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A Traditional Idea Made New: Agrihoods

This article appeared in Professional Builder on May 4, 2016

In Kane County, Ill., a developer courting one of three neighboring family farms to sell land told one farmstead’s owner, “The next time you go by this place, you won’t even recognize it.” The developer thought he was impressing the farmer with his vision to transform fields into a thriving suburban community. But to the farmer, whose family had tilled these acres since the early 1900s, the developer was inferring that he was going to wipe out the farmer’s heritage. Jane Strickland had better luck. 

The Fort Wayne, Ind., resident had been searching for a location to start a horse stables business and had bought one of those family farms in 2001. She soon saw that suburban sprawl from Huntley, Elgin, and other suburban Chicago enclaves was pushing westward. Almost always when residential development creeps next to farmland, the two coexist for a time but eventually the farm is annexed and disappears. Strickland and her brother, John DeWald, a San Diego developer as well as a trained biologist and chemist, sought a way to preserve the county’s farmland. They proposed an idea that became Serosun Farms and won over the neighboring Allens and Grollemonds who saw the development as one that would preserve the legacies of their farming families. Even some of the roads and a pond are named after the families and their children.

There are now at least a dozen agrihoods—planned communities with housing built around working farms—such as Serenbe near Atlanta, Agritopia in Phoenix, and South Village in Burlington, Vt. Homeowners tired of the city’s hustle and bustle are drawn to pastoral country living and being near organic farms that supply locally grown food for farm-to-table markets and farm-to-fork restaurants. Much like the golf course, pool, or tennis courts were unifying amenities in master planned communities, food is emerging as a community-building tool. 

Read more by clicking this link.

Serosun Farms - A Taste of Farm Life in the Chicago Suburbs
April 30, 2015

Kane County, Ill., is something of a dichotomy—a Chicago suburb with a thriving farm base. But as development continues to push west from the city, the county’s concerns about the future of that farmland have increased.

Developer John DeWald, co-founder of John DeWald & Associates [3], had an idea: Why not purchase some of the farm acreage and create a sustainable farming community with new homes? The concept that eventually became Serosun Farms [4] is now under construction in Hampshire, Ill. It’s centered on a working organic farm and includes hundreds of acres of restored prairie and woodlands. As DeWald explains, the homes will adhere to passive construction and design guidelines, but they’re really secondary to the healthy lifestyle offered at Serosun Farms.

DI: When did you start thinking about the concept of a sustainable farming community?

John DeWald: My sister purchased a portion of the Serosun Farms property back in 1999 to build a horse farm. By 2003, she realized that her farm was at the edge of Chicago’s suburban sprawl and became concerned that someone would build a subdivision across the road. I thought, why don’t we take a look at what’s around here and protect this area?

I started talking to Kane County officials about the Serosun concept, and they saw it as a great opportunity to enhance their farmland preservation efforts. While the county has been buying up rights to farms out in the western suburbs, their real challenge is in farm areas like this one that are near the suburban fringe. I worked with them on a new zoning category that would allow us to do Serosun Farms. By 2009, the county had passed an amendment to its 2030 plan that added the new category. Our plat was subsequently approved, but because of the market crash we had to wait a couple of years before we could go forward with development.

This sketch by Kettelkamp & Kettelkamp Landscape Architecture [5], in Evanston, Ill., shows the view from the barn at Serosun Farms toward the northwest.

DI: Why do you think Serosun Farms is an idea whose time has come?

JD: Less than 7 percent of the food eaten in the Chicago area is actually grown or produced in Illinois, which is interesting considering that Illinois has some of the best soils in the world. There’s been a big push to preserve farmland and create more local farming to produce more of the food we eat. It’s time for us to find ways to integrate farms into edge communities, which would also help preserve some of the open space.

I also think that people are tired of traditional suburbs, which can be kind of soulless. They’re more interested in communities than subdivisions. What makes Serosun Farms a community is that it integrates a lot of uses and activities; it’s not just a bunch of houses.

DI: How is Serosun Farms different from other communities that focus on sustainability, such as Prairie Crossing [6], in Grayslake, Ill., and Serenbe [7], in Chattahoochie Hills, Ga.?

JD: Prairie Crossing and Serenbe have some of the same elements as Serosun. We’ve talked with the folks at Prairie Crossing and incorporated some of their ideas, models, and lessons learned. But Serosun is, at its core, a farmland preservation project. It’s focused on being a farm first, then a residential development. I think Prairie Crossing and Serenbe are the other way around.

Serosun Farms is also a little different from a housing perspective. Our homes will be one-of-a-kind custom with a farm preservation emphasis. Essentially, we’re buying four acres for every acre we sell, which allows us to be more upscale in lot and home types. And the designs themselves are more rural, in keeping with the character of the area.

DI: How large is the community, and what will it consist of when completed?

JD: Serosun Farms is approximately 410 acres and will have 110, 1-acre home sites, so the homes occupy about 25 percent of the entire property. There’s a 160-acre working farm and more than 300 acres of open space, including a restored prairie and wildlife habitat; a 40-acre savannah; and about 8 miles of trails.

There will also be a large equestrian center; a community center with a swimming pool, tennis, and basketball courts; community gardens for residents to grow their own fruits and vegetables; a stocked fishing pond; a restaurant; and a farmer’s market. Community activities such as fall and spring festivals and holiday festivals will foster social life.

Serosun Farms truly promotes a healthy lifestyle, providing residents with immediate access to fresh organic produce, free-range poultry, and grass-fed beef. The soil has been restored and preserved to make it nutrient-rich.

Homes will occupy only about 25 percent of the Serosun Farms property; the rest is allocated to a working farm, restored prairie, and woodlands, and other open space.

DI: What buyer segments do you anticipate?

JD: We’ve identified four demographics: equestrians who want to live near their horses; business executives, business owners, professionals, and entrepreneurs; second-home buyers looking for a quick getaway in the country; and retirees or people nearing retirement who want an active lifestyle in a rural setting but not the responsibilities of maintaining a farm.

In the retiree group are many people who either grew up on a farm or their grandparents had one, and they want to get back to that life. It’s also appealing to have a home that their grandchildren will love to visit. Yet we’re only a 40-minute drive from O’Hare Airport and an hour from downtown Chicago.

DI: Have you selected builders and architects?

JD: We have three architects and four builders, and will probably add more. Buyers can bring in their own builders and architects, with our approval. The homes at Serosun must be sustainable and healthy and meet certain requirements. We need builders and architects who have a thorough understanding of sustainable techniques, technologies, and design standards, and are accustomed to dealing with wells, septic systems, and other aspects of country life.

Plus, we’re pushing more traditional American styles that fit the rural ambience such as Craftsman, Farmhouse, Foursquare, Prairie, and Victorian, so our architects need to be proficient in these authentic styles.

The homes will range from approximately 2,500 to 6,000 square feet and be priced from the $600,000s to around $2.5 million. The price includes a 1-acre home site.

DI: Tell me more about the sustainable building and design requirements.

JD: The homes will incorporate green features such as passive design elements, rainwater collection systems, and geothermal heating and cooling. They’ll have a high level of indoor air quality. One of our goals is to provide 70 to 80 percent of our energy through clean, renewable, on-site sources such as wind, solar, and geothermal.

DI: What’s the status of construction and sales?

JD: We have five reservations for the first 14 lots that have been released. The grand opening is in mid-May; our model home will be completed by then. The first roads should be completed by early June, which is when we’ll start lot closings and building the first custom home.

The model home is 4,890 square feet, not including a 784-square-foot garage loft. The plan wraps around a landscaped terrace and courtyard and features a first-floor master. The “garden floor” is actually an English garden basement with large, deep windows.

DI: How have visitors reacted to Serosun Farms?

JD: It’s interesting how the farm captures people’s imaginations today. When buyers come out here, they’re really focused on lifestyle first and home second.
Second homes allow many to leisurely await retirement
By Jean Murphy
Daily Herald Correspondent

The days when people believed they had to leave Illinois to fully enjoy themselves on weekends or in retirement are in the past.

Illinois has beautiful countryside, lakes and other attractions, too. More and more people who are nearing retirement are recognizing they can buy or build a second home within an hour or two of Chicago and its suburbs, using it occasionally while they are still working and maybe moving there full time in the future.

Amy and Tom Fahey of Elmhurst have purchased a lot at Serosun Farms and are now poring over photos and house plans, trying to decide exactly what type of home they want to build there.Places like Serosun Farms near Hampshire in Kane County, Lake Summerset along the Wisconsin line between Rockford and Freeport and Heritage Harbor in Ottawa, near Starved Rock State Park, are all attracting empty-nesters from the Chicago area who are looking for a nearby second home in a beautiful locale.

"It will probably be a three-bedroom, frame farmhouse of some kind," Amy said. She has very recently retired after a 29-year career with J.P. Morgan Chase downtown and is looking for "life No. 2," as she calls it.

Serosun Farms is building homes with an emphasis on energy efficiency and sustainability. The development is part of a working 410-acre organic farm and equestrian center.

"I spent the first part of my life working to benefit my family," Fahey said. "I want to spend the second half giving back, doing something with regard to food and the health implications of what we have done to our food supply. I like the idea of going back to the basics and how things used to be done. I find that very interesting.

"I feel that I can make a difference by working with Jane Strickland and John DeWald at Serosun to develop the farmers market they have planned and I won't wait until our house is built to spend time out there. I want to get involved right away. I am very enthusiastic about Jane and John's passion for protecting and restoring the land and figuring out how to create a sustainable community where people can actually live."

"I loved Serosun Farms the minute I saw it," she added. "It is just spectacular."

And once the couple's 16-year-old daughter goes off to college in two years, the Faheys will likely move to Serosun full time, she said, even though they are only in their early 50s. Tom works as an accountant for Fort Dearborn Co., a packaging and labeling company, in its Elk Grove Village facility and has no plans to retire anytime soon.

"I'm not ready to spend my time golfing or boating or leaving Illinois," Amy Fahey said. "I want to work on improving the living environment here."

Serosun Farms (, (847) 683-4796) is welcoming homeowners of all ages who are looking for a rural life without all the work and responsibility of having their own farm or horse barn. While Serosun Farms will have a strong equestrian component, it has actually been designed to solve the problem of disappearing agricultural land and to appeal to anyone who has always wanted to live on a farm or who is committed to living in an organic community.

The farm is already producing organic hay, a limited number of vegetables and free-range eggs, according to DeWald, the San Diego-based developer who is creating the community with his sister, Strickland, who runs the equestrian center.

Once complete, Serosun Farms will feature a 160-acre working, sustainable farm and apple orchard, which will supply fresh produce, flowers, farm-raised meat and other specialty items to an on-site farmers market. There will also be 300 acres of open countryside with 8 miles of trails for riding, cross country skiing, walking, mountain biking and golf carts. Finally, it will feature the equestrian center, fishing ponds, a wildlife habitat, sports facilities, a playground and a community center with swimming pool, tennis courts, game room and event facilities.

All of the 114 custom homes will be situated on one-acre lots, clustered in the middle of the property. When residents look out their back windows they will see farmland, prairie or woods.

"Homeowners will be able to enjoy the benefits of living on a 400-acre farm without all of the work involved," DeWald said. "Many feel nostalgia about living on a farm or in the country. Maybe they grew up in the country or they always wanted to live in the country and never had the chance. Still others are committed to healthy living and eating locally grown, organic food."

The mixed-use community will be entirely built in a sustainable, environmentally-responsible manner, complete with composting and mulching programs, LEED green-building design; utilization of solar, wind and geothermal energy; wildlife habitat management; soil, water and other resource conservation; and innovative use of land, he said.

Another area attracting "weekenders" who may potentially become full-time residents in retirement is the 2,300-lot Lake Summerset community near the Wisconsin state line. The land was subdivided and developed by Boise-Cascade in 1971. The community is about half developed, said Nancy Weaver, a broker with Best Realty LLC (, (866) 390-2378) in Davis. It features single-family homes built over the past 44 years amid trees on the rolling terrain surrounding a 285-acre, spring-fed lake.

"Our buyers generally fall into two categories -- families with children who are drawn by the lifestyle and the great schools and those buyers who are getting close to retirement so they are buying now and using the home on weekends. But within five to eight years, they plan to relocate full time," Weaver said.

The closest town is Durand, which is 4 miles away. It boasts a population of about 1,500 and offers churches, a post office and grocery facilities. The larger communities of Freeport and Rockford, as well as Monroe and Beloit, Wisconsin, are also within a reasonable drive, she added.

An annual membership fee of $665 allows Lake Summerset members to enjoy water activities, including power boating, sailing and water skiing. There are two beaches and two marinas on the lake, as well as a clubhouse, a swimming pool, tennis courts, bocce courts and even disc golf. Members may also enjoy the great outdoors at the private campground facilities. Seventy-five campsites lie on 25 acres of beautifully wooded terrain.

Lake Summerset offers some of the best sport fishing in the Midwest. The lake is carefully stocked with walleye, Northern pike, tiger muskie, large mouth bass, small mouth bass, channel catfish, bluegill and crappie, creating an excellent fishing environment.

Ann and Harry Hultgren of Indian Head Park, which is near LaGrange, abandoned dreams of a second home in Wisconsin or retiring to North Carolina as soon as they set eyes on Heritage Harbor Ottawa, near Starved Rock State Park.

Heritage Harbor Ottawa (, (815) 433-5000) is a 142-acre resort community along the Illinois River with a 32-acre marina (with space for 400 boats), an on-site restaurant, many year-round recreational opportunities and a wide variety of housing choices including single-family cottages, lots available for custom construction, condominiums and townhouses.

While Heritage Harbor Ottawa is an all-ages community, many residents are empty-nesters from Chicago's suburbs who are living at there part time now in anticipation of possibly moving there full time in the future.

"It was barely an hour from our home and we loved it. Even though we weren't boaters when we came here, we bought a three-bedroom home along the Illinois River and just love the view of the barges going up and down the river and the pleasure craft and the river itself," said Harry Hultgren, who owns a manufacturers representative company serving the heating. air, plumbing and industrial markets.

The Hultgrens also enjoy cycling or hiking along the old I & M Canal tow path, playing golf at the nearby courses and enjoying the quaint town of Ottawa. They even have joined an annual-fee boat club that allows them to take out a watercraft whenever they wish. Trips to nearby Starved Rock State Park and Matthiessen State Park are also on their agenda some weekends, unless they simply choose to read and relax in their lovely home.

"Heritage Harbor is an hour and another world away from the Chicago area -- but if we need to get back for a party or something, we can easily do it," Ann, a professional actress, said. "Harry also has fond memories of going to Starved Rock with his parents when he was growing up."

Tammy Barry, director of sales and marketing for Heritage Harbor, said its team has worked with a number of retirees who want a resort-like atmosphere for their retirement home, but also want to be close to their network of family and friends in the Chicago area.

"For these buyers, Heritage Harbor Ottawa is a good compromise because they get a low-maintenance home in a resort setting, but it's close enough to Chicago that they can easily visit family and vice versa. In fact, many love that the fun lifestyle at Heritage Harbor is something that makes their kids and grandkids want to come visit," she said.

"We currently have 80 full-time residents at Heritage Harbor and many more who are transitioning, spending three or four days a week here with the intention of retiring here and using it as their base for traveling. They love that they can get gorgeous, low-maintenance waterfront property that is less than 80 miles from Chicago and within 15 miles of four different state parks," Barry said.

"They have also grown to love Ottawa. Living here is like living in Mayberry. Everyone knows everyone else. There are quaint restaurants, a butcher shop and even a grocery store where they still carry your groceries to the car."

Haute Property: Green Acres -Michigan Ave

Behind the Scenes of a New Eco-Friendly Community

By Judith Nemes | April 1, 2015 | Home & Real Estate

An hour outside Chicago, one luxury development is taking sustainable living to a whole new level.

Living green in the country just got a lot more luxurious: An hour northwest of downtown Chicago, a new sustainable community is taking shape for city dwellers longing for an eco-conscious lifestyle in a less urban setting. Opening this spring, Serosun Farms is an environmentally focused community in Hampshire, where 114 deluxe, high-performance, energy-efficient homes on one-acre-plus lots will be scattered across a 410-acre spread. The homes will be built around horse trails, an equestrian center, an organic vegetable farm, prairie, wetlands, a grove of 100-year-old oak trees, and more. A concept new to Chicago, high-end green communities amid nature should appeal to urbanites who want to live in deluxe eco-friendly homes while surrounded by more greenery than just a city park.  See full article:
Kane Co. board members visit Serosun Farms
Submitted by Suzi Groetsema  Daily Herald

On Wednesday, March 11, Serosun Farms, 45W489 Berner Road in Hampshire, celebrated the first entitlement for the Protected Agriculture and Limited Development Land Use Classification in Kane County.

This program is one of the first in the nation to encourage agricultural preservation as part of community development.

Kane County Board Chairman Chris Lauzen was in attendance along with 11 other Kane County board members who are on committees of county development, energy, environment, agriculture and land planning that were instrumental in negotiations and the development deal between Serosun Farms and Kane County.Serosun Farms partnered with Kane County to create this first of its kind integrated zoning concept that conserves agricultural land by allowing limited development in agriculture zones near the urban edge.

Kane County Farmland Protection Manager Janice Hill gave a short presentation on the history of the area's land use and preservation, explaining how Serosun Farms will be a wonderful growth and revenue opportunity for the county.

Other environmental partners like The Conservation Foundation and Fox Valley Wilderness were there in support of Serosun Farms' mission.

To learn more about Serosun Farms, visit

Home selection can also be lifestyle choice

Home selection can also be lifestyle choice

By Sherry Giewald
Daily Herald Correspondent

As flowers peek from the earth with new life, a new season is upon us -- and a new season is a time of change.

Do you want to change your lifestyle from "ho hum" to "wow" at one of these new home communities? If you want to live among nature, if you'd like to live in a waterfront home, or if you're into sustainable living, it's time to live your dream, live your passion.

Someone once said to be in love with your life, find a beautiful place and get lost. You'll want to unplug and get lost in these communities where the outdoors is your playground.

You can live the life you've only imagined in an upscale home, a charming cottage or a house on a farm, each with scenic surroundings that will bring your enjoyment of life to a whole new level.

Here are some communities that offer a new lifestyle choice.

Serosun Farms

Excitement is blooming at Serosun Farms with its grand opening celebration set from noon to 5 p.m. May 16 along with its lilac festival. The event will feature a tour of its luxury model home showing green technology and a geothermal heating and air conditioning system, said Jane Stickland, owner of the development.

"We will have a golf cart tour of the property and trails, farm garden and a live concert for the public. There's a lot going on; it's awesome.

"We recently had a celebration with the Kane County chairman and commissioners because the special zoning for the combination of a residential and agricultural community is the first of its kind in the country," Stickland said.

Amid suburban sprawl, Serosun Farms in Hampshire offers a sustainable community that blends peaceful pastoral living with today's conveniences.

Centered on a 16-acre working farm, Serosun Farms is a progressive rural oasis where residents will enjoy hundreds of acres of open space with restored prairie and woodlands.

"This is an unusual opportunity for families to live, and for children to grow up, on a farm," said John DeWald, president of John DeWald & Associates, developer of Serosun Farms. "Most professional people don't have the time or money to run a farm; here we do it for you."

The development offers educational programs and several ways to take an active role in the community, such as in the demo gardens, prairie restoration or building birdhouses.

Residences -- from smaller cottages to country estates -- will sit in clusters on 114 distinctive one-acre lots. The developer adheres to design guidelines and other requirements for green building and partners with architects and builders that share the dream and vision for the community, DeWald said.

Other community amenities include a community center with swimming pool and fitness center; jogging, hiking and biking trails; tennis and basketball courts, stocked fishing pond, a bar and grill and meeting/event facilities.

Also, a world-class equestrian center facility is on-site with eight miles of trails developed by Stickland, DeWald's sister, who lives on the property and is his business partner. An international trainer also lives on the site.