Consumers looking for the perfect spot for their Katahdin Cedar Log Home may not consider a traditional subdivision as a fitting landscape to situate their home, however, a new trend in residential development may have some taking a second look.
Several new developments are including an Urban Agriculture component to a development plan that is centered around creating a more healthy community. One company, Bellisimo Inc. is making a mark in planning with its Bucking Horse development in Fort Collins, Colo. And it’s an approach that’s gaining attention, buyers and interest in how the program came together.
Bellisimo’s Bucking Horse took the aging 240-acre Jessup Farm— a farmhouse with an historic barn—to create a mixed-use development with single-family homes, townhouses, an “Artisan Village” featuring a farmer’s market, shops and restaurants. The original farmstead will be restored with the farmhouse converted to a home for a professional agriculturalist to run the farm. According to Gino Campana, the company’s owner, “We decided to create a value proposition directed toward a healthier community overall, and that lifestyle included an urban farm component.” Beginning with a healthy community approach, Campana said, “At every level we’ve tried to stay true to the original vision.”
In the Bucking Horse development that vision has included the farm component, as well as the way the details of the subdivision play out. “Instead of a maple tree in the landscape, we’ll plant an apple tree,” he explained. “If we have a choice in an eating establishment, we’ll select a farm-to-fork diner, rather than a chain restaurant.” They’ve also written details into their covenants, requiring that front porches be wide and welcoming, and that fencing be limited to low visual impact split rail rather than 8-foot privacy fences.
And it’s a trend that is responding to social changes. Many families are paying more attention to the source of their food, whether it’s shopping at a local greengrocer or wandering through a nearby farmer’s market. Developers like Campana are addressing this need to be closer to the food supply and offering new subdivisions centered around a working organic farm. The combination offers some real benefits for both residents of subdivision, and the surrounding communities. Rural areas in many instances are struggling to cope with suburban sprawl and hoping to keep as much agricultural and open space viable in their communities.
The benefits of being near a farm can also be measured in added immunity for children, as shown in this recent news report. Plus the knowledge of where and how our food is grown and harvested can give some valuable life lessons. Developers also profit from offering consumers the open land, access to walking tails, pastoral views and access to fresh farm products.
So, how does it work? Many subdivisions with an agricultural component begin with an existing farmstead, to allow the community to be built in harmony with a farmhouse with existing outbuildings or barns. Surrounding fields can be either kept in production or divided into home lots. Other open space is easily reclaimed from the cleared fields, enabling development of other amenities such as walking trails or play areas.
In some models the farm is set up as a community supported agriculture (CSA) model, one that has been in practice for many years in France, and which is finding a toehold in the U.S. as well. In the CSA model, community members buy shares in the farm, providing up-front capital to purchase seed, pay workers, maintain fields, and harvest the bounty. Similarly in the farm-as-amenity subdivision model, residents pay an association fee that provides funds to make the farm viable, and ultimately reap the rewards in produce. At certain times, the farm provides opportunities to work in the fields or carry out farm chores.
In Campana’s case, the city’s urban policy statements were more progressive, but the actual land use code lagged behind these outlines. He had a supportive planning board that provided the dozen or so variances Bucking Horse needed to bring the plan to fruition. The company has been contacted by other communities to learn how the planning process worked and how the plan is being implemented. “It’s a lot of responsibility,” he said. “It’s very important that we make this work.”