WLRN – Miami | South Florida
By MADELINE FOX • AUG 21, 2019
Palm Beach County has its share of spacious, suburban houses – especially in the areas west of the coastline, where land is cheaper and more plentiful.
It also has plenty of farms, producing crops that range from Florida’s famous sugarcane to sweet corn, lettuce and tropical fruits.
A planned community in Wellington is hoping to find success by combining the two. Arden bills itself as an “agrihood,” a master-planned community of 2,000 homes centered around a five-acre farm and barn.
That area is managed by two farmers, who are responsible for providing that link between residents and the food grown in their community farm.
“One of the key components to our position – beyond production – is weaving the farm into people’s lifestyle,” said Carmen Franz, who co-manages the farm with her husband, Tripp Eldridge. “How do we engage with the community, what kinds of educational opportunities are we going to provide?”
It resembles other gated communities in the area – like golf-centered planned suburbs in Jupiter or Palm Beach Gardens, but with pigeon peas and mango trees instead of 18 holes.
For their homeowners’ association fees, residents get monthly food deliveries of 5-8 items from the community farm share – a bunch of carrots or a half pound of okra counting as one item.
“Our system is not meant to keep you from going to the grocery store ever again,” Eldridge said.
The farm does have its own general store on site, where it sells locally grown products from neighboring farms as well as its own. It also features crafts that some of the residents make themselves – like greeting cards, felted wool dryer balls and wooden cutting boards.
“We hope to use the general store as a means to introduce people to other local growers,” Eldridge said, “so if they want to continue that relationship and have a more intimate connection with local growers, they totally can.”
As their own farm has been getting off the ground, Eldridge and Franz have filled in the gaps by promoting local growers. Though the farm has 32 mango trees, they weren’t ready to bear fruit this year, so the farmers subbed in mangoes from Erickson Farm in Canal Point. They also point residents toward local providers of the things they don’t intend to produce, like eggs and meat.
Eldridge and Franz are the first to admit the “agrihood” concept isn’t new to South Florida. They point to West Palm Beach’s Westgate neighborhood and the Dania Beach Patch as places that have already built community farms into the fabric of more urban neighborhoods.
“The ‘agrihood’ concept fits into multiple contexts,” said Eldridge. “What we’re trying to create at Arden fits here.”
Eldridge and Franz both have organic farming backgrounds. Franz grew up around gardens, then picked up a minor in organic farming in college. After a stint in Panama with the Peace Corps, she returned to the states and held different farm-related jobs, including working with Florida Organic Growers to certify organic growing practices.
Eldridge was introduced to community-supported agriculture his senior year of college, and says he “completely fell in love.” He also traveled with the Peace Corps, to Tanzania. After getting a masters in public health that focused on community food systems, he bounced around some farm-management jobs and other agricultural roles.
As for any Florida farmers, the grower-friendly climate is both a benefit and a hindrance for Eldridge and Franz. They can grow produce year-round, with different fruits and vegetables cycling in and out of season. But without an annual freeze, there’s no winter kill-off of pests and diseases.
Franz says they work around that by rotating crops, and have spent much of the last year growing “cover crops” that they can feed into the soil to build up nutrients.
Eldridge and Franz say they’ve found community among farmers and businesses in western Palm Beach County’s more heavily agricultural areas, from mutual agreements to share crops and products to tips on organic farming methods that work well in the area’s sandy soil.
The Arden community, like its five-acre farm, is still in the early growing stage. About 200 families have moved in, and homes are still being built. Eldridge and Franz offer farm tours on the second Saturday of every month, and say they get a good mix of residents and outsiders.