There's a village in the East Valley of Phoenix that beckons as a little slice of Eden. Rows of perky sunflowers, trees hanging heavy with olives and dates, and raspberry bushes greet you as you walk down a tree-lined sidewalk. There's a Christian school and a church, a pool, plenty of parks, and a restaurant that serves burgers made of natural, local beef and organic greens grown on the property. And at the center of this Eden is a tree—well, lots of trees, and bushes, and pastures that feed the village and the people beyond it with food for belly and spirit alike.

This Eden is called Agritopia, and the man who calls it very good is Joe Johnston. A Stanford-trained engineer, Johnston has turned his family's decades-old farm into a thriving mixed-use community at the center of Gilbert, a southeast suburb of Phoenix. Since construction began in 2001, Agritopia has become one of the best-known "New Ruralism" projects in the United States, placing commercial, civic, and residential plots close together and a 15-acre working farm at the center of it all. "We didn't want to build a sea of houses," says Johnston. "We wanted to preserve the agricultural heritage of Gilbert in a way that serves a suburban community." The 1,500 residents of Agritopia can pick from crops like citrus fruits, beets, herbs, lettuce, carrots, and tomatoes directly, buy them at on-site stands, or grow their own crops at the 42-plot community garden.

Residents also have ample opportunity to grow community. Every aspect of Agritopia is intended to frustrate the isolationist: Homes are built close to the sidewalk so neighbors can easily interact from their porches. Each of the 450 home plots includes ...

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