According to NPR, farms are the new golf courses. That’s right. Suburban subdivisions are being built around farms. It’s like an extreme kind of CSA. The farm provides food to the neighborhood.
In some ways, it’s a really great idea. Golf courses and country clubs are expensive to build and maintain, whereas a properly managed farm has the potential to actually make money for the community. It creates agricultural jobs (after all, a farm needs a farmer, right?) and provides a guaranteed market for the farmer. One of the greatest challenges farmers face these days is getting the food they produce to hungry people. Hours and days that could be spent increasing yields, mending fences or catching up on much needed rest are wasted on logistics, marketing schemes and travel to and from assorted markets. This model removes those obstacles by bringing demand to the farmer’s backyard.
It’s also nice because the farmer has a ready supply of investors. If the farm has an expensive need, say a new tractor or extensive fencing, neighborhood associations and invested developers are ready to chip in to make it happen.
As long as you are just talking vegetables, I really do think this is a great model. Neighborhood common spaces should be used to grow produce. Think of the thousands upon thousands of barrels of oil that would be saved if everyone grew just their own tomatoes and apples. Not having to transport those items around the globe would probably be enough to reverse climate change. (I just made that up. I have no idea what the actual data and numbers say.)
But then you have animals. That’s where this idea starts to crumble. Fresh eggs and milk may sound like a great idea, but the perfect pastoral picture most people have in mind doesn’t include roosters crowing at 5:00 a.m. Every day. Even Saturday and Sunday. Even 4th of July and Christmas. It doesn’t account for cows mooing and pigs grunting. And it certainly doesn’t take smell into consideration.
When we weaned the calves the other week, neighbors called continuously for 3 days to see what was wrong. The first few callers were genuinely concerned and wanted to make sure something bad hadn’t happened. By day three they just wanted us to do whatever we had to do to make the animals be quiet. After three days of balling cows and calves, living next to a farm no longer seemed like a great idea.
You also run into issues of involvement. What is the role of the subdivision residents? Is it like a coop where everyone has to contribute so many hours of labor each month? That’s fine if they are harvesting carrots or weeding the cucumber patch, but exposing the animals to different faces each day probably isn’t safe for anyone, animal or human.
If these DSAs – development supported agriculture – are sticking to produce, they have my full support! It all feels very fad-ish, though I hope I’m wrong. I hope people really are becoming sincerely interested in growing their own food and supporting local agriculture. But if we are talking animals, I think people need to think twice before packing up the family and taking the plunge.
Actually, I have a better idea. Don’t move. Stay where you are. Plant a garden in the back yard. And devote the full 240 acres that would’ve been developed into one of these fancy new commune-esque subdivisions to raising livestock. Most neighborhoods associations are OK with strawberries and peppers; few allow you to keep a cow.
The world certainly doesn’t need more golf courses. And it probably doesn’t need more McMansion-filled subdivisions.