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In a cozy community just outside Phoenix, homeowners have a food source that’s truly local. In fact, the path from farm to table measures only a couple of blocks.
The place is called Agritopia. It’s a suburban neighborhood with more than 450 Craftsman-style homes that are built entirely around a working farm. Such communities have been dubbed "agrihoods."
For Joe Johnston, it is like a Garden of Eden. His father bought the land in 1960 to grow cotton and wheat. A few years ago, he reinvented the family farm and developed Agritopia.
“I’ve lived on the East Coast and the West Coast,” Johnston said. “I’ve also grown up on a farm, and I just thought, if we can pull these components together, we can create the sort of village we would personally like to live in and still convey that heritage of agriculture in a new way.”
The farm at the center of this agrihood grows more than just a few commodity crops. Farmers produce about 100 varieties of fruits and vegetables including tomatoes, peppers and eggplant, with all of the work done by hand.
“It’s getting back to what I believe is the better way of looking at our food system, which is local,” said Erich Schultz, Agritopia’s head farmer.
The farm also has rows of fruit trees and a range of livestock, including chickens and sheep. One section is reserved for bees, which produce honey for the neighborhood.
Agritopia is among the nation’s first agrihoods, but the idea has cropped up in at least a dozen communities from Vermont to Georgia to Idaho. Plans are underway for several more.
Stacey Bomstea works on Agritopia’s community garden, growing carrots, radishes, broccoli and anything else that her family eats.
“As soon as I drove in, it just felt like there’s purpose here,” said Bomstea, who bought a small house in the community without even consulting her family. “My husband was taking our kids to a camp up in Colorado, and I called him and said, ‘I bought a house.’ And he said, ‘OK, where’s it at?’ I said, ‘Some place called Agritopia.’ And then he came home and we started packing up.”
For Ben and Sara Wyffels – who have two children, Liam and Jonah – one of the biggest draws is the weekly Wednesday night farmers’ market, where residents can buy meals from food trucks that use the farm’s produce as ingredients.
“Liam and Jonah are going to get a chance to see where their food comes from a little bit more than if we lived somewhere else,” Ben Wyffels said.
In the heart of Agritopia, both residents and visitors frequent a coffeehouse and farm-to-table restaurant. There’s also a farm stand with an honor-system envelope.
Johnston said he has heard from other communities interested in creating their own agrihoods.
“It’s not easy. I think developers think that if you can build a building, you can go farm, right? But it’s not true,” Johnston said. “I hope this will be replicated, but it takes patience.”