The Farm at Agritopia
Writer Writer Lara Piu
Images Provided by Agritopia
What if you could live on a farm? One that would yield fresh groceries, yet you needn’t lift a finger unless you wanted to—and when you wanted a break from cooking, four restaurants and all the conveniences of the world were just a stroll or a quick drive away?
For the nearly 1,600 residents in Agritopia, that dream is a reality. The suburban Gilbert community near Higley and Ray Roads, just off the 202 Highway, is centered on a 160-acre farm that yields fresh fruit, vegetables and honey. There’s also a coffee shop, restaurants, a school and many other amenities just steps away.
The land was originally a homestead established in 1927 by the Reber family. The vision for the present-day community was born in 1960 by Jim and Virginia Johnston. Thinking a farm would be an ideal environment for their three boys, the young couple purchased the acreage and established their family home.
They grew cotton and wheat, and their boys, Steve, Paul and Joe, worked the farm in the summer. When they grew up, Steve and Paul studied agriculture at University of Arizona and returned to work at the farm afterward. Joe studied engineering at Stanford University. While they were away, the city of Gilbert grew. By the 1990s, suburban development was closing in on the farm. That’s when the Johnstons began to think about preservation.
Leveraging Joe’s engineering know-how, the family worked with a land planner, landscape architects, the Town of Gilbert and community developers to build Agritopia. In 2000, the family’s vision came to life: A modern-day community that honors its farming past.
The Johnston family lives in the community to this day and the development now features 550 homes and growing. The homes feature charming front porches, and residents have modern amenities at their fingertips: four restaurants, a coffee shop, a K-8 school, tennis courts, parks, a retirement center and even a craftsmen community. In the fall and spring, goods from the farm and goodies from local vendors are sold at the farmer’s market every Wednesday evening.
Still, the star of Agritopia is the farm. Located at the center of the neighborhood, it yields dates, citrus, artichokes, zucchini, artichokes, honey, peaches, olives, tomatoes, carrots, kale, grapevines and other fresh goods. More than 11 of its 160 acres are certified organic farmland.
Walking paths dotted by sunflowers and covered by grapevine-filled arches cross the middle of the farm inviting residents to take a peaceful, picturesque stroll. Photographers from across the Valley purchase permits from the farm to take senior, engagement and wedding portraits in the midst of this unique setting.
In 2015, the Johnston family created the Johnston Family Foundation of Urban Agriculture as a way to educate people on urban farming and celebrate the agricultural tradition. For those that want to get their hands dirty, they offer a community garden where more than 40 20-by-20-foot plots are available for rent. It’s fully equipped with a communal tool shed and water and there are “garden gatherings” where renters learn things like how to preserve their produce.
The Coffee Shop sits south of the farm, where residents and non-residents can gather for a cuppa joe or a sandwich, bakery item or salad. Next door is the original Johnston family home that is now Joe’s Farm Grill. Owned by Joe Johnston and his business partners, it serves elevated barbecue selections that has gained the attention of Guy Fiere’s “Diners, Dives and Drive Ins” on The Food Network—and you can bet there’s almost always a line. Comforting but creative and high-quality burgers, hot dogs, salads and other barbecue items are combined with the fresh flavors of veggies sourced from The Farm at Agritopia.
Adjacent is Barnone, where “creativity is unleashed.” Twelve artisans share a workshop and retail presence here. There are woodworkers, winemakers, letterpress printers, florists, and a wide variety of makers. The space houses an additional two restaurants’, Fire and Brimstone and The Uprooted Kitchen.
Recently, the community expanded with the addition of Generations Senior Living Community, a 117-unit retirement home and assisted living facility. Another add-on called Epicenter is currently underway. Designed to be the urban core of Agritopia, its ground-level spaces will feature shops, health clubs, yoga centers, restaurants and cocktail bars, and above will be luxury apartments. The nearly 20-acre development and will connect to the rest of Agritopia through sidewalks and pathways.