A few years ago, Tripp and Carmen Eldridge almost set out to bike the world for a year. But before they could leave, Carmen says they “came across the position of a lifetime.
“A place called Arden was looking for a full-time farm manager,” she says. “Tripp and I decided to both apply.”
Soon after, the Eldridges were called for an interview at Arden, a sustainable living community in western Palm Beach County, where residents volunteer weekly and participate in farming activities as well as enjoy the benefits of farm-to-table meals. Nicknamed an “agrihood,” it’s the only master-planned community of its kind in South Florida and among the first in the state. Residents of Arden enjoy an event barn and five-acre farm brimming with tropical fruits, vegetables, herbs and flowers.
“As beginning farmers, it’s very expensive to acquire land,” Carmen says. “An opportunity for young people to get into farming, grow vegetables and make a living wage is almost unheard of. Tripp and I are passionate about food justice and providing access to healthy and affordable foods, and a place like Arden brings that all together.”
Carmen is no stranger to farming. Her grandparents were farmers in Spain, she taught organic farming at a high school in Panama through the Peace Corps and launched a one-acre teaching farm program at the University of North Florida which grows food for the school’s cafeteria.
“After North Florida, I went into the non-profit world as program director for Florida Certified Organic Growers and Consumers Inc.,” Carmen says. “I was focused on equitable food access for low-income families. That’s also around the same time when Tripp and I met, fell in love and ultimately, moved to Tennessee to farm together in east Nashville.”
Originally from Georgia, Tripp discovered farming in his later days of college. He was a sustainable agriculture volunteer in Peace Corps Tanzania and studied farms and food systems in graduate school in places from Mexico to Spain. More recently, he managed similar community-supported agricultural farms throughout Georgia and Tennessee and served as the farm director for the 400-acre Caney Fork Farms.
“Farming started as a hobby and a passion, but ultimately grew into my life,” Tripp says. “Once my time in Tennessee was over, Carmen and I decided we wanted to escape winter, but we knew ultimately we wanted to find a way to continue farming.”
Since March 2018, Tripp and Carmen have managed Arden’s community farm, which provides a portion to more than 200 homeowners. When completed, more than 2,000 homes will be provided with crops from the farm. Residents not only share in the harvest of fruits, vegetables and herbs grown November through May, but also take advantage of the variety of “Made in Florida” local products, including coffee, honey, olive oil and balsamic vinegar, all of which are hand-picked by the Eldridges.
“This is home now,” Tripp says. “We’ve planted lots of small trees around the farm, and we hope to watch them bear fruit. We have a lot of sweat equity invested in seeing the farm fully come to life as Carmen and I have envisioned it. It’s truly exciting.”