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Down on the farm: Riverstead community brings ‘agrihood’ living to Greenville

Instead of a golf course, there’s a grazing meadow, an orchard and more than 250 acres of preserved Upstate forest along a crook in the Saluda River. Instead of tennis courts, there’s a vineyard and a free range chicken coop. Instead of a clubhouse, there’s a barn and a garden.

Welcome to Riverstead, a unique community located 30 minutes north of Greenville that harkens back to South Carolina’s agricultural foundation. Lucas Anthony, the developer on the project, figured the idea would appeal to those intrigued by the notion of living on a farm, but not quite sure if they’re cut out to till soil and sling feed all day. What he couldn’t foresee when development started in 2017 was how the coronavirus pandemic would have many ready to move to more rural surroundings.

“I was just trying to create what I wanted for my family,” said Anthony, whose father Jim—founder of The Cliffs Communities—consulted on the project. “I didn’t want to be a full-time farmer. It’s a job having a farm with chickens, blueberries and the whole shooting match. I dabbled in it a little bit before I started Riverstead, and kind of came to the determination that a farm should be shared. It actually makes a lot of sense for people to have shared resources.”

Getting back to the land was the original idea. But on the heels of a 2020 defined by pandemic lockdowns and disorder in some cities, it became about getting away from something, too. Associate broker Debra Owensby of Blackstream Christie’s has met Riverstead homeowners from Chicago, Pennsylvania and other far-off locales who had the same reason for relocating to an agrarian community near Travelers Rest.

Debra Owensby

Debra Owensby (provided).

“I said, ‘How did you find this place?’ All of them said they went online and started Googling. They wanted to get out of urban areas where there’s so much unrest,” Owensby said. “They wanted somewhere they could feel safe and could get back to nature. They started researching and went online, and every one of them found it that way.”

Eggs from the chicken coop

Agriculturally based neighborhoods similar to Riverstead—known in some circles as “agrihoods”—are more of a trend out West, where they operate almost as cooperatives producing farm-to-table fare. Some have become tourist destinations, featuring inns and restaurants. Closer to home, the Serenbe community outside Atlanta is built around a 25-acre farm, and Kiawah River outside Charleston is also an agriculturally-centered community.

“It’s a trend coming across the country, and I know Jim and Lucas both did a lot of research on it,” Owensby said. “Their heart has always been with farming and land. They’re environmentalists at heart. So they’ve been keeping their fingers on this type of thing for a while.”

At Riverstead, residents can be as involved as they want to be in the agricultural features that dot the gated community: a grazing meadow, orchards, a vineyard, a free range chicken coop, a garden, and greenhouses. The neighborhood farm is managed by a pair of professionals, Johannes Aartun and Courtney LaCosta, who have years of experience in sustainable, organic and biodynamic farming practices.

“I realized a lot of people like the idea of having chickens until they try it,” Anthony said. “So I’m saying, try it, and if you don’t want to do it, let Johannes and Courtney do it and just buy from them. That’s what I realized was the home run for the whole deal—I can have access to farm-fresh eggs and I can see the chicken that actually laid them, but I don’t have to have a hand in it. But I can lend a hand, my kids can learn about where eggs come from, and they can pick them out of the chicken coop.”

While the idea of the residents handling all the digging, planting and harvesting is nice, Anthony realized it was also somewhat unrealistic. LaCosta and Aartun lease the Riverstead farm and operate it like a community-supported agricultural program, determining what to raise with input from residents. “Lots of people want eggs,” Anthony added, “so they raised 130 chickens so basically everybody can have a dozen fresh eggs each week.”

Anthony said the idea for Riverstead came not from an existing agrihood in the United States, but an eco-resort he visited in South America where locals gathered in an old farmhouse to trade their wares. Farmers brought produce, fishermen brought seafood, and everyone bartered until they got what they needed. And all of it was fresh—echoing the farm-to-table practices that have become popular among many Americans desiring to know more about where their food comes from.

Anthony bought the 400-acre property in 2017, ultimately carving out 53 homesites that range in size from 2.8 to 5 acres, and starting at $81,500. Vistas vary from the Saluda River to the foothills of the Blue Ridge. Given the renewed emphasis on getting back to nature, Anthony figured he had a desirable community—then the pandemic hit, and demand soared. By March of 2021, all of Riverstead’s home sites were sold out.

“I’ve been just amazed,” Owensby said. “In basically one year, through nothing but internet marketing, they’ve sold the whole development out.”

The way things used to be

The saltwater pool is due to be completed by June, the treehouse—indeed, Riverstead will have a treehouse—will be finished in a few weeks. About 17 custom-built homes are completed or in some stage of construction, with full buildout projected in two years.

“Covid kind of pushed everybody to think about what they actually need, given the fact they can work from anywhere,” Anthony said. “The way I wanted to live didn’t really trend in until Covid hit. And then people realized that being out in nature most of the time, and going into the city only for what you need, actually isn’t a bad thing.”

At the onset of the pandemic, many people suddenly discovered they could work from anywhere—including near a farm in the foothills north of Greenville. With parks and children’s attractions closed, trails and fields suddenly became more sought-after. With many cities hard-hit by Covid and riled by unrest, the idea of a lifestyle that provided farm-fresh food proved too alluring for some to pass up.

“It’s about being out there and feeding the chickens, and being part of literally a village in the old-style sense,” Owensby said. “And I think people are craving that. In this last year where everything became so chaotic and the world felt like it was falling apart, I think people want to get back to a feeling of the way it used to be. I think that’s a trend more than anything.”

That trend seems certain to continue: Anthony is already working on another agriculturally based community near Greenville.

“The lifestyle at Riverstead hasn’t been affected by Covid,” he said. “People started realizing, hey if I need a dozen eggs, all I need is to go to the chicken coop. I don’t have to go to the grocery store. It’s the same kind of thing with the trails and people getting outdoors and hiking and walking. They’re just like, ‘This all makes a lot of sense. I have everything I need.’”

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