Amplifying Agrihoods: The Benefits of Neighborhoods Built Around Working Farms
Sometimes new problems call for old solutions.
That’s the best lesson to be taken from the recent rise of housing developments built around working farms, also known as agrihoods.
Created to foster a sense of community and with a commitment to avoiding the environmental impact of conventional construction, these agrihoods are often on the cutting edge of green-building techniques. They also frequently employ sustainable technologies such as solar energy and geothermal heating and cooling.
But one of the most important factors contributing to the overall sustainability of these agrihoods isn’t new technology at all, but rather the farms that exist at the heart of each development — something that would have been perfectly familiar to our ancestors a century or even millennium ago.
Modern farming as we think of it, however, would not be perfectly familiar. In terms of sustainability, modern factory farming fails on all fronts.
Many of the common challenges present in modern farming — including soil erosion, water contamination, as well as dependence on synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides — are unintended consequences of the current prevalence of the monoculture approach that plants endless fields of one specific crop. This farming practice depletes the soil of nutrients, requires massive amounts of chemical fertilizers, and is generally all-around terrible for the earth.
Agrihood farms, by contrast, tend to focus on minimizing or completely eliminating such environmental impact. Their raison d’être is the provision of fresh local produce to agrihood residents and the surrounding community. Their techniques are usually the exact opposite of factory farms and focus on applying older methods in a more modern way.
Where factory farms focus on monoculture, agrihood farms tend to grow a wide variety of local foods that change with the seasons. This is not only delicious but also an important factor in safeguarding the fertility of the land. By combining this technique with crop rotation and cover-cropping, agrihood farms are able to preserve the integrity of the soil and obviate the need for chemical fertilizers.
The environmental benefits of all of this can hardly be overstated. Avoiding the use of chemical pesticides and synthetic herbicides helps prevent contamination of waterways and the produce itself, which is crucial for the health of the environment as well as the local population. It also protects the biodiversity of an area, allowing beneficial insects to flourish and local plants to thrive.
And of course, by offering a localized food source, agrihood farms avoid all the pollution inherent in the process of growing produce half a world away, then transporting it via ship and truck.
But there are other benefits to the local community as well — benefits our ancestors took largely for granted. They were accustomed to a more self-sufficient way of life, with towns able to supply their own food and residents able to enjoy all the health benefits of produce harvested at the height of its freshness. They were accustomed to a localized economy, with local businesses and all their neighbors benefitting from local labor.
These are the things that make agrihood farms not only environmentally sustainable, but communally sustainable as well. There is a vibrant farm-to-table movement spreading throughout the country, and a farm is necessary to get food to the table. By filling that gap and providing fresh, seasonal, organic food, agrihood farms ensure that local residents and businesses are the ones profiting from the locally grown produce.
Agrihood farms do something our ancestors took for granted, which seems almost revolutionary these days, by allowing residents to be nourished by food grown on the land they inhabit. They allow for a link between people and their land, as well as people and their neighbors — a link that is largely missing in modern life, and one that many people crave. It’s not unusual for agrihoods to discover that their most popular parcels aren’t the ones on the waterfront or with breathtaking views of mountains, but rather the ones near the farm.
The environmental issues occurring today are in many ways unprecedented, and innovations such as green-building techniques and sustainable technologies play an important role in addressing those concerns. However, the rise of agrihoods has proven that sometimes the most progressive way to solve a problem is to avoid innovation.
Of course, the beauty of the concept is that it doesn’t have to be one or the other. Agrihoods can utilize both cutting-edge greenbuilding techniques and antiquated farming methods. They can offer modern amenities along with a distinctly old-fashioned sense of community. They can use that flexibility to provide a sustainable way of life and also profit as developments, offering examples to inspire others.
Allison Smith, a founding partner of Olivette Riverside Community and Farm and selfproclaimed foodie, draws her interest in farm-based communities from her passion to create a better world through sustainable living. She cultivates communities that foster social, emotional, educational, and cultural growth. Connect with Allison at olivettenc.com.
You can also view this is article as it was originally published on pages 36-37 in the 2019-2020 edition of the directory.