IN EARLY SEPTEMBER, the Bentonville restaurant Preacher’s Son posted a photo on Instagram showing two clear plastic bags brimming with vegetables—one with watermelon radishes, the other with carrots. Not surprisingly, the produce had been locally sourced, though most diners might have been surprised to learn that the source of that produce was just over a mile north of where they sat in the dining room—and perhaps even more surprised to learn that the vegetables had been grown at a residential housing complex: Red Barn.
Named for the large, original-to-the-property brick-red barn that sits on the southeast end of the 45-acre grounds, Red Barn is one of a growing number of “agrihoods,” residential communities whose touted amenities focus less on Pinterest aesthetic and modern appliances (though they’ve got both), and more on the availability of, say, 200 hundred blueberry bushes, 18 pawpaw trees and an apiary.
“The idea for Red Barn was to preserve some agricultural land near the city core and to use part of that land for its original purpose,” says Matt Wagner, director of communications at Green Circle Projects, the Springfield, Missouri-based developer of Red Barn. “A small urban farm plot was included in the design, with the neighborhood built around the farm.”
Clustered around green spaces and wooded areas, the buildings that make up the residential part of the neighborhood feature exterior designs inspired by the vernacular forms of barns and light-industrial, agricultural buildings, said Chris Baribeau, principal architect of Modus Studio in Fayetteville and the lead designer of Red Barn. The roof edges and the color pallet of the metal roofs and exterior cladding are evocative of agricultural buildings, though arranged in an aesthetically pleasing way on the wooded, gently rolling land. Though the interiors are contemporary in design and include many modern amenities—like Nest thermostats, USB outlets in every room and oversized garages to accommodate mountain bikes—they also include some rustic touches. The master bedroom of every unit has a red barn door.
Although they might be something of a novelty in Arkansas, agrihoods are part of a growing trend in the United States. Developers have long known that designing communities around various types of green space can add value to the real estate. A residential community built around a working farm taps into a number of popular trends and also differentiates it from other developments, an important advantage in a fast-growing area like Northwest Arkansas.
Ed McMahon, senior resident fellow with the Urban Land Institute, notes that there is a nostalgic aspect to living close to agriculture, given that most of our ancestors were farmers.
“We have a whole generation of young people, in particular, who are interested in food, in everything local and all things natural, green and sustainable,” he said in a recent telephone interview from his office in Washington, D.C. “The agrihood movement is really part of a whole larger movement of people who like all things local. What’s more local than vegetables grown right outside of your window?”
McMahon has been tracking the rise of agrihoods for many years and estimates there are now between 80 and 100 of them in the U.S. On average, he learns of at least one new one every week. As far as he knows, Red Barn is the first agrihood in Arkansas.
Like most agrihoods, Red Barn is as much about growing community as about growing food, another trend popular today, especially among millennials.
“Unlike their parents, who wanted to live in gated communities for privacy, young people now are far more interested in building community,” McMahon says. “Agrihoods really focus on that. It’s inclusivity, not exclusivity.”
It’s not just young people who are looking for community. Terri Mitchell, a retiree, was the first person to sign a lease at Red Barn. She and her late husband owned and operated an industrial distributorship in Little Rock for many years. After they sold the business and retired, they moved to a 5,700-square-foot house on 10 acres on the outskirts of Bentonville. When her husband died in 2017, Terri found the house and land too much to maintain. She moved into a one-bedroom apartment at Red Barn in September.
She also qualified for Red Barn’s Core Housing Discount, whereby tenants whose income falls within a certain range are eligible for a 30 percent discount on their rent. Fifteen percent of the 138 units have been designated for the discount.
“The whole concept of Red Barn is just what I need, and I love it,” she said. “The farm was a big draw for me, but I also love being five minutes from downtown.” A self-described people person, she loves all the community activities and the diverse ages of the residents. She helps out on the farm frequently, but appreciates not having to be responsible for a large garden of her own.
“You can have country living or city living, or whatever you want, without all the work.”
Different from a community garden, the agricultural component of an agrihood is invariably run by professionals, and residents of Red Barn are not required to have a green thumb or even any interest in farming at all. Matt O’Reilly, owner of Green Circle Projects, hired Adam and Melissa Millsap, urban farmers from Springfield, to take care of that. The couple moved to Bentonville with their two young children late last year to design, build and manage the agricultural component of Red Barn. The Millsaps have owned Urban Roots, a 2-acre, four-season farm in downtown Springfield, for 11 years, and O’Reilly described them as “major players” in that city’s local food economy.
The farm is designed to be a profitable, self-sustaining enterprise, (in other words, its performance doesn’t affect lease rates of the apartments and townhouses). Although residents aren’t permitted to help themselves to anything they see growing in the fields, the Millsaps have designed a program that provides residents, and even nonresidents, with a wide variety of opportunities to volunteer on the farm in exchange for produce.
“On days we’re out here working, we definitely don’t send them home empty-handed,” Melissa Millsap says.
In addition to scores of varieties of field crops in the main production bed, there will also be an apiary for honey bees and a chicken tractor—a mobile chicken coop—that will allow the farm’s 100 hens to be rotated around various areas of the property. A four-season farm, about one-quarter of the beds will be planted in the winter in a greenhouse, several high tunnels and other season-extending devices. Produce will be sold at the Bentonville Farmers Market, at occasional pop-up markets in town and to local restaurants. The farm is Certified Naturally Grown, so no synthetic fertilizers, herbicides or genetically modified organisms are used.
“The educational component [of the farm] is huge,” Wagner said, adding that part of O’Reilly’s initial intent was for Red Barn to be a sort of agricultural incubator, helping to train the next generation of farmers. “We want to show people that farming can be a viable career path. We want to partner with schools, as well, and do what we can to teach people about the whole science and art of farming.”
The Millsaps have several full-time employees helping on the farm, in addition to interns in the summer. The couple are also setting up an apprenticeship with the University of Arkansas and work with the WWOOF (Worldwide Workers on Organic Farms) Program, in which volunteers from around the world work on farms in exchange for room and board and a bit of farming education.
“Red Barn represents all of our work to date in the local food movement, layered with our experience in sustainable community design,” O’Reilly said. “Agrihoods are a growing trend, but really, they return back to the hyperlocalized communities of old.”
Community Activities at Red Barn
6-7 p.m. Mondays in October
(Free for residents; $5 for nonresidents)
Monthly potluck and fireside s’mores:
6:30 p.m. Oct. 10,
Nov. 14 and Dec. 12
(Visit redbarnbentonville.com for more information.)
*Editor’s note: After this issue went to press, the date and time for the farm dinner was changed.