Laurel grew up in the San Jacinto mountains, and went to school in the Chesapeake Bay.
As you might imagine, relocating to the desert came as a bit of a shock.
She came here for a job that was perfect; the working environment, alas, was not.
Matters were not amended by life in the Phoenix suburbs sans car. (Try it for a few months before you judge.)
She labored unappreciated under her workplace administration. Meanwhile, she yearned for the crunchy DIY nesting habits she’d enjoyed during college–canning, preserving, pickling, and drying.
And then, within the first few weeks of her first winter in Arizona, she came to Agritopia to pick oranges.
That, she says, was the moment she decided that she might be able to stay in Arizona, after all.
Agritopia is a 450-lot housing tract that is, in fact, so much more. The land used to be a farm, in keeping with Gilbert, Az.’s early reputation as the Hay Capitol of the world. (Yes, the world.) But after 40 years of independent, self-sustained living, by the time the family’s sons were graduating college, Gilbert was becoming a suburb all around them.
Rather than sell out, or fight the trend, the family’s eldest son collaborated with city officials and landscape architects to create Agritopia, a planned community that integrated farming with suburban sprawl.
I know…I wouldn’t have believed it either, except that I’ve been there.
You pass a number of strip malls, tract developments, and unnaturally green lawns, one of which is anchored by a fountain of strongly phallic suggestions. The entrance to the farm appears, at first glance, to be just another suburban park. Except that unlike most planned community gathering places, this one is full of people.
It’s no park, but rather the capacious grounds of Joe’s Farm Grill. Walking round this fine establishment brings you to the coffee shop, which faces a Vespa shop and a little farm stand selling the remainders of the last growing season and the firstfruits of what’s coming.
Not more than 100 feet down an asphalt walkway, past the community garden, across from a little frisbee golf park, you’ll find the entrance to Agritopia’s 15-acre citrus grove.
It costs $3 for a 5-lb. bag, $5 for an 8-lb. bag. All the fruit is certified organically grown. Along with favorites such as Satsuma mandarins, Meyer lemons, and pomelos the size of your head, you’ll find heirloom varieties of unheralded flavor, such as Arizona Sweet oranges and Ruby Blush grapefruits.
Certain rules apply, depending on supply and time of year; for instance, no bag should contain more than three Lisbon lemons.
Laurel comes back with each new growing season, usually with an offering for the farmers of what she made from the last one–lemon curd, limoncello, beer infused with dried orange peel made by her friends at San Tan Brewery.
Sharing with your neighbors is, as you know, a sure sign of having settled in.