Developers Look to Farmers to Cultivate Home Buyers

April 18, 2019

Eager to attract buyers who want modern homes with a close connection to the food they consume, a growing number of residential developers are building master-planned communities designed around agricultural themes—and some are even partnering with farmers to run community events.

Christina Acuña, director of marketing for Hillwood Communities, developer of Harvest, an agrihood near Dallas

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Christina Acuña, director of marketing for Hillwood Communities, developer of Harvest, an agrihood near Dallas.

These so-called “agrihoods” combine traditional single-family or multifamily residential units with farmland, food-production spaces, trails, and other nature-focused amenities. The number of agrihoods has been expanding, and there are now at least 27 agrihoods in the United States and Canada, according to the Urban Land Institute.

“It’s something that has spoken to a lot of different types of people,” says Christina Acuña, director of marketing for Hillwood Communities, which is building an agrihood on a 1,200-acre parcel of land about 50 miles northwest of Dallas. “We’re hearing from our sales counselors that people who come in who don’t even have a green thumb just really love the concept of having a farm in their backyard.”

The agrihood, called Harvest, will eventually have 3,300 single-family homes and is anchored by a six-acre community farm. The community also features a 10,000-square-foot greenhouse, community gardens, apple and peach orchards, and a demonstration garden. The original farmhouse has been repurposed as a coffee house. In addition, Harvest has 150 raised gardening plots that residents can rent for $60 or $100 per year, depending on their size.

“Our consumer research told us that home buyers weren’t necessarily looking for bigger and bolder; they were looking for simplicity and authenticity,” says Acuña, who spoke during an April 17 panel session at the Urban Land Institute’s Spring Meeting in Nashville, Tenn.

Hillwood partnered with a farmer to help launch the agricultural development, which began construction in 2012. The developer provided the farmer with startup funds and subsidized the rent for the land he uses for the first six months to give him a head start. In return, the farmer, who now runs a self-sustaining business providing produce to restaurants in the Dallas-Fort Worth region, teaches residents about farming techniques and offers front-door delivery of produce he grows on the community’s land. The community donates some of the food grown on the farm to the North Texas Food Bank.

“From a marketing and branding standpoint, it’s so easy to tell our story and illustrate our differentiation in the marketplace,” Acuña says.

One of the keys to building a community that appeals to the tastes of people who want a connection with the land they live on is to use the available land creatively, says Amaya Genaro, director of community services for Rancho Mission Viejo, an agrihood in southern Orange County, Calif., about six miles south of Los Angeles. Although the development sits on 23,000 acres of land, much of the property is reserved open space and cannot be developed.

Rancho Mission Viejo, which is being built out in phases, includes 45 raised planting beds, 60 fruit trees, and 2,000 citrus trees that line a major street that passes through the community. Three part-time farmers manage the 1.5-acre farm, run workshops, and coordinate volunteer work by residents.

A big draw for buyers is the sense of connection with nature that the open land offers, says Genaro, who also spoke during the Urban Land Institute panel session. “We have small acreage that impacts lifestyle in a bigger way … it’s the beauty, the topography, the open space, and the views that [inspire] our residents to purchase homes.”

Genaro emphasizes that her company is dedicated to providing a living experience where people can connect with the environment without worrying about spoiling it. “We want them to experience the five senses … and know that the world is not available entirely from an iPhone or a TV.”