The Search for Agritopia: A Lifestyle Journey to Enhance Human Wellness and Re-establish Connectedness to the Environment

Civilization’s ongoing technological achievements have increased our productivity and provided previously unimaginable conveniences. However, many people believe that their lifestyle and diet are undermining their wellbeing and their social settings are depriving them of the personal fulfillment that comes with being part of a more integrated, purposeful community. What steps can we take to overcome this trend and reframe our built and natural environments to better serve our needs as humans? This question has been taken up as a mission by a growing number of social activists who work in diverse professions such as land development, architecture, environmental science, and agriculture. One answer has been to recenter our lives around our basic social needs and material sustenance, including learning about the land and growing fresh produce as an integral part of our local communities. This session will bring together a diverse set of speakers who will help us understand and intermesh the background and mappings that underlie this new social model. Moving from parts to whole, we will learn basic challenges and trends in agriculture and then hear from private individuals who have studied, refined, and applied best practices in hands-on in non-academic environments.

Serenbe FarmsSerenbe Farms, Serenbe, GA

Speakers

Nan and Rawson Haverty, Jr, Founders, Serenbe Community, Atlanta, GA
Nan and RawsonNan and Rawson Haverty, Jr. are two of the five founders of the Serenbe community, a rural village-scale development outside Atlanta. They contributed a strong vision for community, an interest in the arts (supported through the Serenbe Institute) and the business acumen to help the development succeed. Nan is a successful realtor. Before Serenbe, they were cofounders of “Create Your Dreams,” an after school program for at-risk kids. Mr. Haverty’s career background is extremely diverse, including a position as Senior Vice president of real estate for a furniture company and working as a social worker in Guatemala with the Red Cross. When in Guatemala, he was responsible for earthquake relief reconstruction as well as an orphanage and medical clinic. He was also a commissioner of the Atlanta Housing Authority, on the boards of Starpound Technologies, Efficient Markets, Inc., Sustainable Community Media, and the World Children’s Center. The Havertys will offer insights into the process of conceiving a balanced, viable community that integrates and design and purpose, and bringing together the people and resources to incrementally make it reality.

Susan Hill, Organic Greenhouse Farmer, Hill Farm, Louisa Virginia
Susan HillSusan Hill is a retired teacher who, in 2000, established Hill Farms with her husband in Louisa County. Each year they have expanded and diversified the types of produce they offer. They use organic practices and carefully refine their growing techniques before expanding. They specialize in year-round production of artisan varieties of lettuces, radicchios, chard, asparagus, tomatoes, cucumbers and golden beets. Her farm property is 10 acres but only a portion of that is required for their greenhouses, which uses a “double tunnel” in the winter to avoid the need for heating. Cedar plank raised beds also work well to deter pests. In addition to selling fresh produce, each year they process and can over 500 quarts of vegetables. The Hills are an exemplar of how individuals without background in agriculture and with minimal technology but careful, systematic efforts, can become extraordinarily efficient producers.

“This is what we really wanted to do all along,” laughs Susan. “I’m having a ball!”

Hill Farms sells through local markets, including Charlottesville’s Food for All Nations on Ivy Road.

Hill Greenhouse

Gabe Brown, Browns Ranch, ND, internationally recognized for advancements in farming practices that enhance soil health.
Gabe BrownGabe_Brown_300 shifted back to basic agrarian practices more than 15 years, merging them with innovative science-based sustainable farming techniques. He ranches 5400 acres in North Dakota, growing 25 crops and a variety of livestock. Brown has become known around the world for his focus on resorting soil health, which he argues produces more healthful food and dramatically reduces the need for fertilizers and pesticides and reduces erosion. He follows a zero-till approach with livestock grazing, poly-culture cover crops, and rotations to establish “regenerative agriculture.” (Video about Browns Ranch)

Cathryn Kloezli, Virginia Cooperative Extension Agent, Agriculture and Horticulture, Albemarle County, VA
Cathy Kloezli Cathyrn Kloezlihas 19 years of experience in agriculture and horticulture and started with Virginia Cooperative Extension in 2007. She has been an agent to a Master Gardner program and to large- and small-scale greenhouse producers. She taught horticulture in Uzbekistan and was an agriculture Peace Corps volunteer in West Africa. She has an M.S. in Agribusiness Management, Agriculture and Life Sciences from Cornell and a B.S. in Plant Science, Horticulture Industry from Rutgers University. She has been a consultant on greenhouse production to USAID and other agencies in Egypt and throughout central Asia.

Session

Because of the scope of the topic, this session will work best if split between two meetings. On Tuesday, the class will hear overview presentations from three speakers, starting with Susan Hill, a Charlottesville area farmer who has been active in the “farm-to-table” movement (her greenhouse produce is sold at Foods of All Nations.) She will describe her mid-life shift to organic produce farming and her techniques for building a compact, efficient and sustainable operation that provides healthy produce year round to the local community. Virginia Cooperative Extension agent Cathryn Kloetzli will follow with a presentation on the shifting character of farming practices in the U.S., both corporate and small-scale family operations, covering the economics, technology, demographics, and changing cultural forces. Finally, there will be a teleconference with Gabe Brown, a farmer who has gained international recognition for his practices that enhance soil health – the natural flora and fauna, minerals, and organic matter within the soil that reduce the need for fertilizer and pesticides.

On Wednesday the class will participate in a live, “virtual tour” of Serenbe, a small community on the outskirts Atlanta. The tour will be guided by Nan and Rawson Haverty, two of the founders. Serenbe is a nationally recognized example of the type of emerging purpose-built community that offers an agriculture-integrated mode of living along with a return to a culturally rich, walkable, village environment. The discussion will cover the philosophy of the community, architecture, and the design aspects of “place-making” such as human scale, diverse uses, demographics, and the importance of bringing together individuals who share a vision of their lifestyle. Important side topics will be examples of this community style in more urban areas, as well as the advantages and disadvantages of being primarily a “bedroom community” from which most residents commute to work.

Transduction Themes

In small, carefully planned communities around the country, a growing number of people are seeking a sustainable lifestyle that reconnects them to the land, to their neighbors, and to a direct access to fresh, healthy, diverse foods. Such rural and suburban developments are typically founded around a compact co-op farm that supplies residents a wide range of fresh produce or even fish and livestock, as well as serving as a cultural core to the community. These passionate advocates of post-modern holistic living are often fleeing the impersonal detachment of the “metropolis”* to find transduction between nature and personal/family thriving. The “Agritopia” is intended to provide this foundation and foster personal, ongoing community life between residents of diverse backgrounds.

For most of the history of human civilization, individuals had an intimate relationship with their sources of sustenance – the crops and livestock that they struggled to nurture to maturity, harvest, preserve, and prepare as food. They knew and trusted their neighbors, and saw a tangible connection between what they created and who purchased or consumed it. With the advent of industrialization and urbanization, vast populations have shifted to a lifestyle where there is little if any connection to these primeval roles and relationships. In order to better understand and perhaps address this trend, we should take a step back and consider how our built environments have been organized and have thus defined our relationship to the land and to each other. What are the forces that have lead to a generation of unintegrated uses of land – sprawling suburban “mono-clones” of separated residential, retail, and office environments? Lacking a physical nexus of social interaction – main streets, and town squares or even shared activities, it is not surprising that our social relations have become more virtual. While the search for Agritopia focuses restoring a connection to our source of substance, at its core it also represents a more comprehensive reappraisal of our social priorities and lifestyles.

More Information

Serenbe Community “The best reason to live here is the life here.”

Serenbe Green Home  January 2013, presentation on a specific sustainable home built in Serenbe.

Farm-to-Table Living Takes Root by Kate Murphy, NY Times

Georg Simmel, “The Metropolis and Mental Life” (1903) in Gary Bridge and Sophie Watson, eds. The Blackwell City Reader. Oxford and Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2002.

The Farmery, a concept for a compact urban farm greenhouse that sells produce directly with shoppers picking what they are purchasing.

Agritopia, an agricultural village neighborhood within the Phoenix metro area.

 

Proposed by Janet Rafner.

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