their individual lifestyle to bring farm benefits into an urban home.
“We don’t have a lot of control of our environment at large,” Hermanson said. “We don’t have control over car exhaust and emissions. We don’t have control over where our garbage goes. But we do have control over our homes. Farms are healthy, not just for humans but for bees, birds, soil microbes, bats. It’s a better investment in the environment and something really good for our families.
“It’s a healthy environment that also feeds us.”
The benefits and challenges of Agrihood development is one of the topics on tap for the second annual Nevada Economic Development Conference, scheduled Sept. 21-22 at the University of Nevada, Reno, Joe Crowley Student Union.
The third panelist for the Agrihood session is Daron “Farmer D” Joffe, Ranch development director of The Ranch in Encinitas (California), a part of the Leichtag Foundation Urban Land Institute. Rick Lattin of Lattin farms will moderate the panel discussion.
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