Intentional Communities: The Alternative Subdivision

Richard Smith and his wife had their lives changed forever when they discovered Homesteading Ridge, an intentional community of like-minded people that focus the construction of their neighborhood around a self-sustaining lifestyle.
By Richard Smith
July/August 1979

This home is located in a Tallahassee, Florida intentional community and is surrounded by enough property for the owners to enjoy having a large garden and livestock.
PHOTO: W.W. WATKINS


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When my wife and I tell folks that our new home gives us easy access to fresh eggs . . . broilers . . . fryers . . . beefsteak (at 90 cents a pound! ) . . . goats' milk . . . enough fresh vegetables to last a full season . . . nice neighbors . . . privacy . . . miles of riding trails . . . and all the peace and tranquility that nature can provide, the listeners always assume that we've found ourselves a quiet country paradise. But the truth of the matter is, we live in a subdivision!

I'll admit, however, that Homestead Ridge — located 15 minutes east of downtown Tallahassee, Florida (and the same short drive from either of two shopping centers) — is unlike any other such development I've seen.

Stumbling Upon an Intentional Community

My wife and I spent months searching for a place where we could get out from under the high prices, sirens in the night, hot asphalt, and smog of city life . . . but still not be absolutely isolated.

Then — quite by accident — we discovered Homestead Ridge . . . a settlement made up of two-and-a-half-acre plots and complete with wide streets (they're unpaved, but well-maintained), a community-owned water system with no chemicals added, and neighbors who are near enough at hand for company, but not too close for comfort!

Better yet, the only critters we were told we couldn't raise in the unique development were hogs, and — as it turns out — most of the residents don't even agree with that restriction. (With modern techniques and a little attention to basic sanitation, swine needn't be as odorous as many unfounded fables would have us believe.)

Well, we were convinced. We bought the property and took advantage of the "mutual" water system. At $4.50 per month (half the cost of city water), we couldn't justify installing a $1,500 well . . . although many folks have chosen to bore shallow "water holes" for irrigation purposes.

Soon, we'd designed and constructed our own 1,650-square-foot house, and added a 1,000-square-foot barn to the property. Then, we fenced our land into four sections: two for cattle pasture, one for gardening and living, and the last for the barn and horses.

Some Homestead Ridge residents have chosen to clear only enough land for a house and driveway. But other neighborhood families raise cattle for sale, and several produce eggs, chickens, turkeys, and goats. So — if a household chooses not to get involved in a particular form of food production — someone nearby will probably decide to raise just that type of livestock or crop . . . and will be glad to sell the fruits of his or her labor for much less than the goods would cost at the local supermarket.

The Price Paid

Of course, the closer to an urban center you get, the higher the land costs are likely to be. Currently, a two-and-a-half acre tract in Homestead Ridge runs about $11,000 to $12,000. But, if you build your own home (and it's not all that hard to do!), the total dollar outlay can be reduced considerably.

Our place is now valued at about $60,000, and our total investment (including a small garden tractor, a tiller, the barn, our horses, and all of our fencing) is just under $26,000. And . . . we don't even have a mortgage!

Remember, too, that most folks simply don't require a 1,650-square-foot house. It just happened to be the size we wanted. I should also note in passing that the barn-which is 24-by-32 feet . . . with a 10-by-24 foot enclosed loft, water, and electricity cost us less than $800. And, with another $1,000, a do-it-yourself builder could that inexpensive structure into a very comfortable home.

What We Lack

Even in our dream subdivision, however, there are (some folks think) several elements still to be desired. The most pressing disadvantage is our lack of adequate fire protection. The city of Tallahassee is responsible (by agreement with the county) to provide this essential service. But — since the nearest fire station is 11 miles away — it's unlikely that even the most efficient flame-fighting group could arrive before considerable damage had been done. There are steps that could be taken to alleviate the situation, installation of hydrants and a volunteer fire department, for example but such options depend upon just how much the area's residents want to spend.

Another relatively minor problem is the absence of any street lighting. Most of our community's members couldn't care less about this lack, but a few think such extra night brightness would be a worthwhile addition to the area.

The unpaved streets might, at first glance, seem to be a disadvantage, too. Again, however, the vast majority of the folks here like our roadways just as they are. Not only do the "rural routes" keep the amount of traffic down (no sightseers), but they also reduce the speeds at which the homeowners themselves drive through the neighborhood. Another "unpaved" advantage is very evident to those people who own horses. The network of roads provides six to seven miles of safe riding trails . . . and eliminates the necessity of having the steeds shod.

More of the Same?

MOTHER EARTH NEWS readers, of course, need no pep talks about the virtues and joys of a back-to nature lifestyle . . . and more Homestead Ridge type developments might just provide the kind of compromise needed to bring more people over to the do-it-yourself/grow-it-yourself way of living. Such "country style" subdivisions — designed from the drawing board up — would surely appeal to the many thousands of people who work full time but still want to provide a better quality of life (including a less expensive, more nutritious diet) for their families.

And, best of all, the folks you usually find in such self-sufficient settings are living examples of those long-ago types who did so much with so little.

Now . . . I don't know about you, but that's a pretty good description of the kind of neighbors I like to have.


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