When it comes to building successful communities, there is one vital aspect to consider that nourishes both the body and the collective soul— food. Food has been at the core of community since the beginning of time. Growing and sharing food is a powerful platform for nurturing the physical and social health of individuals and communities.
Of course, everyone eats. But, what is unique today is that awareness of food has grown so that more people want to know where their food comes from. They want it to be healthy and clean and be a part of creating a more sustainable and just food system. That awareness is what is currently transforming neighborhoods across the nation into hubs where agriculture is celebrated and community farms and gardens are integrated.
“With the shifts in how people connect, developers and planners are seeking creative alternatives to create vibrant, engaging ways to create community. Where in the past it might have been a retail plaza or community center, now developers are looking at what kinds of places meet the changing needs of how people live,” said Amaya Genaro, Director of Community Services at Rancho Mission Viejo in Orange County, Calif.
The Ranch is a new planned community on 23,000 acres that includes multiple intergenerational residential villages, fruit orchards, community farms, and cattle ranching.
“In addition to the benefits of community gardens, or Agrihoods, these special places also provide an engaging and unique venue for other programming we’re able to offer the residents of Rancho Mission Viejo. Residents are able to connect over food through our RanchLife programs such as wine pairing events, culinary workshops, Lil’ Chef Program and our annual harvest celebration,” Genaro added.
The movement to grow neighborhoods around the concept of fresh, sustainable foods is cropping up in communities throughout the country. One example is Serenbe, a progressive community connected to nature on the outskirts of Atlanta full of fresh food, fresh air and focused on well-being.
Serenbe’s architectural planning sets a new standard for community living.
The neighborhood features four hamlets focused on the elements of a well-lived life: the arts, agriculture, health, and education. Fresh food is one of Serenbe’s natural assets, with a 8-acre organic farm, seasonal Saturday Farmer’s Market, thriving CSA program and edible landscaping, including blueberry bushes along paths and sidewalks.
To explore these issues, the Urban Land Institute (ULI) convened members and experts working in food, real estate development, local government, public health, and other related professions in 2016 for two inaugural food and real estate forums. “We recognize the importance of creating communities that are safe, sustainable, wholesome and nourishing for residents. That’s why we are committed to educating and supporting land developers and builders so that these innovative neighborhoods can realize their full potential,” said Kendra Chandler, Executive Director, Urban Land Institute Orange County/Inland Empire.
These and similar efforts are also bringing local farmers to the table. Community farms can be the catalysts for social change, environmental change and educational change. The idea is not a new one. The Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) concept began in Japan and eventually made its way to the U.S. in the 1980s.
Community Supported Agriculture, or CSA, is an initiative where consumers make a seasonal investment in a local farm and in exchange receive a weekly share of the harvest. The farmer sells direct to the consumer, reducing the cost and impact of distribution and fostering a relationship between farmers and consumers.
Today’s community farm takes the CSA model to the next level with a focus on health, wellness, and how food is grown and prepared, thereby allowing the farm a direct and impactful connection to the community.
Coastal Roots Farm is an example of a nonprofit community farm and education center where more than half of the food grown is donated for the benefit of community members who lack access to fresh food through its local CSA, pay-what-you-can farm stands and direct donations to local food pantries.
Chandler added: “It’s exciting to see how these ideas are taking root in communities across the country. Whenever you can touch the future, there is true meaning.”
Daron ‘Farmer D’ Joffe is the Director of Agricultural Innovation and Development for Leichtag Foundation / “Farmer D Consulting” and serves as the Founding Director at Coastal Roots Farm. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.