After purchasing a fifty-acre parcel from the original homesteaders in the 1960’s, Jim and Virginia Johnston continued cultivation of the acreage producing wheat, cotton, and sugar beets while raising three sons in what was rural Arizona. With rapid development in the 90’s, the Johnston’s sought to foresee how their farm would fit into the rapid expansion of a more “modern” Gilbert. Twenty miles outside of Phoenix, Gilbert, AZ is now part of an expansive grid of suburban America. Agritopia, described as a “modern-day village,” is vastly different from anything Driving Food Home has explored thus far.
This site is one of many “agrihoods” popping up all over the country; these are developments that, instead of installing a pool or golf course as the common space, are based around farms. Zoned for agriculture, homeowners can have their own businesses in their backyards as an extended structure of their homes as well as their own chickens. This site has 450 family homes, a handful of businesses, and 15 acres of hand-cultivated certified organic vegetable, animal and fruit production. Also, the farm at Agritopia offers a three month payed internship as well as a year long apprenticeship both of which include staple foods. Agritopia has community garden for both the Agritopia community itself as well as the extended community. Well manicured, the farm and garden fits in well to the surrounding neighborhood.
Erich, the current farm manager, has worked hard to establish an on-site staple foods market, focusing on providing a staple foods diet with whole chickens, ducks, sheep, eggs, heritage wheat berries and flour form their small scale grain operation (they were part of the new film, The Grain Divide), olive oil made by monks at a monastery south of Gilbert, and cheeses from local artisan cheese producers. This weekly market brings residents of Agritopia and the other surrounding neighborhoods, helping encourage community integration in an environment where often people don’t get to know their neighbors. Along with a CSA that serves both on-site and off-site residents, Agritopia also has a 24-hour honors based farm stand that is nestled in a community where the alternative option for purchasing grocery items is the Wal Mart down the block.
Although patterned as a standard diversified farm (something that Driving Food Home normally wouldn’t highlight due to the sheer volume of these types of operations found throughout the country), Agritopia works with a misadvised and extensive social niche, one that deserves attention. The Farm at Agritopia is serving an important demographic in looking at how to integrate awareness of the importance of localized food production in a suburban environment.