1. Continue to identify, inventory, and investigate agrihood projects and add projects to the map on my website, www.agrihoodinfo.com, which already includes 70 projects.
2. Identify a subset of agrihood projects suitable for further investigation which have been lived in for more than 3 years and span the spectrum of size, context, and type of agriculture practiced.
a. Within the subset. develop and execute an online questionnaire geared towards agrihood residents.
i. the role of agriculture in them moving to the neighborhood,
ii. engagement with the agricultural components of the community,
iii. consumption and purchasing of food from the community farm, and
iv. sense of place and belonging within the community
b. Within the subset, develop and execute semi-structured interviews with agrihood developers, farmers, and managers, covering the following themes.
i. Agrihood Developers
1. Site history and land acquisition
2. Decision to include agriculture
3. Land protection and conservation, use of agricultural easements, and spatial design of community
4. Role of agriculture consultants in the deign process and how type of agricultural amenities were decided
5. Organizational structure and partnerships, management of farmland, educational events, CSA, and farmer’s market
6. Financial information, including real estate performance, upfront costs for agricultural amenities and expected payback period.
7. Transition from developer management to homeowner association (HOA) or lifestyle manager
ii. Agrihood Farmers
1. Professional background and agriculture experience
2. How and why they began working at the agrihood
3. Benefits and challenges of farming with sustained engagement from community
4. Role as agriculture educator, communicator, and event planner
5. How decisions are made for what to plant and when to harvest
6. Management of sales outlets, including farmer’s market, CSA, and/or farm stand
7. What they wish they knew when they first started at agrihood
iii. Agrihood Managers (Homeowner association president or lifestyle manager)
1. Business structure of community management
2. Revenue sources (HOA fees, property taxes, etc)
3. Relationship with and responsibility for farmland and other neighborhood amenities
c. For each community within the subset, develop a series of maps and diagrams, which help visualize the land use, integration of agriculture within the community, and the surrounding context.
3. Transcribe and analyze interviews and identify emerging patterns and themes
4. Describe each community as a unique case study, rich with quotes and insights, in a nicely formatted publication.
Agricultural-focused development, or the agrihood is a rising trend in North American real estate, which situates single and multifamily homes and community buildings within a landscape of edible plants, community gardens, and working farms. Defined as “single-family, multi-family, or mixed-use communities with a working farm or community garden as a focus” (Norris 2018), according to the Urban Land Institute, there are estimated to be 200 agrihoods in the United States and Canada, either built or in the development stages, with many of those projects currently in planning or early development phases (Donnally, 2015). These neighborhoods have proven to be desirable places to live for a wide array of people and household types. Agrihoods span the urban and rural context and vary in scale, types of agriculture, and organizational structure. What they share in common though is that agrihoods integrate food production, such as farms, gardens, orchards, greenhouses, or edible landscaping directly into the residential development and engage residents with locally and sustainably produced food and farming through educational events, volunteering on the farm, and personal garden plots.
By bringing agriculture directly to where people live and developing a deliberate relationship between the farm and residents, agrihoods possibly present a solution to numerous problems in affecting both the environment and human health. First, in many urban and suburban areas, there is geographic separation between local food producers and residential areas, such that consumers need to drive far to access CSAs and farmer’s markets and farmers transport food over long distances to access markets in denser areas. Second, agrihoods present exciting, new job opportunities for farmers, farm educators, food systems planners, and agricultural designers and consultants. Many of the existing agrihoods have a staff ranging from one farmer to dozens of farmers, educators, and sales staff. As the average age of farmers steadily rises, agrihoods provide an opportunity for young farmers to enter the industry because working for an agrihood reduces start-up costs and provides a committed, engaged marketplace (the residents) surrounding the farm. Thirdly, from a community resilience perspective, under threat of a changing climate sending shocks to the food system by way of extreme weather, pests, and disease, producing a diverse array of food at a neighborhood scale buffers against food shortages and makes the community less reliant on the global, industrial food system. Many agrihoods also include solar energy production, efficient homes, and protected conservation land.
The purpose of this project is to advance current knowledge about agrihood developments. The agrihood model presents an alternative to traditional development which supports, rather than displaces farmers, and allows residents to become engaged food consumers without geographic barriers. There is very little information about agrihoods in terms of how they function, the story behind each one, and how they are designed. My contribution will help agrihood developers, farmers, consultants, and managers learn from each other and spread their knowledge and experiences to those unfamiliar with the concept.
My thesis explores a new and growing topic which is important for urban planners, real estate developers, and the agricultural community to understand. In doing so, I will present new information for which there is a significant and demonstrated need. Agrihoods are a recent and understudied phenomenon and are only growing in popularity. This type of development potentially holds promise for bringing sustainable agriculture directly to where people live, supporting, rather than displacing farmers, and providing new job opportunities.
This is a ripe area for interdisciplinary research and my thesis can be one of the first to capture this growing movement and set a baseline for a development pattern which is likely to become more common. My research builds off the report produced by the Urban Land Institute (ULI; Norris 2018) titled Agrihoods: Cultivating Best Practices. This report presents a set of best practices for agrihood developers for topics such as land acquisition, farm management, and financial sustainability. The report is comprehensive in that it covers a range of topics but is limited in the sense that it applies only to developers, focuses on large-scale, subdivision style agrihoods, and provides broad lessons learned as opposed to specific approaches to various challenges.
I believe there is a demonstrated need for my research for a few reasons. First, within the agrihood community, whether it be the ULI report authors, agrihood developers whom I’ve met or spoken to, or other agrihood researchers, all have expressed the need for more research which characterizes and analyzes this trend. Second, based on my coursework and attendances at conferences, agrihoods are not part of the sustainable agriculture conversation or lexicon yet, despite holding promise to promote and grow opportunities for farmers. My project will seek to raise awareness of this idea to the sustainable agriculture community. Finally, within my field of study, urban design and planning, food and agriculture, are rarely part of the discussion or decision-making process, which has contributed to issues such as food deserts and the separation of agricultural and residential land uses in the zoning code. My research will potentially demonstrate a means by which agricultural and residential areas can not only integrate harmoniously but reinforce and support one another. I see my research bridging the gap which exists between urban planning and design and sustainable agriculture. In studying agrihoods, my project explores a new and growing topic for which there is a demonstrated need for farmers, the wider
- What is the local food system within agrihoods?
- To what extent do residents interact with and how important are the food and farming amenities?
A mixed-methods approach was taken for this study including analysis of agrihood spatial design and qualitative research on agrihood residents and neighborhood food systems. Through this approach, each agrihood can be presented as a case study including descriptive analysis of size, population, density, farm acreage to resident ratio, and general spatial design as well as an understanding of the neighborhood history, the relationship between residents and the local agriculture, and the neighborhood food system. These case studies can then be compared and contrasted to gain a fuller understanding of the variation within agrihoods and the relationship between spatial design and resident engagement with the local food system. To begin, potential agrihood case study communities were identified using social media and other online sources. Secondly, a subset of potential agrihoods were selected as case study communities based on characteristics including maturity and amenities. Next, an online survey was administered to residents in order to gauge the extent to which residents interact with and the importance of the food and farming amenities in each agrihood. Concurrent to the survey, semi-structured interviews were carried out with agrihood developers, farmers, and manages in order to understand the local food system within each neighborhood. Throughout this whole process, social and physical data on each agrihood was collected in order to understand the spatial design and density characteristics.
Identify Potential Agrihood Case Studies
Potential agrihood case study communities were identified through the internet and communication with other people involved in the research, design, development, and management of agrihoods. Google searches for the terms: (agrihood or agri-hood) + (development, neighborhood, community, agriculture) were utilized to discover mentions of specific communities within news articles or the community website itself. Facebook and Instagram were searched using the hashtags #agrihood and #agrihoods to discover communities. The list of potential case study communities was then cross checked with a list of agrihood communities collected by the Urban Land Institute, available online at: https://americas.uli.org/research/centers-initiatives/building-healthy-places-initiative/food-real-estate/. For each community, their website was thoroughly reviewed as well as any news articles written about the community. Information about the community, such as the location, size, and amenities, was recorded in an Excel sheet for comparison. The agrihood definition provided by the Urban Land Institute was used to determine if a community should be considered an agrihood.
Identify Case Study Communities
From the larger list of agrihood communities collected previously, a subset of communities was identified to investigate further as case study communities. A stratified sampling method was utilized, which is sampling from a population which can be partitioned in to subpopulations. This was done in order to explore variety within agrihoods, including size, context, and maturity. Agrihood communities were categorized by context (urban, suburban, or rural), size (less than 10 acres, 10-500 acres, or greater than 500 acres), and by development maturity (planning stage, development stage, or year completed). For the purposes of this study, only agrihoods which were built and have had residents living in them and active agricultural amenities for at least 2 years were considered as case study communities.
Collect Data and Create Maps for Case Study Communities
Information on each case study community was collected by reviewing news article, neighborhood websites, final site plan documents, and through conversations with neighborhood officials. For each community information on the total acreage, acreage by land use type, including residential, commercial, agricultural, recreational, and conservation, resident populations, number of units, housing type, and the location and type of agricultural amenities was collected. By overlaying the master site plan provided by each community with aerial imagery provided by Google Earth, neighborhood maps were created using Adobe Illustrator, highlighting the relative location of structures, roads, trails, water, farm land, recreation land, and conservation land.
Administer Online Survey for Agrihood Residents
An online survey for agrihood residents was created using Qualtrics software in order to gauge the extent to which residents engage with food and agricultural amenities and the importance of these amenities in them moving to the neighborhood. The survey methodology was approved by the University of Massachusetts Institutional Review Board (IRB). For each community, a contact person was identified from their website, such as the developer, lifestyle manager, or home-owner’s association (HOA) chairperson. This person was then contacted to ask whether they could assist in administering the survey to residents within the community. Per the approved IRB protocol, the email list of residents could not be provided to me directly such that the developer or HOA were relied on to send the survey out to residents. Initial contact about the survey was made with each case study community on October 26th, 2019 and the survey was sent out to each community on different dates.
Perform Semi-Structured Interviews with Agrihood Developers, Farmers, and Managers
Interview questions were developed for agrihood developers, farmers, and managers in order to understand the local food system within each agrihood. The questions seek to understand how the farm is funded, how and where food is sold, and how residents are meant to interact with the actual production of food. The semi-structured interviews were carried out over the phone and were recorded. Conversations were allowed to flow organically but the conversation was steered back to the original interview questions. This approach allows for specific dimensions of the research questions to be explored while leaving flexibility for the participants to offer new meaning to inform the data. Semi-structured interviews are particularly important in mixed methods research by allowing for focused, two-way communication which adds depth, nuance, and meaning to the other qualitative data collected. The identity and contact information for these developers, farmers, and mangers is easy to find online a database of contact information has already been created.