Leslie Ratliff, the daughter of a local farm owner, has brought the idea of the area’s first agri-community to life in Warren County. The concept was born in hopes of creating a sense of community, built in a country setting, for those interested in healthy living. 

Nestled on an organic farm, the development will also provide residents with fresh, homegrown food. 

“For me this is multifaceted. First of all, I’m a homebuilder. Since 2004 I have owned my own home-building company Pendragon Homes. So over the years I’ve watched communities being built and I’ve watched people searching for community and it’s not really being realized in our suburban-type neighborhoods. 

“People go into their garages, the garage door goes down and they’re lonely or they feel isolated. I can’t tell you how many people that say they don’t know their neighbors,” Ratliff says. 

We need connectivity. That was one driving factor, she says. The best way for people to connect with each other is around amenities. 

“People aren’t going to connect by knocking door to door. We’ve lost that. People don’t even want to call each other. Instead, we text or email to see if we can call and talk to them. We are getting more and more pulled away and isolated. People are yearning for community and connectivity,” Ratliff says. 

She says another motivator for the project is the health crisis going on in the country. “We are committed to producing quality food and promoting wellness. As a whole our culture is also becoming more conscientious about eating healthy and learning about our food sources. Even early on we’ve generated a lot of interest. Additionally, it didn’t take us long to connect with local farmers, Marc and Claire Luff, who shared a common vision.

“Thirdly, we have this amazing farm. Since the beginning, I’ve watched families come in and the kids leave their cell phones in the car. There’s something very magical about this piece of property and what my family has created here. Most of our friends will say the moment they hit the driveway they shed the stresses of their day. They feel like it’s where they can run away. You don’t even feel like you’re in Ohio. They feel like they can vacation here even if it’s for the evening. We don’t want to leave here, we feel the magic, too,” Ratliff says.

To come up with a plan that world work for the property and the area Ratliff says she educated herself and gained tips from other experts across the country like farmer and mentor Joel Salatin to learn about the various aspects—from home ownership to farm operations. 

Barbara Aberlin, Ratliff’s mother and farm owner, says Ratliff had the concept of building around a golf course, but instead of a golf course the amenity is the farm. 

“We both love it here on the farm. We were trying to find a way to share that. We enjoy entertaining and having guests here and what a better way to keep the land as such and be able to expand it so others can enjoy it as well,” Aberlin says. 

In a two- to three-year period, the concept for the agri-community went from the initial research and planning stages to getting the necessary approvals from the county, state and beyond. The Warren County Board of Commissioners approved the plan at a public hearing late in July. 

“My husband and I built this as a family compound in 1994 and it was built for us as a retirement project. Unfortunately, I’m the only one left alive so it was time for me to do something else. I had the property for sale for a short while with no interesting results so it was really my daughter who came up with this concept. She had been reading about this agri-community idea that’s happening across the United States. There are about 200 of them, there’s just nothing in this particular area,” Aberlin says. 

Located off of Interstate 71, just south of Lebanon, the development will replace the Aberlin family farm, which was started by Barbara and Fred Aberlin as a “hobby farm” upon Fred’s retirement. Fred, a former Cintas executive, enjoyed working with cattle, and Barbara still continues to raise sheep as a hobby. Previously, the couple lived in Hyde Park for about 20 years before they moved to the farm.

The family retreat included three homes, two barns, a pond and a swimming pool, which will become the centerpiece of the new residential community. The main home, for example, will be turned into to a community center with space for entertaining, or for hosting farm-to-fork dinners. 

Ratliff, Aberlin and the Luffs, founders of Finn Meadows Farm, have been living in the three existing homes on the property. They will also be among the first residents to break ground on new homes in Aberlin Springs, which was named after the Aberlins. Roadwork will start in the fall. Home construction is scheduled to begin this winter. Residents are expected to begin occupying the new homes in the summer of 2017. 

Maureen McDermott, a partner with the NorthPointe Group, who has worked closely with Ratliff and her family to develop the neighborhood, says Pendragon Homes will handle the sales, marketing and construction of the 139 single-family homes. 

Encouraging a multigenerational lifestyle, the 141-acre Union Township property will be made up of a variety of home sizes and styles, including cottage homes, manor homes and estate homes, ranging from those that will sell for about $300,000 to homes that cost more than a million dollars.

Plans for the property include 22 homes in the first phase of the project. The development is expected to be completed in five phases. 

About 20 acres of pastures will be devoted to raising produce, including a variety of vegetables. Additional acreage will be devoted to raising animals, including cattle, pigs, chickens, sheep and rabbits. Homebuyers will be part of a homeowner’s association and become members of a Community Supported Agriculture program for a fee of $850 per year. Residents can spend time on the farm or visit the barns and help out, if desired. As of mid-August, the developers had compiled a list of about 50 interested homebuyers. 

“We really have become the poster child for Warren County in their vision plan, and Union Township’s vision plan. Their goals have been to maintain the rural heritage of Warren County, but at the same time promote growth. When they saw our vision plan they immediately put it into their new comprehensive plan to showcase exactly what they meant by that,” McDermott says.