Organic farming, gardening, sustainability, and built-in community attract residents of all ages to Olivette
Mary Love and her wife Deb were the first residents to build a house in the West Ridge section of Olivette Riverside Community and Farm, an “agrihood” built around a working organic farm near Asheville, N.C., in 2018.
“Deb and I moved here from Long Beach, Calif., and we wanted to create a community around a farm and demonstrate different types of green building practices,” says Mary, 58, a Realtor and green building consultant. “It was in the early 2000s and people thought we were crazy. We held the concept in our minds for a long time and when we found out Olivette was building around a farm, we said ‘We want to be there.’”
Photo provided by Olivette
Mary and Deb appreciated the fact that Olivette requires all homes built in the community to tap into geothermal energy, have a Home Energy Rating System score of 55 or lower, and encourages other green building practices such as passive and active solar design. In 2019, their home won an award for most sustainable, energy-efficient house in North Carolina from the N.C. Homebuilders Association.
They also chose Olivette for another reason — being in community with younger families.
“For Deb and I, both our grandparents, especially our mawmaws (grandmas), were totally influential in our lives,” Mary says. “We have always had our chosen family we took in, and we wanted a place with younger families. We want to be able to give back to young adults and children what our grandparents gave to us. It just keeps us young, especially playing with kids.”
One day after they moved to Olivette, Mary looked out the window and saw a woman pushing two small children in a red wagon. “I looked out the window, and I said ‘Deb, there’s kids!’” she recalls.
The new neighbors, the second family to build a home in the West Ridge section of Olivette, are Megan and Cash Econopouly and their children Wells (5) and Bear (2). The Loves introduced themselves, and before long they were helping out the family by watching the children two days a week.
Like the Econopoulys, the Loves love to garden — over the summer they canned vegetables Cash gave them from his garden. And they found they had other things in common, too. Deb, 57, is a retired nurse and naturopathic doctor with an extensive background in pediatrics from her time in the Army; Megan, 35, is a physician assistant and former clinical dietician. Mary was once a schoolteacher.
“We both have had children in our lives our whole lives,” Deb says. “We have not only adopted the (Econopouly) kids but we adopted their parents as well. They are like the kids we never had.”
As the pandemic has restricted many families to being only with those in their immediate households, the Loves and Econopoulys have been able to stay close.
“They are our pandemic family — Megan and Cash and the boys are the only people who come in our house,” Mary says.
The two families have taken care to stay healthy. They wore masks when they recently went out for a day trip to visit a nearby nursery.
“We hang out with Cash as much as we do Megan, and it is really cool to have both parents bring us into their lives,” Deb says. “We feel very, very blessed.”
Mary echoes that thought. “We really feel very, very blessed by being at Olivette during COVID.”
Cash said he and Megan had been planning to move to Asheville for a while before choosing Olivette. They built their home and moved in in October 2019.
“Olivette was the first and last place we looked,” he says. “The thought of having the boys be able to run around in a natural environment and letting them go ride their bikes, without having to worry about them like we would in the city — that is what immediately sold us on it.”
Photo provided by Olivette
Megan recalls upon meeting their neighbors, “One of the first things Mary told us was, ‘I love kids.’” Now the families are inseparable.
“We talked to developers and they were trying to create this community where you know your neighbors,” she says. “We both grew up in neighborhoods where you knew the neighbors and hung out with the neighbor kids. You don’t know if it is going to work out that way, but it really has.”
The seven households that live in West Ridge today include another family with kids and other couples in their 50s and 60s. “They are all like-minded with sustainability and very vibrant,” Cash says. “Everybody is willing to be involved and help out with the kids. They are always happy to see the boys.”
Living in a multi-generational community with neighbors who share their values in environmental sustainability and family is part of what Olivette’s founders had in mind from the beginning. Six families with children now call the community home, and three more are planning to move in soon, founding partner Allison Smith says.
For Meg and Cash, Olivette fulfills a dream of having a true community where their kids can play outdoors amid neighbors who are also friends — and in the case of the Loves, like extended family.
“They are great — they have been just a godsend for us,” Cash says.
About: Olivette Riverside Community and Farm near Asheville, N.C., is Western North Carolina’s first “agrihood,” Olivette is built around a four-season organic farm and designed to connect people with nature, community, and their food. Learn more at www.olivettenc.com.