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Earth Science

Conservation Communities Takes Root Across US 116

Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes "Kate Murphy reports at the NYT about a growing number of so-called agrihoods, residential developments where a working farm is the central feature, in the same way that other communities may cluster around a golf course, pool or fitness center. At least a dozen projects across the country are thriving, enlisting thousands of home buyers who crave access to open space, verdant fields and fresh food. 'I hear from developers all the time about this,' says Ed McMahon. 'They've figured out that unlike a golf course, which costs millions to build and millions to maintain, they can provide green space that actually earns a profit.'

Agritopia, outside Phoenix, has sixteen acres of certified organic farmland, with row crops (artichokes to zucchini), fruit trees (citrus, nectarine, peach, apple, olive and date) and livestock (chickens and sheep). Fences gripped by grapevines and blackberry bushes separate the farm from the community's 452 single-family homes, each with a wide front porch and sidewalks close enough to encourage conversation. The hub of neighborhood life is a small square overlooking the farm, with a coffeehouse, farm-to-table restaurant and honor-system farm stand. The square is also where residents line up on Wednesday evenings to claim their bulging boxes of just-harvested produce, eggs and honey, which come with a $100-a-month membership in the community-supported agriculture, or CSA, program.

'Wednesday is the highlight of my week,' says Ben Wyffels. 'To be able to walk down the street with my kids and get fresh, healthy food is amazing.' Because the Agritopia farm is self-sustaining, no fees are charged to support it, other than the cost of buying produce at the farm stand or joining the CSA. Agritopia was among the first agrihoods — like Serenbe in Chattahoochee Hills, Ga.; Prairie Crossing in Grayslake, Ill.; South Village in South Burlington, Vt.; and Hidden Springs in Boise, Idaho. 'The interest is so great, we're kind of terrified trying to catch up with all the calls,' says Quint Redmond adding that in addition to developers, he hears from homeowners' associations and golf course operators who want to transform their costly-to-maintain green spaces into revenue-generating farms. Driving the demand, Redmond says, are the local-food movement and the aspirations of many Americans to be gentlemen (or gentlewomen) farmers. 'Everybody wants to be Thomas Jefferson these days.'"
The city of Detroit is planning a 26.9-acre urban farm project on one of its vacant high school properties. Produce from the project will be included in meals for students in the district and later to the larger community.
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Conservation Communities Takes Root Across US

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  • Re:454 / 16 (Score:4, Interesting)

    by thesupraman ( 179040 ) on Thursday March 13, 2014 @08:31PM (#46479009)

    This sounds like the fake plastic plants approach to agriculture, all fashion and no substance.

    I myself live in the middle of 20 acres of my own farmland, and thats barely enough to anything even close to useful in the way of actual farming, we call it a 'lifestyle block'.
    'The square is also where residents line up on Wednesday evenings to claim their bulging boxes of just-harvested produce, eggs and honey, which come with a $100-a-month membership'
    Yeah, right.. the boxes wont be bulging from the produce of 20 acres.. not if they have any livestock area as they claim, not for 452 families..
    Mind you, $45,200/month is not a bad scam for the people running it.. I suspect it buys a lot of outside produce ;)

  • Agritopia in Phoenix (Score:4, Interesting)

    by mythosaz ( 572040 ) on Thursday March 13, 2014 @08:35PM (#46479037)

    To the best of my knowledge, the only useful thing to come out of Agritopia in Phoenix (Chandler/Gilbert) is Joe's Farm Grill [] which is a nice place to grab a fresh burger or some BBQ and eat on the patio with the other Mormon families.

    If you look at the map [], you'll see that there's basically a little bit of citrus, a field growing something alfalfa-esque, and a greenhouse where someone's got some tomatoes.

    It's not Pauly Shore Biodome.

    It's just a place with fresh tomatoes.

  • Re:Not that bad (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Allasard ( 565291 ) on Friday March 14, 2014 @12:56AM (#46480101)
    I'm a member of a CSA in the wonderful state of Pennsylvania.
    I pay around that much. (although in one annual payment for May-Nov)
    My farmer has 2 acres of land and about 30-40 members if I recall. So that's the same order of magnitude.
    We get more veggies than we can eat. The fridge is always stuffed full of whatever's in season. Lettuces; cukes; peppers; tomatoes; kohlrabi; squash; potatoes; parsnips; etc; etc.
    I still sadly need to throw stuff away since we can't eat it all in time. But it's just the fresh stuff and storage veggies. We don't get grains. Corn has a horrible yield density.

    They aren't making a killing. I actually had a pair of farmers for the first few years of the CSA, but they decided it wasn't possible to both live off of it, so she went off to do something else.
    I did the math a few years ago. It's probably somewhat less than it costs at the grocery store, but it much fresher. You can't compare the taste of tomatoes from a store and something you just picked. (You can pick some of your own stuff also. I'm pretty damn sure he isn't trucking anything in.)
    I get to be on a first name basis with my farmer, and I'm helping someone with a local business. He would get pennies on the dollar selling to a store, so it's win-win. And my kids get to see where their food comes from. Anything he has leftover gets sent to a Food Bank.

    It would be awesome if I didn't have to drive to pick up the veggies, like these planned towns. Cool idea.
  • What a joke (Score:4, Interesting)

    by sirwired ( 27582 ) on Friday March 14, 2014 @07:02AM (#46481159)

    16 acres of water-thirsty crops outside Phoenix in a development with 452 homes? This isn't a farm, (much less something you could call a "conservation community") it's landscaping that happens to produce something you can eat. Better than a golf-course, I suppose, but still a bit "slacktivist."

  • by Dasher42 ( 514179 ) on Friday March 14, 2014 @07:15AM (#46481209)

    The part of this story that the Slashdot audience could most easily get in on is aquaponics, which is producing huge yields in some cases and holds a lot of promise for the local food movement.

    Aquaponics is a system you can use indoors or outdoors, on large or small scales. It is a closed loop wherein ponds full of fish, usually tilapia, have their water pumped through hydroponic grow beds full of food-growing plants. The all-important third ingredient is a bacteria which converts the ammonia of the fish waste into nitrates which nourish the plants. The water goes back to the fish clean and livable. Once the bacteria are established and in balance to keep this conversion going, the only investment this needs are the energy to keep the pumps going, stable temperatures, and fish food.

    Because the density of available nutrients is quite high, the plants can be so too. Their roots mostly just need to grow straight down, so typical planting distances don't apply. The fish too get a cleaner environment, and the usual equations for how many fish per gallon of water can be exceeded. A stabilized, intelligently planted aquaponics system can grow a lot of food - this site ( claims that 25 to 30 square feet of grow bed is enough to completely meet one adult's supply for table vegetables, and given that you keep the water quality high, the tilapia will make for very tasty protein too.

    Because the water is in a closed loop system, very little of it is lost, and aquaponics is radically less demanding of water than traditional agriculture. Because you can grow this stuff indoors, chemical pesticides are neither needed nor desirable, for your sake and the fishes'.

    Leafy green plants are the easiest to grow in this way, root vegetables some of the hardest. Tweaks on this system do keep expanding the options, however, like microgreens, wherein you harvest plants in the first two weeks after they've sprouted for a nutrient density four to forty times that of typical mature vegetables. So the question is, how could we make this the most easy thing to get started, so that people with little experience and limited time can skip the refrigerator and east straight from their greenhouse?

    Done rightly, this system can shake up food supply as surely as 3D printers are going to shake up industry.

Love may laugh at locksmiths, but he has a profound respect for money bags. -- Sidney Paternoster, "The Folly of the Wise"