Urbavore's Dilemma: Agriburbia's putting the herbs back in burbs
Urbavore's Dilemma is an ongoing web series detailing city dwellers' commitment to urban homesteading. From May through September, Westword writer Joel Warner will get his hands dirty, covering everything from backyard chickens to front-lawn gardens, from greenhouses to co-ops and food-sharing. Check out the full series here.
If Quint and Jenny Redmond's Agriburbia concept takes hold, the suburbs are never going to be the same.
Let's say, for example, you were to wake up one morning living in the middle of a hypothetical Agriburbia subdivision here along the Front Range. You look out your window not at a vista of identical single-families stretching as far as the eye can see but instead vineyards and orchards ringing the community, along with small farm plots overflowing with tomatoes and other vegetables. The farm hands are already out, harvesting the produce that will be eaten within the community or sold to nearby restaurants, with proceeds going back to the subdivision.
Since it's a nice day out, you breakfast on your patio, surrounded by your grape arbors, sweet corn stalks and dwarf plum trees, all of which are watered by low-water drip irrigation systems. Once you're done eating, you unlock the back gate that leads to the "ag alley" behind the house so the landscape guys -- or, more accurately, the subdivision's communally hired farmers -- can come in and pick your crops. Most will go into the "cool storage room," a.k.a. the root cellar your house is required by covenant to have, while some of the crops will get ready to be processed in the small canning operation you've set up off the kitchen.
Is this a make-believe vision of a far-off future? Not if the Redmonds have anything to do with it. "We have thousands of acres of this going in," says Quint, who along with his wife owns the Golden-based real-estate-design company the TSR Group.
Call the two a new breed of farmer, ones with urban-planning degrees as well as green thumbs. They used to focus on more conventional developments like golf courses and regular subdivisions, but a few years ago Quint, who also has a geology degree, realized the current method of community design involved hugely wasteful amounts of fossil fuels. While new environmentally friendly building techniques were lowering the emissions for housing construction, they did nothing for the massive amounts of carbon used to produce and transport the industrialized food eaten in these communities.
The answer, he and his wife decided, lay in the burbs. "I'm one of the few planers who believe in suburbs," he says. "Not the way they are, but the way the are going to be. They are going to be the most lush, most human-supportive places to live. If they are optimized, they would be as close to paradise as they could be."
By "optimized," he means putting all those pointless suburban stretches of grass -- both communal areas and individual yards -- to work as farm plots. They figure such subdivisions could produce as much as half of their inhabitants' necessary food calories, as well as drastically shrink the area's food-production carbon footprint. Not only that, but Agriburbia sites would maintain about 50 percent of the former farmland that would otherwise be displaced by the development, as well as preserve farming jobs, since somebody has to show all those suburbanites how to grow veggies.
Now the only trick is getting one built. The TSR Group had preliminary approval for Platte River Village, a 618-acre, 994-dwelling Agriburbia project in the town of Milliken, but when the real-estate bubble popped, their financing fell through. Now they're working to resuscitate the project while also planning a 120-acre version in North Carolina, not to mention smaller-scale variations in Douglas and Boulder counties. To help pay for it all, they'll be relying on innovative financial structures like metropolitan districts that will fund agricultural infrastructure like orchards.
Once these projects actually break ground, the two aren't too worried about their concept taking off. After all, who wouldn't want to live in the middle of a vineyard? "We love the Amish, but we aren't going back in time," says Quint. "This is not going to be a museum."