Courtesy Farmscape

Farm-to-table-centered communities are a big draw for home buyers, but they can also mean more profits for builders and developers. With creative land planning, communities of all sizes can tap into the growing interest in fresh produce and backyard gardens.

Farmscape, the largest urban farming venture in California, works with developers, architects and cities to turn cookie-cutter urban communities into agrihoods. The gardens not only attract a higher future sale, but also draw in a wider demographic of individual property buyers who are looking to live in a more interactive community environment, says Farmscape co-founder Lara Hermanson. Here, BUILDER talks with Hermanson about the benefits and challenges of agriculture-based amenities.

How many agrihoods have you worked on? What do they entail?
Farmscape currently has 15 agrihoods in various stages of development. Several multifamily projects were completed last year and have been feeding those apartment communities since July. Trellis (a new Pulte development in Walnut Creek, Calif.) just broke ground last month. We also have a half dozen additional projects still going through the entitlement process. All our projects start with the design, and we take into account the architecture, branding and community demographics as well as the microclimate.

From there, we assist our clients through the entitlement process, appearing at all review meetings to help educate city councils, community members, and design review commissions on what this new amenity/landscape entails. After approvals, we work with the installation team to get the project built, and then get sent to the HOA or apartment management team to schedule maintenance. Finally, we get in front of our end user-the community, to create volunteer opportunities and workshops so they can get their hands dirty as well.

How much do they cost?
Installation for a small agrihood starts around $20K and goes up from there depending on complexity and size. A small agrihood could consist of 8-10 raised beds, 6 orchard trees and mulching. Large agrihoods can include more sizeable orchards, row crops, vineyards and ornamental garden. Large or small, the final result is a product that encourages residents to enjoy the perks of rural farm life with none of the responsibility.

What type of value do they add to a project?
Good landscaping and maintenance can add around seven percent to a commercial or residential property. Excellent landscaping (such as Farmscape's gardens) can increase the value to up to 28%. Agrihoods also have the ancillary benefit of creating a sense of place for communities, increasing resident well-being, and enhancing pride of ownership. We have experienced easy approvals in city councils, thanks to resident enthusiasm for agrihood projects.

What are some other benefits?
Generally, developers can expect fewer resubmits and greater community support during the entitlement process alongside Farmscape supporting developers through the design, installation, maintenance and programming phases. Additionally, In Santa Clara, the community rallied behind the Win6 agrihood development, with over 300 community members regularly attending City Council meetings in support of the project. They even created #Agrihood t-shirts and an online campaign to move the dial for the developers.

Does a community need a lot of land to have residential farming?
Not necessarily. A small agrihood can be designed to suit a 500 square foot space, and are very appropriate for infill developments. Larger suburban development can expand to several acres. We design each project to match the neighborhood and the future residents.

Running with setup costs from $55,000 to larger plots of $1 million per development, the gardens include row crops, raised beds, orchards, vineyards, and edible-inspired ornamental landscaping. Farmscape trains and manages local team members in the Farmscape method, and offers continual training and support to agrihood communities. The final result is a product that encourages residents to enjoy the perks of rural farm life with none of the responsibility.

Why do you think there is such an interest in gardens?
I think there's several reasons. Most households have two working adults, who don't have a lot of downtime for gardening. Coming home to an awesome vegetable garden, that they don't have to work themselves, is a great perk. Also, the drought in California has made everyone re-think their landscape. Agrihoods, with smart drip irrigation, use a lot less water than traditional lawn. Besides, no one wants their home to have the same landscaping as an office building. But most importantly, people love to eat good food. If they can eat a fresh picked salad every day and take a homegrown peach to work, life is pretty good.