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Developers Build Organic Farms in Suburbia to Lure Homebuyers

September 11, 2011 |

For years immaculately manicured golf courses have passed for ‘green settings’ advertised in brochures selling cookie cutter homes in suburban neighborhoods throughout the United States. But now, according to a recent Wall Street Journal Article many developers are now creating neighborhoods centered around a new kind of ‘green setting’ – organic farms, grazing pastures for cattle and grape vineyards.

The trend comes on the heels of a public that is demanding more organic and locally grown produce. Thousands of neighborhoods centered around golf courses already exist, Stephanie Simon writes in the WSJ article, and this new angle seems to be appealing to many seeking a home closer to nature.

“I know my kids will know computers, technology—all those things they’re growing up with,” said Elsa Fluss, a mother of two who is looking to purchase a home in a planned development in Sterling Ranch, southwest of Denver. “I also want them to know working with their hands.”

Typically there are three approaches to these types of neighborhoods, Simon writes. One of the most basic is setting aside land for a farm, orchard or vineyard within the community that may be run by an independent contractor who leases the land, or by salaried farmers who work for the developer. The second model incorporates community gardens within the development. Or, residents are offered a choice of irrigation systems and planter boxes that allow them to turn their yards into mini-farms. A final option involves creating edible landscaping throughout common spaces, like planting fruit and nut trees, berry bushes, cabbage and lettuce. Residents are then allowed to pick whatever they can use. Most of these neighborhoods incorporate more than one of these versions.

And while interest in these communities might be flourishing, that doesn’t mean these new neighborhoods are free of problems. The poor economy has caused financing issues for some in the developmental stage, including Bundoran Farms in Charlottesville, Va.

Zoning regulations are another issue. Oftentimes regulations require that homes be built at a certain distance away from operating farms. Finally, many who are accustomed to the well-manicured lawns and gardens of traditional suburban neighborhoods may be put off by the appearance of these new developments.

And while these housing developments are a step in the right direction, there are some critics who say they don’t go far enough. A push for a type of “agriburbia” is being made by people like Quint Redmond, a land planner in Golden, Colo. He’s pushing to go past building around a farm, and making each home’s lawn a farm in itself.

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