International Property

Welcome to the agrihood: golf courses out, urban farms in as upscale developers invite buyers to grow fruit and vegetables

Developers from Suzhou, China, to Palm Springs, California are betting that giving homeowners the opportunity to practise healthy living by growing ‘clean food’ – on vines and in olive groves and garden plots – will be attractive

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 11 January, 2018, 6:16pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 11 January, 2018, 7:02pm

When residents of prestigious apartment buildings and upscale communities tire of their sophisticated amenities (wine bars, concierges, Olympic-sized pools), they will turn to the simple pleasures of the land. That, at least, is the thinking of residential developers around the world – and one they are banking on.

Agrihoods – gardens where fruit and vegetables grow that are shared by a neighbourhood or community – are a nascent trend in global real estate development, but one that is on the rise. Partly, it’s an outgrowth of the trend in farm-to-table dining, partly a hunch that residents of a building or neighbourhood have an incipient desire to come together to tend urban gardens and share what they grow.

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It’s already happening in Hong Kong’s backyard.

A new development for the active elderly, Yangcheng Lake Island Senior Housing, near Suzhou in Jiangsu province, will this year welcome its first residents and invite them to grow produce on plots of land for their own consumption or for use in the on-site restaurant kitchen.

“The fundamental idea is to incorporate clean food, clean air, healthy living – all the things that are important around the world,” says Jason Briscoe, managing partner of the Shanghai office of architectural firm Steinberg, which is building the 1.2 million square foot community.

We wanted to create an environment that was more all-inclusive than a golf course implies
Brad Shuckhart

According to Briscoe, this is one of the only residential projects he knows of in China that has an urban garden in addition to the regular amenities. The project, developed by China Life Investment Holding Company, will provide about 1,000 homes, ranging in size from 430 square feet to 2,000 square feet.

Briscoe anticipates that “a broad range of ages” may call the development home, but says it is targeted specifically at “active and highly mobile seniors”.

He says adult children are looking to buy units for their parents.

“The ways in which people will engage [with] the landscape will vary,” he says. “Some are focused on the ability to farm their own piece of land, to work the landscape and grow fruit and flowers, to control the quality of their produce. The goal is to encourage interaction between the residents, as well as the outside community.”

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The agrihood idea is gaining traction in other parts of the world. Targeting a different demographic to that of the Suzhou development, Walden Monterey in California is a 250-hectare site on which 22 houses will be built for sale primarily to Silicon Valley millennials. Nothing is being developed; buyers will spend US$5 million for each plot of land, which will run to about 9 hectares (22 acres), on which to create their dream home.

People who have bought land there already, says a spokesman for the developer, favour a rustic lifestyle over golf courses and clubhouses. They can choose what to plant on their property – fruit or olive trees, or grape vines – and the produce they bear can be shared at farm-to-table dinners on site.

Agritopia, in Gilbert, in the US state of Arizona, has 4.5 hectares (11 acres) of certified organic farmland; Kukui’ula in Hawaii offers buyers of its multimillion-dollar homes the ability to access The Farm, where they can pick fruit and vegetables. At Playa de La Paz, a wealthy enclave on the Sea of Cortez in Mexico, owners of its 23 residences are welcome to stop by the ranch of the developer and collect newly laid eggs (some from ostriches), harvest greens and even toss a line into the ocean for fish.

At Miralon, an upcoming development in Palm Springs, southern California, 25 hectares (62 acres) of olive groves will be planted rather than building a golf course – a standard feature for which the city is known.

“It’s a twist on a typical agrihood,” says Brad Shuckhart, president of the California division of development firm Freehold Communities.

Miralon has contracted with the Temecula Olive Oil Company, which will tend the olive trees and harvest their fruit with the help of residents, who can help press the olives and be allocated some of the oil produced; the rest will be sold on site and through farmers’ markets.

“We wanted to create an environment that was more all-inclusive than a golf course implies,” Shuckhart says. “The actual use of that open space is really only for golfers. The olive groves are open to all the residents, to take walks in, to enjoy the shade and the vistas, and then to harvest the fruit.”

The fundamental idea is to incorporate clean food, clean air, healthy living – all the things that are important around the world
Jason Briscoe

The 1,150 Modernist-inspired homes will be move-in ready towards the end of 2018; also on the property are several planned garden plots that will be maintained by the homeowners’ association. Because many of the residents of Palm Springs do not live there full time, having access to the gardens is a way for homeowners to be involved with the property when they are there.

“The produce that is grown in the common beds will be distributed to residents, who will also be encouraged to plant their own fruit and vegetables,” Shuckhart says. “Everyone will be welcome.”