When Stephanie Walsh and her husband were looking to buy a home in Atlanta, GA, they had a pretty unusual set of qualifications for their new home: They wanted to have access to local, organic produce (and not just from the grocery store); they wanted a neighborhood that was easily walkable; and they wanted to be true friends — not just smile and nod acquaintances — with their neighbors. “We looked at a lot of homes, and I just wasn’t connecting,” says Walsh.
On a whim, she searched the internet for “ecofriendly neighborhoods near Atlanta” and happened upon the website for Serenbe, a community of 270 “green” homes and 30 retailers planned around a 25-acre organic working farm and 15 miles of trails. “I fell in love immediately,” she says. They’ve now lived in Serenbe for over four years, and Walsh says they hardly ever leave.
“We have everything we need, and we’ve made so many connections in the community. It truly is a place to build a family.” Serenbe is what’s known as an “agrihood,” a community that is usually planned around a farm and offers access to unblemished landscapes, locally grown food, and homes built to environmentally friendly standards.
One could argue agrihoods are a distant cousin of the golf club communities that sprang up en masse in the ’90s (both offer carefully planned, community-style living), but they are vastly different. “Younger buyers want nature, walkability, and local food rather than golf, so farms within neighborhoods is a more attractive offering,” says Monica Olsen, VP of marketing at Serenbe and herself a resident.
And real estate development trends show this theory is bearing out. In addition to the thriving agrihoods already in existence such as Prairie Crossing in Grayslake, IL, Agritopia in Gilbert, AZ, South Village in South Burlington, VT, and Hidden Springs in Boise, ID, agrihoods are currently being built on Bainbridge Island, WA, in Asheville, NC, Orlando, FL, and Union Township, OH, where 60 buyers have already put down $1,000 deposits on homes in the proposed Aberlin Springs agrihood, the first phase of which is set to open in 2017. But is an agrihood right for you? It could be if the following factors appeal to you.
1. You want to live in a neighborhood where everybody knows your name
The planning of agrihoods is done in a way that fosters community and interaction between the people who live there. In Arizona’s Agritopia, fences aren’t any higher than 5 feet, making it very easy to have a conversation with the family next door when you see them in their backyard. “Every house has a front porch, and the houses are closer to the street,” says resident Katie Critchley. “You can be sitting on your porch and be able to have a normal-decibel-level conversation with someone walking their dog. It forces you to say hello.”
2. Access to local produce is important to you
And we’re talking hyperlocal produce, as in that carrot was grown down the street from your house and picked a couple of hours before you purchased it. Agrihoods often have CSAs (community-supported agriculture farms), where residents can pay a yearly fee and have access to fresh, organic produce on a weekly basis. Agritopia also has a 24-hour farm stand — which can be a recipe saver when you realize midway through making pesto that you forgot to buy basil.
3. If you want to sell, you probably won’t take a loss
Agrihoods are highly desirable right now, and since these homes don’t go up for sale as often as homes in “regular” neighborhoods, it won’t be hard to sell yours if and when you want to leave — and you’ll probably get back at least what you paid for it. Incidentally, you probably won’t pay a premium to live in one of these idyllic settings either. Real estate prices are on par with nearby offerings. Depending on the community, residents may be allowed to rent out their home in the long term (or even start out as a renter, allowing you to try before you buy).
4. You’re a bit of a homebody
Some of the more developed agrihoods have retailers and restaurants on-site. And community-based activities like cooking classes, volunteering to work on the farm, or even tending your own plot in a community garden are offered. In other words, you don’t really have to leave if you don’t want to.
5. You want to live among like-minded neighbors
Unlike in your typical neighborhood, when people move to an agrihood, they usually do so for the same reasons: They place an emphasis on the environment, they want to be surrounded by nature, and they’re looking to put down roots in a significant way. “We’re trying to create a simpler life,” says Critchley. “It just makes you feel good.”