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Farm to Front Door

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Agrihoods build bridge between communities and local food

Standard suburban landscaping typically involves sod, sod and more sod. But Fox Hill, a new development south of Parker, looks a little different.

Built on a 1912 homestead, Fox Hill aims to preserve the area’s natural look—rolling hills covered in prairie grass and scattered Ponderosa pines—as well as its unobstructed mountain views. Instead of golf courses or shopping centers, the development is centered around a working 40-acre farm that will produce food for Fox Hill residents and the surrounding community. Its 93 custom homes will all use different designs, ranging from classic farmhouse to mountain modern, to avoid the cookie-cutter look common in many suburbs. And landscaping rules will curb the use of sod and mountain trees like aspens, encouraging designs featuring native grasses, pines and water-wise plants instead.

“The goal is to enhance the natural landscape, not change it,” says Paige McLaughlin, a realtor who is helping to sell the development with her realtor husband Doug, who grew up on the property.

Maintaining Fox Hill’s natural landscape creates more than just aesthetic benefits for its residents. The property’s historic farmhouse will be converted into a community center, hosting food-centered classes and events like wine tastings and cooking demonstrations. Residents will be able to subscribe to a weekly produce box service, full of the lettuces, herbs, peppers, and other vegetables grown year-round in the farm’s greenhouse, thanks to a tilapia-powered aquaponic system. A newly planted orchard will give the residents the opportunity to go fruit picking in the summer and fall.

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Near the old barn, there are pigs and goats, whose milk will be made into fresh cheese. And the farm’s coop—Cluckingham Palace—houses turkeys and chickens, including one named Hennifer. Residents can sign up to receive fresh eggs and purchase—cover Hennifer’s ears—freshly butchered birds.

Building connection and community

The “farm to table” lifestyle is proving attractive. Fox Hill has sold 55 of its homes so far, and residents began moving in at the beginning of 2021. Buyers range from retired couples to multi generational families, with about half coming from Colorado and half from states like Texas and California, McLaughlin said.

While their backgrounds might vary, the residents are among a growing number of people who share an interest in “agrihoods,” neighborhoods centered around local food, health and community. The Urban Land Institute estimates that there are now at least 90 agrihoods in the United States. A handful are located in Colorado, including Aria Denver, Fort Collins’ Bucking Horse, and Wheat Ridge’s 5 Fridges Farm.

Agrihoods come in all shapes and sizes, from urban garden-centered developments to farm-scale projects like Fox Hill. What they have in common is a dedication to bringing people together to meet over food and learn, said Matt Norris, director of ULI’s Building Healthy Places Initiative. They also represent an opportunity for cities to grow more sustainably, preserving farmlands and open spaces. “To the extent that Denver and the Front Range are the poster child for growth, it makes sense that agrihoods are being developed there,” Norris said.

Related: Yard-to-table Landscaping

There’s a high likelihood that the number of agrihoods will continue to grow. Consumer interest in having access to locally grown food has risen over the last decade or so, Norris said, as awareness has increased about the health and environmental benefits of eating local produce. Consumers are also seeking more opportunities to connect and learn with their communities in real life, not just through Facebook or Nextdoor, Norris said. While it’s too early to know for sure, the pandemic has likely increased interest in both trends.

“It remains to be seen how the pandemic will affect agrihoods, but there’s ever more focus on things like conservation, resilience, how place really shapes health,” Norris said. “More and more people are searching for places to live where they can walk every day, have access to healthy food, really talk to their neighbors.”

At Fox Hill, there’s been a lot of interest from post-pandemic buyers interested in changing their lifestyles, McLaughlin said. The community’s homes are spread out on one- to four-acre parcels, and the development is wired for high-speed internet, for those who continue to work remotely.

“The pandemic has a lot of people reconsidering where they want to be,” McLaughlin said. “People want more space, a little more breathing room. And if they’re no longer going into the office, they don’t need to live in the city anymore.”

Balancing exclusivity and equity

That extra space might come with a price tag. At Fox Hill, for example, homes start in the $900,000s, with several in the millions. That can be a selling point for developers, Norris said. “There’s a need to make the business case with developers,” he said. “Quite a bit of anecdotal data points at the fact that there’s consumer demand for these types of communities, and they can be a big value add.”

Plus, many agrihoods offer benefits to those who might not be able to afford a home in one. Fox Hill’s produce will be available in neighboring communities, through farmer’s markets and other venues, and many of its events are open to the public.

Equity—who has access to agrihoods and the food they produce—is one of the challenges these communities can face, Norris said. Developers and their project partners also have to figure out who will run the growing space, find a farmer who can be the project’s public face, determine whether the land is suitable for growing, and more. “There’s so much potential and great examples of success, but it is more complicated for the people putting these projects together,” Norris said. “Communicating and defining the answers up front is extremely important.”

Related: Painted Prairie Named the National Community of the Year

Fox Hill is on its second farmer so far—the first was recruited by another community—but otherwise, progress has been steady. Greg Smarslok, founder of Craftsman Home Company and one of the builders working with Fox Hill, said he’s been so impressed by the project that he and his wife are building their own home there.

“They’re really delivering on the farm-to-table concept,” he said. “A lot of developers will say they’re going to do things like that, but don’t. Here, you can actually see the progression in the right direction. I think by the end of next summer, it’s going to be first class.”

Smarslok’s company has completed three houses for Fox Hill and is working on eight more. They also do some of the landscaping for the homes if buyers request it. Some prospective buyers haven’t always understood the agrihood concept, Smarslok said.

“Some people come in and say they really want to have a huge lawn,” he said. “And I hate to say it to them, but I have to tell them that Fox Hill might not be the neighborhood for them.”

Mostly though, Smarslok has heard excitement from potential buyers, and he thinks communities like Fox Hill could be the future.

“I think developers would be crazy not to consider this kind of model,” he said. “It’s so far exceeding anything that’s happening anywhere else.”

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Author

  • Corey Dahl

    Corey Dahl is managing editor for Colorado Builder magazine. She has written for a wide variety of news and trade publications, in print and online. Corey has a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Colorado and a master's in communications management from Webster University. She lives in Denver with her dog Rosie.

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