Monday, January 6, 2014

Suburban homesteading on a subdivision scale

If I were the only one with an interest in suburban agriculture, I wouldn't blog about it so frequently.  But the fact is, it's pretty popular around here, as these aerial photo grabs indicate.
Raised vegetable beds. 
More raised vegetable beds. 
Vegetables and herbs growing thickly in the strip behind the garage, and the trees in the main back yard all produce edible fruits.  It's a small space but surprisingly productive. 
Personal orchard. 
More personal orchard flanking a fenceline. 
About half of what's growing in this yard corner is destined for the dinner table. 
Yet another personal orchard in early developmental stage. 
A cultivated side yard. 
A large raised side yard vegetable bed, fallow in this photo because the house was in the process of being sold.  The new owner plans to restore this garden. 
You may wonder how in the heck I'm able to ID all of that blurry business as actually constituting suburban ag as opposed to, say, begonias and rose bushes.  Easy - those examples are all located within the confines of Centerpointe Section 9!  And those are just the ones I know about.  There are plenty of residents whose growth habits I haven't had a chance to explore yet.  Plus there are two additional families just on our cul-de-sac who have serious plans to add backyard gardens.

So with that kind of demonstrated concentration in mind, I thought you might find this NPR story interesting and relevant to our own suburban situation:
Subdivision developers have begun master-planning with farm acreage built right into the design.  Think it's too specialized an idea for the average neighborhood?  Contemplate this (quoted from that story, emphasis mine): 

"The marketing of these new neighborhoods appears to be working — at least at Bucking Horse, where the developer says 200 single-family lots were snatched up within days of going on the market. Values of existing homes have jumped 25 percent since construction began on the agricultural amenities."

It doesn't surprise me.  Think about it:  If you're a subdivision developer, you could plop yet another live oak into your landscape plan, a live oak of which we already have an infinite boring number (they look nice but they add almost no incremental value).  Or you could set aside an area where the POA could put some lemons, grapefruit, figs, and other local favorites.  Which do you reckon residents would value more highly?  Even if residents are not into gardening themselves, they tend to respond positively to initiatives that are just plain interesting and different. 
I had to pull the Meyer lemons off our tree last night before the worst of the cold front hit.  I'm not sure what I'll do with them yet, but this article titled "100 things to do with a Meyer lemon" might give me some ideas. 
There are plenty of folks who are not the slightest bit interested in gardening, but there are enough of them to form a critical mass of interest.  And so we see this new trend developing. 

And in case you think that it would be too costly for a homeowner's association to maintain agricultural amenities, here's some news for you.  We have ten kids just on our one cul-de-sac who would jump for joy at the chance to participate in something like a common area garden.  They are outside playing every day, constantly looking for new things to do.
Because when you think of it, there's only so much a roving band of children can accomplish in the limited concrete environment of a cul-de-sac like this. 
I have children knocking on my door routinely asking me if I have any gardening work that they could do that day.  There's a lot of latent capacity all the way around, both in our suburban land which is not currently put to any productive or interesting use, and in our residents. 

The NPR article talks about new subdivisions being designed around these amenities, but the potential also exists for retrofit within existing subdivisions.
I've had my eye on this green wedge adjacent to our sewage lift station for years now.  Centerpointe was not built with this kind of strategy in mind and we have only a limited number of areas that would be potentially suitable for agricultural value enhancement, but this is one of them.  Right now it's just wasted space. 
Anyway, it's an idea whose time has not yet come, but that doesn't mean that it won't in the future.  It'll be interesting to see how the new ag-incorporating subdivisions continue to evolve.  

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