COMMENTARY | COLUMNISTS | TUCKER STINE

Land use and the food revolution

In today’s real estate market, it is no longer unusual to see "land use" and "agricultural integration" in the same sentence; it is one of the fastest growing trends for land planners, developers, homebuilders and landscape architects across the nation. This phenomenon does not rest solely in the real estate industry. It has extreme effects on our community planning, the lifestyles of our residents and a vibrant culture in which we create what sustains those communities.

A growing food revolution is impacting real estate practices in both obvious and subtle ways. It has direct implications for future planning and programming our communities and urban centers. Community gardens, city-adjacent agriculture, green rooftops, farm-to-table restaurant concepts, farmers markets and food trucks are all playing much larger roles in how developers and builders are visioning the places of tomorrow.

Farmers markets, like those in Hillcrest, Poway and Rancho Santa Fe, are all providing an opportunity for local growers to share locally grown produce. They foster healthier eating and socialization of neighborhoods, and they limit reliability on transportation sources to get to and from other providers. Plus, more families and kids are engaging, which shows a higher acceptance rate of the local organic movement and education for our kids and future generations.

From the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s perspective, there are numerous benefits of bringing these best practices together. First, it helps build a stronger, sustainable and more self-reliant community and regional food systems. It also enables planners and developers to rally around a cause to help reduce the rising incidence of hunger and obesity. Urban agriculture, like a community garden, promotes a more active lifestyle and landscape, and it reduces the cost to developers so that money can be allocated elsewhere to improve community infrastructure.

This can also save on fossil fuels needed to produce, process, transport and dispose of the foods that we eat. If we can reimagine the uses of urban real estate so that we can accommodate food growth, we can increase the capacity for local markets without having to go to great lengths.

The role of planners is also critical to the success of integrating agriculture with land use policies and planning moving forward. Community planners can get involved with food policy councils, seek growth management strategies to preserve ranch lands, and suggest policies to encourage community gardens and other ways of growing food in communities. Economic development planners can support the revitalization of local main streets with mom and pop grocery stores and also develop strategies to attract food processing plants in industrial zones.

Transportation planners can create transit routes that connect low-income neighborhoods with supermarkets. The city of Detroit is taking blighted land parcels and neighborhoods and creating community gardens that link neighborhoods to foster connectivity, reduce crime, bring healthy eating alternatives to families and give residents an opportunity to create micro-agriculture economies.

With the land scarcity in our own San Diego region, it is vital that we take a step back and really think through the programming of our communities. Golf courses and large-scale, expensive amenities no longer have a large enough demand to make them viable.

Daron Joffe of Atlanta, also known as Farmer D, is taking a unique approach to organic farming. He is helping developers create more sustainable land plans through the use of farming within communities. His expertise is allowing developers to create composting stations, community gardens and marketplaces where residents can swap or sell their produce.

In many of our planning areas, soils are challenging and difficult to enrich. Farmer D is consulting the development teams on how to overcome that challenge so that more varieties of fruits and vegetables can grow in one microclimate. In addition, the placement of these gardens adjacent to schools is providing new opportunities to educate kids and get them excited about healthy eating.

We are seeing innovative planning all over the country. For those of us who grew up near or on farms, it is a throwback to a simpler, healthier life. Land use and the food revolution is not only a successful development practice, but it also has become an amazing way to create community and sustain community like we saw in years past. It transcends all generations and real estate practices and creates a win-win solution for the way in which we plan for communities of tomorrow.


Stine is founder and principal of PlaceMake Consulting.

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