At a glance, the Farm at Agritopia is a tale of family, but the roots run deeper still.
Back in 1927, the desert gave way to a homestead that would eventually grow into the “Farm at Agritopia”. In those days, the Town of Gilbert was known as the “Hay Capitol of the World”, and produced amazing alfalfa hay. The homesteaders added a small home, tractor shed and an open-sided barn to protect the alfalfa from rain.
By the 1950’s, cash crops of the area changed to cotton and wheat. The homestead expanded to include a new cement block tractor shed and the existing barn was replaced by a recycled aluminum Quonset-hut barn made from melted down WWII aircraft. In 1960, a young farmer of 30, Jim Johnston, bought the farm along with his wife, Virginia. Shortly thereafter they built a home on the farm to raise their three young boys, Joe, Steve, and Paul.
Jim preferred a family approach to farming and managed the land with his father, Edward, and his sons.
The crops grew more diverse with Pima cotton, durum wheat for pasta, barley, field corn, sugar beets, milo and alfalfa. Steve and Paul studied agriculture and followed their dad’s footsteps, eventually taking over the operation of the farm. Joe became an engineer and worked in that field until starting a chain of coffeehouses in 1989 called “The Coffee Plantation”. As development moved closer to the family farm, it became increasingly clear that farming in Gilbert might become a thing of the past.
The Johnston family remained steadfast in the stewardship of the land they loved so dearly. They worked with land planners, builders and the Town of Gilbert to create Agritopia, a community that preserved agriculture in an urban-relevant way, and village life with vibrant, connected neighborhoods, commerce, education and open spaces. The Farm at Agritopia was carved out of the original farm, destined to be a permanent expression of the joy and timelessness that is family.
In 2015, the Johnston family formed The Johnston Family Foundation for Urban Agriculture. The goals for the foundation are to keep a longstanding heritage of farming in perpetuity and to further demonstrate the importance of maintaining agriculture in an urban environment.