“Green acres is the place to be. Farm livin’ is the life for me,” sang the star of the hit TV sitcom Green Acres in its iconic theme song. In the show’s 1965 pilot, successful Manhattan lawyer Oliver Wendell Douglas took his reluctant wife Lisa from glitzy Gotham to a country farm in Hooterville, USA.
Six decades and one pandemic later, many other successful urbanites are leaving city life behind for their own green acres. But today’s agrihoods are often well-located, amenity-rich developments even glamour-loving Lisa Douglas might love at first sight.
The New Agrihoods
Suburban and exurban agrihoods, with their easy access to airports for travel, major cultural centers for arts and entertainment, and essential home features like spa bathrooms, chef-style kitchens and broadband, have become increasingly popular. These new ‘Hootervilles’ have many of the same amenities home buyers expect in non-agrihood communities, along with the farm features.
“As a general rule, suburban agrihoods have a community center or clubhouse. Many have swimming pools, walking paths, bike paths, and playgrounds for children,” shares Anna DeSimone, author of Welcome to the Agrihood, Housing, Shopping, and Gardening for a Farm-to-Table Lifestyle (Housing Publishing, 2020), considered a definitive source on this subject.
“There are about 100 agrihoods in the US, and dozens in the planning stages,” she adds. Comparable to traditional upscale suburban developments, many agrihoods offer boating, golf, and equestrian facilities.
Agrihoods’ Fresh Appeal
Covid-19, which hit cities like New York especially hard, has made agrihoods even more popular, according to real estate broker and land use consultant Kathleen Rose, a member of The Counselor of Real Estate. “The trend was growing, but has accelerated with the pandemic as folks moved from urban to suburban/rural environments.”
One particular feature DeSimone cites may be especially appealing to pandemic-weary parents: “About a dozen agrihoods have on-site K-12 charter schools.” For the majority of developments and prospective buyers, the author sees three main drivers to agrihoods’ increasing popularity: “Access to fresh, locally grown food; living closer to nature; and involvement in a community that is centered around a working farm.” Empty supermarket bins tied to supply chain issues have certainly made easy, healthy food access even more appealing. Covid didn’t change the buyer profile, DeSimone observes, it just widened interest in the concept.
The Agrihood Advantage
Residential real estate platform BDX marketing executive and agrihood enthusiast Jefre Outlaw notes, “Home buyer interest in agrihoods centers around a desire to get back to the land without owning a large tract, farm or ranch, which feels isolating.” This makes getting your hands dirty, then returning to your newly-built farm home to enjoy your hand-picked basil and tomatoes on your deck with neighbors easy for even the greenest greenhorn.
Rose agrees, “Many agrihoods offer a blend of modern living, with townhomes, and the ability to own a ‘mini-farm’ with two or three acres. For example, people can have a plot for a chicken coop so they can harvest their own eggs.”
They also offer social and culinary amenities many residents might otherwise miss in leaving city living. “Each agriculture creates its own culture,” the broker adds. “For example, the Olivette Riverside Community & Farm in Asheville, North Carolina hosts farm-to-table dinners and Bundoran Farm in North Garden, Virginia features private lakes for boating and fishing, as well as a vineyard.”
The Agrihood Buyer
Who are these would-be farmers and fishermen? “Families with young children and retirees were the predominate buyer type on the last buyer analysis we did,” Outlaw says.
Sheri Koones, author of 10 books on home building and design, including her latest Bigger Than Tiny, Smaller Than Average (Gibbs-Smith, 2022), profiled two agrihood homeowners and their properties. One bought into suburban Atlanta-based Serenbe, one of the most celebrated agrihoods in the country. “The homeowner felt having a large house was a ‘burden’ in terms of maintenance and efficiency,” Koones shares. “She was drawn to this community with the farm-to-table restaurants, the countryside, and natural environment,” the author notes.
The other agricultural project she profiled was located in Kiawah River near Charleston, South Carolina. That couple “particularly liked the natural amenities afforded them with this planned community, including the hiking trails, gathering areas, farms and also the eateries, fitness center, stores, indoor and outdoor activities,” Koones recalls.
This aligns with the agrihood concept, Rose points out, “People who live in an agrihood want a healthier lifestyle and have an interest in knowing how and where their food is grown.” The imperative of bolstering your immune system through the pandemic makes sourcing your own food directly even more appealing, including for health-conscious parents.
DeSimone describes historic farm community Aberlin Springs in Morrow, Ohio, in her agricultural book as a “neighborhood of free-range chickens and free-range kids.” This includes “teenagers carrying foraged scraps of lumber into the woods to build their own forts [and] pre-school children petting rabbits and goats, gathering eggs from the chicken coop, and waving hello to Jack, the farm’s resident donkey.”
If these idyllic scenes have you fantasizing about stomping grapes in your backyard, catching fish from your dock or blogging about your farm-grown omelets, it’s worth bearing in mind some buyer tips. Rose advises, “Take a tour and research the community. Also, ask if there is a program manager or director so you have a sense of the programming that will be offered.”
There is as much ‘farm-washing’ as there is ‘green-washing’ and ‘well-washing’ hype in other areas of real estate. Sometimes communities will market themselves as agrihoods with little resident agricultural potential to support the label. “That’s why it’s important to look into the offerings, programs and involvement of the developer. Be sure to ask if there is a program manager or director.” Rose recommends.
DeSimone suggests, “Consider the type of farm and farming activities. Farms may be professionally managed, or they might require residents to volunteer a certain amount of time toward planting, harvesting, or working at the farm store. The developer will explain the plans for the farm, as well as monthly fees charged to residents for a ‘farm share’ or a ‘community supported agriculture (CSA)’ program.” CSA programs are generally optional, she says, and it’s worth considering whether the offering will meet the needs of an empty nester household like Koones’ Serenbe owner versus a growing family like her Kiawah River owners.
DeSimone notes that “there are a few agrihoods that designate a percent of dwellings for seniors and/or lower-income households.” An affordable agriculture trend may even emerge from workforce housing concepts tied to pandemic lessons.
In general though, outdoor space, modern homes, nature and healthy food access often come at a premium and purchase prices are “generally higher than surrounding properties due to the amenities,” Outlaw comments.
Rose sees this in her Southeastern region: “Agrihoods draw young families, empty nesters and seniors alike. The common thread is most residents are wealthier as they’re in a better position to afford the higher costs of purchasing a home in an agrihood.”
However, as Outlaw notes, how do you put a price on playing with goats and educating your children about where their food comes from?