Confession: house hunting is one of my guilty pleasures.
The Stunning Mrs. Vance and I did a fair bit of our courtship going house hunting, actually. We were both renters in excellent situations subletting space from homeowners we absolutely loved, but I was coming up on the end of my lease and thought it was time for me to find a place of my own. So we started looking. And looking. And looking.
Our realtor is in line for sainthood after helping us find our home. We looked at somewhere around 45 homes before finally settling on the first house either of us had ever owned.
I’m a small-town farm kid who now lives in the suburbs. We own the home farm where I grew up, but our careers keep us tethered to the ‘burbs rather than back home on the land I love so dearly. We live in a wonderful neighborhood surrounded by incredible people who are a part of our extended family. And yet, we both get a charge out of looking at real estate listings, and as The Little Tyke gets closer and closer to elementary school age, we’re seriously considering relocating to give her the best education we can without abandoning the public school system (we’re both public-school products, and believe that it’s important to support our local schools – and that includes sending our kid there, too).
So you can imagine my reaction when a real-estate newsletter sent me an article about “Agrihoods, where the suburbs meet the farm.”
As it turns out, some pretty smart developers and homebuilders figured out that people are really into food these days, and even more so, they’re really into experiences and trying to “get back to our agrarian roots” without actually giving up the trappings of the modern suburban lifestyle. The whole concept is basically taking your typical golf course community, ripping out the golf course (which, incidentally, was probably a farm to start with), and replacing it with some manner of farmstead.
The prime example cited by the article is a community near Asheville, N.C., called Olivette. As described by Laura Vogel at Trulia.com:
Along the banks of North Carolina’s French Broad River, seven miles outside of Asheville, the very first neighbors in a housing development called Olivette have shuffled their furniture and boxes out of moving trucks and into their brand-new homes.
These buyers weren’t drawn by the golf course or community pool—because Olivette doesn’t have those things. The 350-acre development is what founders Scott Austin, Allison Smith, and William Dickerson are calling an “agrihood.” What if, they wondered, we built a neighborhood around a working farm? And that’s exactly what they’ve done.
Doesn’t that sound great? The developers describe the “agrihood” as a “planned community and historic farm, located along the French Broad River, just 6.7 miles from downtown Asheville.” Olivette is home to a “vibrant vegetable, fruit and flower farm. The community also provides seven acres of riverfront beach, a large private river island, several miles of walking trails, community-wide geothermal heating and cooling, community gardens, a pavilion and a fire-circle amphitheater, Little Free Libraries, a bike-sharing program, and fiber-to-home broadband internet access.”
The website for the development is stunning, with colorful pictures of fresh produce, rolling fields, a bluegrass band performing in a communal area, residents preening on a John Deere Gator, and panoramic scenes of the river that is the community’s defining topographical characteristic. After spending a few minutes on the site, I was ready to put the “For Sale” sign out in front of Casa del Vance and move to the North Carolina hills.
Then I started perusing the listings.
Buyers choose a lot and then work with a building company to customize and build their home. The high-end houses, all of which are held to the gold standard of efficiency and are heated by geothermal wells, start at $650,000, well over twice as much as the county in general.
Still, the setting is what closes the deal: “When I first stood on the land where I decided to build my home, I literally got goosebumps!” says early resident Ginny Hunneke. “One day, I watched a pair of bald eagles fly together over the river—I can’t get over how beautiful it is here.”
Olivette Realty has two homes listed as currently available, including a 2,200 sq. ft. spec home priced at $769,000, and a gorgeous single-story listed for… wait for it… just over $1 million. One-acre homesites start at $165,000.
Vogel notes that there are at least 150 of these type of developments springing up across the country, including one in southwestern Ohio called Aberlin Springs. The Warren County development sits on 141 acres, and is situated around an organic farm following the principles of sustainability promoted by Joel Salatin at Polyface Farm.
“Living out our Farm-to-Table philosophy, we are home to a sustainable farm with organic practices,” the organizers explain. They will launch a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program this growing season, and last year opened a farm store, “showcasing products produced onsite and by neighboring partners.” The store offers meat, eggs, produce and more, and unlike Olivette, Aberlin seems to feature livestock as part of its “agrihood,” at least chickens and sheep from the pictures online.
Housing prices are marginally more reasonable at Aberlin, with “cabin, manor and estate home styles starting in price from $300,000 to $500,000 and above.” Even so, the floorplans offered at Aberlin don’t look any different from the homes you’d find at your average upscale golf course community; one of the nice features of the North Carolina “agrihood” is that the elevations and floorplans look more in keeping with the theme of the community.
When I started reading Vogel’s article, I had many thoughts, one of which was that these Agrihoods are the Millennial answer to the Hippie Communes of the ’60s and ’70s. When I saw the home prices, I revised that a bit… Hippies with a brokerage account, maybe.
Still, though, I applaud the developers latching on to the trend. A 2015 National Golf Foundation study found that golf participation was down 17% over the preceding decade… so while the well-heeled still want to live well, they might be more interested in tending garden and gathering eggs than in shanking drives and muffing putts.