Phoenix suburbs may conjure up images of golf courses and swimming pools. But at Agritopia in Gilbert, southeast of Phoenix, it’s all about gardens and front porches.
Agritopia is a suburban development built around a citrus grove and urban farm. The neighborhoods foster a strong sense of community. –7,000 square-foot houses next to 1,800-square-foot ones. Most are built in craftsmen style so you barely see the difference in size.
American flags and welcome signs abound.
Plus, there’s a farm-to-table restaurant that’s been featured on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, family garden plots, a tractor shed turned into a coffee shop, a farm store with payment on the honor system, a Christian school, retirement home, a dog park, a winery.
The aptly-named development is a version of “utopia” created by Joe Johnston, whose family bought the land and began farming cotton and wheat there in 1960. The farm is in Gilbert, a suburb east of Phoenix once known as the “hay capital of the world.”
The restaurant, Joe’s Farm Grill, was originally the Johnston’s family home. Built in 1967, the restaurant serves burgers and other casual fare in a diner-style interior with plenty of shaded picnic-style seating outside. Trees look like they would be great for climbing until you see the “risk of scorpion stings” sign. I got a tasty gouda bacon cheeseburger with a milkshake made with Medjool dates grown in the area. The soft drink options weren’t Coke or Pepsi but drinks from the upstart Tractor Soda from Idaho.
I’ve read that Joe Johnston is often seen tooling around the 166-acre Agritopia on his Vespa motor scooter.
No Johnston or Vespas were seen on the day I was there. But it was fun strolling across the street from the grill and along the grapevine-covered Agritopia Community Garden Trail to the community garden area. Families pay $250 a year, which gets you a 20×20 plot, access to water and compost. I saw everything from sugar cane to sugar snap peas with each plot decorated to reflect the personality of the owners. More acreage is devoted to Agritopia’s certified organic garden, which supplies Joe’s Farm Grill.
The Johnston family has an intriguing past. Joe Johnston’s great-grandfather was an engineer with Hobart Manufacturing, which developed the early-stage Kitchen-Aid food processor. The ingenuity continues at Agritopia. A converted Quonset hut houses several crafts including a brewery, letterpress print shop and Johnston’s own company that prototypes new cooking tools.
Agritopia has been listed as one of the top “agrihoods” in the country. It’s also part of Arizona’s Fresh Foodie Trail, a collection of agriculture and food manufacturing ventures in the Phoenix-Mesa-Gilbert area.