By Kirsten Lie-Nielsen

Planned, farm-centered neighborhoods are on the rise in the United States, offering farm-to-table food and a strong community for residents.

(Photography courtesy of Chickahominy Falls.)

Outside of Charleston, South Carolina, in the picturesque marshes of the Kiawah River, sits more than 100 acres of working farmland. Seasonal crops rotate through expansive pastures, cattle graze the rich sea grasses and several colonies of bees hurry about their business. But unlike neighboring farms that focus on production for faraway markets or keep a single family afloat, the farm at Kiawah River is supporting 185 families who live in the surrounding homes.

Kiawah River is an “agrihood”—a planned community with a working farm at its center. Residents may work or volunteer at the farm, or they may participate in a residents CSA program or visit their own farmer’s market. Kiawah River worked with established farms to begin its agrihood, building a community around preexisting farmland. Its farm partners include fourth-generation Freeman Farms and second-generation Rosebank Farms, along with several others.

Other agrihoods establish farms as central hubs when planning the community. Chickahominy Falls is located outside of Richmond, VA, in what is known as the French hay district, an area that has traditionally been farmland. The agrihood there is for residents 55 and over, and 10-acre Woodside Farms provides a gathering space, volunteer and working opportunities and a CSA.

Tiny Timbers is a small agrihood in St. Croix Falls, WI, a small city on the border near Minneapolis, MN. Its agrihood model uses tiny homes as the residences, with 11 families currently sharing the responsibilities of gardening and caring for the chickens, honey bees and orchards. The community was started by a husband-and-wife team, inspired by a passion for tiny homes and good food. They broke ground on their first houses in the spring of 2023, and they will complete their agrihood with 16 homes.

“Unlike many agrihoods that have a farmer on the edge of the development, ours is all resident operated,” says Melissa Jones, founder of Tiny Timbers. “So, they are personally getting their hands dirty.”

The Tiny Timbers agrihood model uses “tiny homes” as the residences. (Photo courtesy of Tiny Timbers)

Agrihoods are not a new phenomenon, but their presence has grown in the United States in recent years. According to a report by the Urban Land Institute, in 2018, there were more than 200 agrihoods in 28 states. The concept may seem similar to a commune, but agrihoods are not based around shared politics or religion but focus on fresh food and strong communities. Participation requirements on the farms vary. Many agrihoods offer volunteer opportunities on the farm for residents, but they do not require any participation in farming.

The Urban Land Institute considers agrihoods a valuable trend, helping to solve several issues within the US housing market. With 73 percent of Americans considering access to fresh and healthy food a priority, agrihood living puts residents in the middle of healthy food production. An agrihood’s investment in farmland can help save a family farm and keep more farmland in production. Revenue from the sales of agrihood properties can directly support farms when an agrihood is established, and even working farms near agrihoods that are not involved in the communities can see the value of their farmland rise when an agrihood is built nearby. Building a community around a farm will also save farmers shipping costs and reduce greenhouse gas emissions as produce no longer needs to be transported over long distances.

The agrihood model may harken back to communes or even colonial villages, but if you find yourself wondering “why now?”—the answer may be as simple as reliable access to great food.

“The people here are so kind and fun,” says Danna Berg, a resident of Kiawah River who moved to the agrihood from St. Petersburg, FL in 2021. “I had heard of an agrihood before, but I wasn’t really familiar with the concept. When I stepped foot on the property, I knew it was for me.”

Berg volunteers in the gardens and on the farm at Kiawah River. Every resident we spoke to indicated that the fresh produce was a huge part of the appeal of Kiawah River, from the honey and eggs to the fresh produce and goat’s milk. 

Kiawah River worked with established farms to begin its agrihood outside Charleston, South Carolina. (Photo courtesy of Kiawah River)

In some ways, agrihood living is an idealized version of farm life. At many agrihoods, you won’t have to shovel waste or dig in the dirt if you don’t want to, but you can still enjoy the benefits of local, organic produce grown right outside your door. Even when the residents are involved in the running of the farm, an agrihood can still present a more appealing option than beginning a farm on your own.

Those interested in growing their own food to any scale need to invest in farmland, and access to suitable and affordable farmland is the greatest barrier to young farmers getting started. In an agrihood, access to the land is guaranteed and does not come with the risks of beginning a new family farm.

“A lot of people want to live a healthier lifestyle and be involved with where their food comes from,” says Jones. “But farming can be a lonely, overwhelming task. So, having a community where people can learn from each other, tackle the areas of the agrihood they are skilled in, it helps everyone have a healthier, more fulfilling existence—and make friendships along the way.”

“The eggs are simply amazing,” says Lindsay Cobb. She and her husband Charlie moved to Kiawah River in 2021. When they moved, they had not heard of an agrihood, but they loved the idea of living near a farm and being part of the community events that Kiawah River hosts. 

“Access to the fresh vegetables is so unique,” Cobb adds. For farmers, access to fresh vegetables may be a given. But for many Americans, the opportunity to enjoy fresh produce is indeed unique. According to the Urban Land Institute report, 16 percent of Americans say that fresh food is not available in their communities.

The majority of agrihoods in the US today are marketed towards a more affluent demographic, with the average home price in an agrihood around $400,000. However, the model can be applied to lower-income housing and more urban developments. Agrihoods opening in Santa Clara, CA and Denver, CO are committed to offering affordable housing as part of their planned community. At Tiny Timbers, the tiny house model allows most residents to own their homes debt free.

Eleven families currently share the responsibilities of gardening and caring for chickens and honeybees at Tiny Timbers in St. Croix Falls, WI. (Photo courtesy of Tiny Timbers)

The farms around which agrihoods center face the same challenges as any other agricultural establishment. They can be adversely affected by weather, pests and predators, impacting their ability to supply the community. Some agrihood farms choose to focus on vegetable production to avoid the smells and noises of livestock, which can limit diversity of agrihood-produced goods. 

As they address housing needs in a local area, provide healthy food to residents and foster a connection between people and food production, agrihoods seem to offer solutions to numerous challenges. And while a healthy diet often brings residents to an agrihood, residents say that community is what makes them love agrihood living.

“The community here is top notch,” explains Barbara Viverito, who has lived at Kiawah River agrihood since August of 2020. “I have never seen a group of people so friendly.”

While they come in all shapes and sizes, the future of agrihoods may be with individuals like Melissa and Shane Jones at Tiny Timbers. Five years after purchasing a plot of land in 2017, they decided to do something more than just homestead for themselves.

“We have a tiny cabin that we love,” says Melissa Jones, “and my husband has a passion for homesteading—so why not combine those things and create a place where people can live lightly, often debt free, and have the ability to grow healthy, organic food? They can live a healthier lifestyle and be around people that have similar interests.”

From

https://modernfarmer.com/2023/12/agrihoods-on-the-rise/