condo with chicken coop
Wall Street Journal, May 17, 2007
Forget the golf-course community or the
manicured subdivision. A number of developers are now
offering homes on working farms.
Catering to Americans' desire to live "green,"
developers around the country are creating communities
on or adjoining farms, pitching views of sorghum fields,
grazing livestock, and local -- very local -- food, such
as eggs residents collect from the property's henhouse.
The communities, however, aren't necessarily in the
boondocks. Some are in suburbs or near cities.
Bundoran Farm, a community under development in
Albemarle County, Va., is offering 100 home sites on a
working cattle farm and apple orchard at the foot of the
Blue Ridge Mountains. South Village, a project in
suburban South Burlington, Vt., was recently approved
for 334 homes surrounding a 40-acre farm that will grow
corn and other organic produce; Babcock Ranch, in
southwestern Florida, is building nearly 20,000 homes
surrounded by 73,000 acres that include a cattle ranch
and a vegetable farm.
Meanwhile, existing farm subdivisions are expanding:
Tryon Farm in Michigan City, Ind., which produces
sorghum, millet, alfalfa and eggs, is offering
additional homes in the woods and near its ponds and
millet fields. Prairie Crossing, in Grayslake, Ill.,
which has an organic farm and henhouse and touts "views
over cultivated fields of vegetables," recently
completed 36 new condominiums.
For city folks, moving to a farm can require some
adjustment. Such projects generally have small-scale
organic agriculture, such as vegetable fields, chicken
coops or a limited number of cattle. Residents must be
willing to accept the rumble of tractors, natural
grasses instead of a manicured front lawn and
land-management activities, such as an annual "prairie
burn" in which surrounding fields are set afire to rid
them of nonnative species. They may also have to deal
with the smells from the chicken coop.
The projects are one form of conservation development, a
movement that aims to balance growth with preservation
that has been accepted by municipalities in recent years
as a way to maintain open space or rural character. They
also are a way for developers to distinguish themselves
in a slowing housing market, catering to people's
increased interest in environmental sustainability and
desire for locally grown food.
But even though the communities are usually
environmentally friendly and preserve rural character,
they can still trigger objections from local residents
who oppose any development that will add to traffic,
strain local resources or block views. South Village, in
Vermont, took six years to get approval, in part because
of a neighbor's objections.
The projects make financial sense for developers. Buying
farmland and having farmers work it -- a common set-up
of such developments -- is an inexpensive way to manage
open space. Ed McMahon, senior resident fellow for
sustainable development at the Urban Land Institute, a
research group that promotes responsible land use,
points out that many residents of golf communities don't
even play the sport but will pay a premium for the
protected views. House and home-site prices in the
different communities vary greatly, from around $200,000
to more than $1 million.
The projects are also appealing to farmers, ensuring
protection of their operation and creating a ready-made
market for their goods among local homeowners.
Another aspect is the "sense of community" that some of
the projects advertise. While pitching in on the
property isn't required, residents take part in
activities like splitting wood and planting vegetables
and are active in community decision-making. Some people
like all the interaction, but urbanites moving to a farm
development in search of solitude might be taken aback.
David Coldren, a 65-year-old retiree, moved to a home on
Tryon Farm from a downtown Chicago high-rise several
years ago, drawn to the idea of "little houses on the
prairie," he says. But it's not always the quiet
existence of his childhood on a Kansas farm. He was
recently hit with a barrage of requests to attend
meetings on the most environmentally sensitive way to
rid the grounds of phragmites, an invasive plant. When
he had guests over recently, he was interrupted by a
resident at his door urgently asking for help to free
snakes trapped near the community swimming hole.
"If you were planning to come here and sort of
hibernate, it's not easy to do," Mr. Coldren says.
There can be other surprises for people who are not used
to being around agriculture. Nicole Jain Capizzi is
manager of the learning farm at Prairie Crossing, where
kids participate in educational activities such as
feeding chickens and harvesting vegetables. She says
that the first thing newcomers to the henhouse remark
upon is the strong smell.
When kids see the chickens, she says, "they are amazed
to find out that's where chicken nuggets come from."
Indeed, living at Prairie Crossing has made 6-year-old
Ethan Bond a less finicky eater. His mother, Jennifer
Bond, says the exposure to agriculture got
vegetable-averse Ethan to eat lettuce and carrots, as
well as hard-boiled eggs.
"Things he wouldn't eat for me they actually try at the
farm," she says.
The agricultural developments are set up in different
ways. The developer of Prairie Crossing, Prairie
Holdings Corp., first bought the land and then found an
experienced farming couple to lease it. On the other
hand, Qroe Companies, the developer of Bundoran Farm,
purchased an existing cattle farm and apple orchard and
will reserve about 1,000 acres for agriculture.
Homeowners agree to subsidize the farm in slow years but
can also earn revenue when it does well.
Qroe President Robert H. Baldwin Jr. says creating a
community where agriculture is functional and where
people can live is a delicate balance. For example, the
company debated whether or not to put up fences along
the roads that run through the cattle fields. This would
chop up space for roaming cattle, but they ultimately
wanted to avoid scenarios like cows blocking cars or
running at a kid on a bicycle. [at right: Families
harvest carrots on the farm at Prairie Crossing, a
community in Grayslake, Illinois.]
"We want to make sure that this is real agriculture, not
two show horses in a one-hundred-acre pasture," he says.
"But we are realistic enough to know it is not going to
be pure highest-value agriculture."
Developers are also hoping the communities will appeal
to buyers because of their location. Even though the
farms offer a rural feel, residents won't have to give
up the services of urban life, such as shopping or good
medical care. Bundoran Farm is 20 minutes outside of
Charlottesville, Va., and Prairie Crossing is within
walking distance of commuter lines into Chicago. Mike
Sands, Prairie Crossing's environmental team leader,
says the location has appeal for the farmers and
"Where else can you can farm and still get take-out
Chinese?" he says.