“Agriculture is the New Golf”

The sentiment is practically out of Thoreau:

Why not line streets with almond and avocado trees, or replace shrubbery with cabbage and currants? Golf courses could plant their roughs with kale and corn. Lawns”where they must exist”could be edged with chives and herbs.

–Stephanie Simon, “An Apple Tree Grows in Suburbia“; The Wall Street Journal (9/12/2011). 

I can’t answer that last one one exactly, but I do know why city dwellers avoid planting fruit trees in their backyards and on their boulevards:  the fruit is a magnet for various and sundry insects and animals (squirrels, deer, etc.) that are cute . . . until they’re not, and certainly don’t respect humans’ claim to any edible bounty.

“Agriburbia” & the Crowded Coasts

In, a . . . nutshell, that was my admittedly contrarian take on a recent piece in the Journal discussing the supposed, coming trend of “agriburbia”:  fusing the genuinely growing green and sustainability movements with the latest trends in housing.

In particular, Simon profiles half a dozen or so hybrid communities around the country, including the original — Prairie Crossing, outside of Chicago.

I can certainly see the appeal of that idea on the crowded coasts, where open space is scarcer and “city slickers” have a more romantic notion of farming and agriculture and what it represents (“getting back to the earth,” etc.).

But here in the Twin Cities — in the agricultural heartland — I see no sign of a similar movement, for two reasons:

Better Together

One.  Once upon a time, separating housing and farming was considered an advance.

Aside from the uninvited critters, there were other reasons to segregate the two functions:

Developers warn that smells and dust from farming can spark complaints from homeowners.

The complaints can come from the farmers, too: Paige Witherington, who grows vegetables on five acres inside a suburban Atlanta development, says she has had to chase away residents and tourists who saw nothing wrong with walking their dogs through her lettuce fields. “We had to put up a sign saying only farmers allowed beyond this point.

The Wall Street Journal

Two.  Community-based agriculture is already here — in the Twin Cities, that is.

Thousands of locals now supplement their diet with food grown on subplots in one of the city’s patchwork of community gardens. 

Still more maintain a connection to local farms through C.S.A.’s (“Community Supported Agriculture”); my family has had a half-share this Summer in Easy Bean Farm.

Of course, the area is already blessed with one of the best networks of co-op’s in the nation, led by the perennially terrific The Wedge in Uptown (named for its wedge-like slice of that neighborhood).

So, back to my original question:  ‘Is combining housing and agriculture a good idea?’

My answer:  “Yes” — just not in the way that Simon, the article’s author, necessarily envisions.

Rather than planned, new developments in the ‘burbs, the true models are . . . . up-and-running, green-friendly metropolises like the Twin Cities, Madison, and Portland.

P.S.:  Once upon a time in Manhattan, apartment dwellers avoided units just above a grocery store or restaurant, because their food (and a few days later, garbage) attracted rats and other bad neighbors.

About the author

Ross Kaplan has 19+ years experience selling real estate all over the Twin Cities. He is also a 12-time consecutive "Super Real Estate Agent," as determined by Mpls. - St. Paul Magazine and Twin Cities Business Magazine. Prior to becoming a Realtor, Ross was an attorney (corporate law), CPA, and entrepreneur. He holds an economics degree from Stanford.

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