Down on the new urban farm
| ||A community garden backs up to an alley in Hammond’s Ferry, North Augusta, SC. New urbanist developers see food production as a vital feature of future residential and mixed use communities. Photo by Philip Langdon.|
In mid-November I flew to Augusta, Georgia, for the Fall Roundtable of the National Town Builders Association — an organization of developers and builders who create new urbanist communities. I had expected NTBA members to talk about the dismal state of the real estate economy, and in fact there was some of that. Most members are proceeding cautiously on their projects for the time being, attempting to keep expenses down.
Yet for the most part, they seemed confident that if business has been slow for new urbanists, it’s even worse for developers of conventional subdivisions. An ever-larger portion of the public wants to live in places that are walkable, convivial, and convenient — places that also happen to be, from a transportation perspective, more economical.
The big topic in Augusta, however, was not the economy; it was food. New urbanist developers see food production as a vital feature of future residential and mixed use communities. In recent years, Americans have become increasingly concerned about where their food is grown, whether it’s free of contaminants, how far it’s transported, and how consumers can gain a more satisfying relationship to agriculture.
These concerns are causing more and more farms and gardens to be planned, and planted, in new urbanist developments. Laurel, a traditional neighborhood development (TND) that was recently laid out in Yuma, Arizona (see story in upcoming January issue), will contain a 25-acre community farm. Serenbe, a TND in Palmetto, Georgia, southwest of Atlanta, is regionally renowned for high-quality food production.
Daron Joffe, who founded “Farmer D Organics” and who elevated Serenbe’s farm to certified organic standards, traveled to Augusta to explain “community-supported agriculture” — in which local people buy shares of the harvest from a farm in their vicinity. At Serenbe, people have paid about $750 for a full share of a farm for the April-to-October season. A farm, Joffe pointed out, “builds culture around something wholesome.” Residents benefit in very basic ways: “They’re eating [the produce] and smelling [the plants and soil], and making contact with nature.”
As part of the roundtable, NTBA participants crossed the Savannah River to North Augusta, South Carolina, where LeylandAlliance and the City of North Augusta have for four years been developing a mixed-use community called Hammond’s Ferry. This 200-acre TND offers garden plots to its residents. It also features a tiny farm — currently 1.5 acres, including a modest greenhouse and a diminutive barn.
Combining a small farm and restaurant
The initial idea was that the farm at Hammond’s Ferry — Blue Clay Farm — would provide fresh produce for the local market while educating residents about sustainable agricultural practices. The developers allocated $50,000 a year to establishing the farm and hiring a manager, calculating that it would take five years to break even. Then something especially fortunate happened: Manuel Verney-Carron, who operates Manuel’s Bread — a bakery well-loved in greater Augusta — agreed to open a café in the Hammond’s Ferry neighborhood center. Soon he offered to operate the farm himself, raising ingredients for use in the café.
As a result, employees of Verney-Carron spend a few hours a week working the farm, just a short walk from Manuel’s Bread Café, which attracts diners from all over the region. “Great menu ideas come out of it,” Verney-Carron says of the integration of café and farm. The staff gains knowledge about the food. “The person picking lettuce in the morning could be serving it in a salad in the afternoon,” observes Bobby Bagwell, project director for Hammond’s Ferry.
When more restaurants come to Hammond’s Ferry, Verney-Carron expects to invite them to participate in the farm as well. Meanwhile, the developers are saved the money they would otherwise have spent on running an agricultural enterprise.
The next few years should see extensive experimentation in how to fit farms and gardens into communities and how to organize their operations and finances. The nation appears to be on the cusp of a more satisfying relationship to food production. New Urbanism, thanks to a varied crew of innovators, is part of a much-needed vanguard.