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Agrihood: Combined affordable senior housing, urban farm welcomes residents in Santa Clara

Agrihood: Combined affordable senior housing, urban farm welcomes residents in Santa Clara

SANTA CLARA — Across the street from Valley Fair Mall, Asian cucumbers, Glass Gem corn and Swiss chard sprout up on a nearly quarter-acre farm reminiscent of the region’s days as the Valley of the Heart’s Delight.

The homestead now makes up California’s largest combined urban farm and affordable housing development that’s been years in the making. The Agrihood welcomed its first residents this summer into its 165 affordable units set aside exclusively for veterans and seniors over the age of 55. An additional 195 market rate homes also are also expected to eventually be built on the same property.

At an unveiling ceremony Wednesday afternoon, Santa Clara Mayor Lisa Gillmor called the Agrihood “one of the most important projects” ever approved in the city.

“We’re preserving part of the agricultural history of not just Santa Clara, but this entire valley,” she told the Mercury News. “This was one of the last remnants of agriculture and so we’re still keeping part of that. It’s also important, especially when we put affordable housing for seniors and veterans, that we give them and make the open space the anchor tenant of the development.”

The courtyard area at the Agrihood housing community on Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2023, in Santa Clara, Calif. The urban farm and housing complex has 165 senior housing units alongside 1.5 acres of open space. (Aric Crabb/Bay Area News Group) 

In addition to the farm, the property also has a little more than an acre of open space that includes a gazebo and tables and chair where residents will be able to interact with each other.

The concept of combining housing with an urban farm isn’t a new one and several other agrihoods have already popped up around the state in recent years in cities like Rancho Mission Viejo, Davis and Fremont. The site, which was previously owned by the state until the city purchased it in 2005, was used by the University of California system for agricultural research.

But as the city started planning for housing on the six-acre property on Winchester Boulevard, many residents wanted to preserve the location’s agricultural history.

The farm portion of the development opened in July and is not only an asset for residents, but for the broader community, as well, said Lara Hermanson, the owner of Farmscape, the largest urban farming company in the state that’s running the site.

“It’s going to be available for everybody,” she said. “I really do want the programming to be informed by the residents here and the people in the community who are really interested in being here. For right now we’ve left it a bit nebulous for what they really want and need.”

Terrence Reilly, left, and Louis Gutierrez, right, visit the Agrihood housing community urban farm on Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2023, in Santa Clara, Calif. The urban farm and housing complex has 165 senior housing units alongside 1.5 acres of open space. (Aric Crabb/Bay Area News Group) 

Hermanson said that anyone who wants to is able to volunteer at the farm on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Honor system farmers markets, where people can pay what they can, also will be debuting early next year.

About 10 fruit trees and 20 planters with vegetables also line the podium deck of the senior and veteran apartments, said Vince Cantore, the vice president of development for The Core Companies, which built the project. He said they wanted to make sure agriculture “radiated throughout the site.” All of the produce is also available to the residents free of charge.

Cantore said he hopes the Agrihood serves as a model for future projects in the region.

“We’re trying to make sure we have provided a living environment that is attainable to a population that is desperately in need of affordable housing,” he said. “I think beyond the deep levels of affordability in the project it’s also important for us that our residents are maximizing opportunities to better their health and wellness. That’s where Agrihood comes in, that’s where providing access to healthy living, healthy food choices just fundamentally makes sense to me.”

A pedestrian walks her dog through the Agrihood housing community on Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2023, in Santa Clara, Calif. The urban farm and housing complex has 165 senior housing units alongside 1.5 acres of open space. (Aric Crabb/Bay Area News Group) 
Community members tour a model apartment unit the Agrihood housing community on Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2023, in Santa Clara, Calif. The urban farm and housing complex has 165 senior housing units alongside 1.5 acres of open space. (Aric Crabb/Bay Area News Group)