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      Agritopia: Thousands of People Living One Man’s Dream

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      If you could create your ideal neighborhood, what would it look like? What kinds of people would you choose to live amongst? What businesses would you want nearby? What ideals would you value?

      Engineer-turned-restaurateur Joseph E. Johnston dared to ask these questions, and the result is Agritopia, a planned community located in Gilbert, AZ, about 22 miles east of Phoenix. Rather than a lake, a park or a golf course, agriculture is the central feature here. Of the 160-acre community, 10% is designated farmland where, at any one time, 50 to 100 different crops are being cultivated or harvested.

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      Johnston’s family originally bought the land that is now Agritopia in 1960, and when Gilbert saw a real estate development boom at the end of the twentieth century, the family made a life-changing decision. “We could have sold the land and moved, but instead we created a community,” says Johnston, whose business card reads simply “Visionary”.

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      A strong focus on the land is only the beginning of what makes Agritopia a unique place to live. Every aspect of the infrastructure is meant to break down social and economic barriers and foster a strong sense of community. “It’s very Leave it to Beaver,” says Michelle Bock, a former Agritopia resident. Two on-site restaurants use ingredients grown and raised on Agritopia’s farm, and a community garden includes 46 plots that are open to both residents and non-residents. The development also features sports fields, playgrounds, an assisted living facility and a school. A farm stand with fresh produce is open around the clock, and payment operates on the honor system.

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      On the residential side, Agritopia welcomed its first residents in 2003 and now includes 452 homes ranging in price $200,000 to $630,000. Winding paths make it easy for walkers and cyclists to get around, every home has a front porch, and the streets are narrow enough to encourage neighborly interactions “We look at people a little weird if they just park in their driveways and never come out again,” says Katie Critchley, who both lives in and works at Agritopia. Chritchley moved to the neighborhood in 2004 and has since convinced her mother-in-law, brother-in-law, mother and mother’s best friend to buy houses there, too. “I am working on my sister-in-law,” she adds.

      Even with all of Agritopia’s success, Johnston shows no signs of slowing down development. Plans are in the works to open a 55-foot-tall, four-building complex with rental apartments and retail space in 2018. The project is set to break ground in June of 2016.

      Agritopia Farm Dinner

      Also on tap for next year, Agritopia will debut Barnone, an on-site annex that will serve as a maker’s market of sorts. Roughly 12,000 square feet of retail space will include a restaurant, a microwinery, a nanobrewery, and a selection of local vendors handpicked by Johnston. Tenants will range from a woodworker to a stationery designer to a high-end gun maker, yet they all share a deep passion for their crafts and a commitment to quality.

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      Johnston will even put his engineering and culinary backgrounds to work inside Barnone; he plans to open his own machine shop where he’ll invent, create and sell innovative kitchen equipment.

      Visionary, indeed.


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