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Community Farms: The Ultimate Suburban Upgrade

5/6/2011 12:00:00 AM

Tags: biodynamic farm, urban farm, Atlanta, Georgia, Serenbe, organic farm

Robyn Griggs Lawrence thumbnailI visited Serenbe, a 1,000-acre community near Atlanta, a couple of years ago in May, just as the first spring crops were coming in. It was the perfect time to check out this utopian community, where 30 acres are devoted to organic and biodynamic gardens that provide fresh, healthy produce to everyone through a community-supported agriculture (CSA) partnership and a weekly farmer’s market. Serenbe is one of the most amazing examples of urban development and land preservation that I’ve encountered—and the food blew me away.

Serenbe’s land plan calls for preserving at least 70 percent of the community’s acreage, while accommodating as many or more people as traditional subdivision-style development. The community includes homes (sheltering approximately 170 residents), commercial space, art galleries, shops, stables and a 20-room inn with conference facilities. From what I could see, though, the farm is the beating heart that feeds this community’s vibrant pulse Three superb restaurants rely on its produce, and the chefs often request that community farmers grow certain foods. Saturday farmer’s markets attract people from far and wide, and farm activities are a key part of the community’s upcoming May Day Celebration on May 14.

Serenbe has been a pioneer, and I’m pleased to see that other developers are following suit. Landscape Architecture magazine reports in its April issue that forward-looking urbanists are situating working farms next to homes in mixed-use projects, Keith Goetzman reports on “Both development and agriculture are broken, and the answer to each is in the other,” architect Quint Redmond told the magazine.

The new designs are incorporating large farms intended to meet more of each community’s nutritional needs, Goetzman writes. Prairie Crossing near Chicago has successfully incorporated sustainable agriculture into its community, and more farm communities are in the works. TSR Group wants to turn 618 acres of industrial farmland in Milliken, Colorado, into an “Agriburbia” community using almost half the land for commercial farming, 135 acres for parks and natural habitat, and the rest for 994 houses. The Southlands, a 536-acre proposed project in Vancouver with 2,000 housing units, would allow all residents to contribute to food production.

Goetzman sees this movement as “a last-gasp attempt to reform suburbanism from within, before high energy prices and new respect for land compels much denser development.” I see it as an extremely hopeful sign that we’ve already begun to transform and evolve our ideas about neighborhoods, suburban living and our food supply.

Suburban homesteaders, your time has come.

serenbe garden 

A community farmer works in the dirt at Serenbe, a 1,000-acre community near Atlanta that includes a 30-acre organic and biodynamic farm. Photo courtesy of Serenbe 

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