Video: Serenbe thrives on sustainable land development and agriculture

| by Gary Wollenhaupt
Video: Serenbe thrives on sustainable land development and agriculture

A rooster crows as Paige Witherington walks among the rows of winter vegetables at the Serenbe Organic farm. She’s the manager of the certified organic farm that has about six acres producing vegetables, fruit and eggs on Serenbe, a sustainable development southwest of Atlanta.

The organic farm supports a vibrant community-supported agriculture (CSA) program that supplies fresh vegetables to residents and local restaurants. It is one of the most visible signs of the eco-friendly land preservation strategy behind Serenbe.

The farm was an integral part of the sustainability plan for Serenbe, a 1,000-acre development that is part of the city of Chattahoochee Hills, Ga. The city was created in 2007 to help preserve thousands of acres of farmland, forest, and other existing small towns in the farms and forestland surrounding the Serenbe development.

In addition to the farm, the design of Serenbe includes eco-friendly housing and landscape design to minimize impact on the land.

[Read more on the development of Serenbe]

Preserving the land

Steve Nygren, the founder of Serenbe, made land preservation the focus of the development, with untouched land separating three hamlets or villages within the community. The roads follow the natural curves of the land, creating a close relationship between the homes and the surrounding beauty.

Trails crisscross the preserved areas, connecting the hamlets with retail stores, restaurants and community gathering points such as the theater and farmer’s market.

Part of the preservation plan was to create a higher level of population density than a traditional suburban development. Higher density housing reduces the impact on the environment from building and encourages a sense of community among the residents.
“In the long run, the impact of development will be much less with fewer and less storm water drainage to maintain, so this city at some point will be one that has a positive financial situation,” said Tom Reed, a Serenbe resident and a volunteer on the Chattahoochee Hills zoning committee.

To accomplish higher density housing, Serenbe offers a mix of single-family, attached, and mixed-use developments on small lots. Live/work buildings allow a family to live over their store or office, or lease the space. These clusters of retail, restaurants and office spaces encourage people to live and work in the community.  The development also attracts people who work from home offices or travel for their jobs.

“The more mixed use you can create, the more connections people have in their neighborhoods,” said Haverty, one of the partners in Serenbe. “Now you can walk to work, walk to school, and walk to eat.”

Living green

To support the sustainable development, all the homes in Serenbe are built to the standards of the EarthCraft House Program, which include standards for energy and resource efficiency as well as water and air quality. None of the homes has a traditional yard; instead, the homes are constructed with minimal disturbance of the land and native vegetation is used in landscaping.

“It takes a little more effort in placing the houses and a little more money but you save a lot in landscaping,” Nygren said.

The Nest, a village of 15 homes, will be built to the highest EarthCraft energy-efficiency standards. The lots were laid out with a south-facing orientation to accommodate the optional solar power systems. Also, the homes will be heated and cooled via a community geothermal system that uses the nearby six-acre lake.

At each home, garbage cans are sunk in the ground for low visibility. A garbage concierge collects waste from the cans, which is then divided in to three streams: refuse, recyclables and compostables that are delivered to the farm.

To manage storm water runoff, the home lots are designed to channel water into natural systems of vegetated filter strips and shallow channels of dense vegetation. These natural filters remove pollutants while dispersing water flow.

Down on the organic farm

Serenbe organic vegetablesSerenbe resident Reed loves to tell his friends about the CSA program. Residents and people from the surrounding towns can become a shareholder in the CSA and receive weekly deliveries of fresh organic vegetables and eggs every week during the growing season.

“The coolest part is that when you come into a restaurant, a lot of times the farmers are in here having lunch,” he said. “So my kids now are friends of the farmers that grow their food, and that’s cool.”

In the 2010 growing season, the farm produced 51,000 pounds of vegetables, including 10,000 pounds of tomatoes. More than half of that was delivered to CSA shareholders; the rest went to restaurants and the farmers’ market.

Overall, about half of the food is distributed within two miles of the farm, Witherington noted. She promotes diversity in the sustainable farms, with 40 different kinds of vegetables grown throughout the season.

Part of the farm’s mission is to rejuvenate the soil, which was depleted when the land was part of a cotton farm.

“We want to leave it better than we found it,” Witherington said.

Serenbe resident Steve Hawthorne agrees the farm is a focal point of the residents’ desire to live an environmentally friendly lifestyle that brings people together.

“With the greenness of this community, starting with the organic farm but also with the architecture and the desire for green building, automatically people have a purpose here,” he said.

Watch this video on the Serenbe Organic Farm:



Read more about Serenbe: A sustainable community rises in Georgia

Read more about Serenbe: Sustainable design leads to a sense of community in Serenbe

Topics: Building Green, Sustainable Communities

Gary Wollenhaupt

Gary Wollenhaupt is an experienced writer and editor, with a background as a daily newspaper reporter as well as corporate and agency public relations and marketing. He is constantly looking for affordable green upgrades to make to his home in eastern Kentucky.

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