Urban Food Hub Developing in North End of Detroit

The idea of an Agri-Hood in the past has always been a suburban context.  Agri-Hoods have popped up around the United States over the past few years, most of them still in the planning or construction phase.  I have viewed Agri-Hoods as America’s new “golf course community”, where houses on large lots meander between green areas, ponds, orchards, vegetable gardens, and greenhouses.  Instead of a Par 3 behind your house, you might have a grove of apple trees.  Agri-Hoods are a fascinating idea, however two major issues have come up so far:

  1.  Agri-Hoods perpetuate urban sprawl that has plagued North American cities for the past 70 years.  The low density nature of Agri-Hoods mean that they are entirely car dependent, and they are not likey to have public transportation as an available mode of connectivity.
  2. In current Agri-Hoods, the amount of agriculture in comparison to residential is minimal.  Some Agri-Hoods feature less than 10% of agriculture in comparison to residential.  “Greenwashing” becomes an issue since developers are capitalizing on a trend to sell real estate.

In Detroit, the Michigan Urban Farming Initiative (MUFI) is creating what they call America’s first urban Agri-Hood on a 3-acre development site.  MUFI is a non-profit organization that “engage members of the Michigan community in sustainable agriculture”.

The  Agri-Hood in this context is very different, where an agricultural community hub is being built on the North Side of Detroit to generate urban renewal and provide sustainable healthy food to the local community.  A dilapidated three-story building will be re-imagined as a Community Resource Center that will include operational space for the non-profit organization, along with multi-purpose rooms for culinary and agricultural education, and industrial kitchens for business incubators.

MUFI Community Resource Center - Image credited to MUFI

MUFI Community Resource Center – Image credited to MUFI

Across the street from the Community Resource Center is MUFI’s 2-acre urban farm that has already produced over 50,000 pounds of produce for the local community.  This food is distributed to households in a 2-mile radius through a “pay-what-you-can” model, local markets, restaurants, as well as churches and shelters.

While I’m not sure if this should be classified as an urban Agri-Hood just yet, it definitely is a Food Hub, where produce is grown and then distributed in an organized network throughout Detroit.  The development concepts display a small orchard and vineyard on two other properties behind the urban farm, so the tentacles of an urban Agri-Hood are spreading.  This is a great case study that demonstrates how culinary uses can be used to positively generate urban renewal, all while feeding the local population.

Check out the MUFI website to see the site development plan and read more about this exciting project.

MUFI Urban Farm - Image credited to MUFI

MUFI Urban Farm – Image credited to MUFI

“The Grow” Agrihood to move ahead with development

In July I wrote about “The Grow”, a planned Agrihood in Orlando, Florida.  The project faced opposition from community groups due to the size and scale of the development, but I was more worried about how it was positioned.  As I had stated, less than 1% of the entire development was planned for agricultural uses.  Ultimately, The Grow looked more like a typical suburban community than a residential community based around agriculture which is how it was spun.

According to the the Orlando Business Journal, The Grow’s rezoning and regulatory plan was approved by the county in September and the developer can now move into the design stage of the project.  It is expected that shovels could be in the ground by end of 2017.

At this point, the developer has increased the amount of potential agricultural uses on site.  What was a 6-acre farm has now turned into a 9-acre farm and community barn, 20-acre community park, plus the addition of community garden plots spread throughout the development.  There is also talk of various sustainable features incorporated into the development.  I believe this is a positive step towards making The Grow an actual Agrihood, rather than simply a marketing spin.


The Grow Conceptual Sketch – Image credit to: The Business Journals

The Emergence of Agrihoods

Great article on farmland replacing golf courses as an amenity to sell real estate.

Market Watch Article

These conservation developments, or “Agrihoods” as the Urban Land Institute has titled, have become increasingly popular over the past several years.  With a decrease of North American’s playing golf (National Golf Foundation states that there has been a 30% decline in the last 20 years), coupled with the trend of farm-to-table, it has been a natural fit to incorporate urban and semi-rural farming into communities. The demographic of buyers who are residing in Agrihoods seem to be similar to those who purchased in golf course communities, affluent families in middle to upper income brackets.

The article profiles Serosun Farms outside of Chicago, which is currently in an early development stage:

It’s very early in its development, but Serosun plans to incorporate about 160 acres of working farmland, making farm-to-table a way of life for residents through regular farmer’s markets. The community also offers eight miles of trails, an equestrian center and fishing ponds: 75% of the development will be reserved for farming and open space.

The 114 single-family homes range from $700,000 to $2 million; the median listing price for homes in Hampshire, Ill., is about $238,000, according to Realtor.com. (Realtor.com is owned by News Corp., as is MarketWatch.) The higher price for homes at Serosun reflects the cost of having all that open space, as well as sustainable features such as geothermal heating systems. “There is a reason developers try to put as many dwellings as they can on a site, as preserving land comes at a premium,” DeWald said.

The typical buyer might be a business executive who can have quick access to Chicago via commuter train and O’Hare International Airport 35 miles away, yet can have his or her children to grow up on a farm. Those looking to retire on a farm — but without the hassle of managing the land — might also be drawn to the development, DeWald said. (The farm is a standalone business that is professionally managed, but residents can be involved in various gardening activities if they wish.)


Serosun Farms – Image credited to The Daily Herald

It would be intriguing to investigate the “average” homebuyer for a house in an Agrihood.  Due to the large land requirements and upkeep, will Agrihoods only be attainable for families with relatively high-incomes?  Is there a way to increase density and provide affordable multi-family units within an Agrihood?

This blog will continue to explore Agrihoods over the next several months in a more in-depth basis.