Iowa’s First Cohousing Development: Putting the Wheels into Motion

This article is a follow-up to “Iowans and Cohousing: A Look into the Growing U.S. Interest in Cohousing and How Iowans are Responding” published in the July 2011 e-newsletter and on the Green & Main website. In Part II below, read about a presentation given in Des Moines by architect, author and cohousing leader Charles Durrett and learn more about Turtle Farm Cohousing Community and those who support this initiative.

Charles Durrett Leads Cohousing Discussion

Charles Durrett

Charles Durrett

During the middle of last month in Des Moines, Iowa, a diverse group of interested individuals, couples and families attend a presentation by Charles Durrett. Durrett, credited with introducing a contemporary European cohousing model for use in North America, spoke in an hour-long discussion entitled “Cohousing, Community and the Value of Custom Neighborhoods.” Durrett outlined many of the basic concepts, philosophies and practicalities of cohousing. The presentation was sponsored by Turtle Farm Cohousing Community, Indigo Dawn, Silent Rivers and RDG Planning & Design.

An award-winning architect and leader in the North American cohousing movement, Durrett and his wife, Kathryn McCamant, now lead McCamant & Durrett Architects. They have designed and consulted in 50 U.S. cohousing communities and are the authors of the book Creating Cohousing: Building Sustainable Communities (3rd edition).

Cohousing : “High-Functioning” Neighborhoods

With about 100 people in attendance, Durrett began his presentation at the Windsor Heights Community Center, augmented by projected images of cohousing developments in the U.S that he had worked on or developed.

“What people have realized is that their lives could be better by working together and giving your neighbors the benefit of the doubt,” said Durrett. “And what evolves out of the development of a cohousing community is a high-functioning neighborhood that is organized, planned and managed by the residents themselves.”

Durrett described the four crucial elements of developing a successful cohousing community as:

  • The community should be designed by residents working together to create the neighborhood.
  • The community should include extensive common facilities such as a large common house, green areas and gardens.
  • The community should be self-managed by the residents.
  • The community should be sustainable over time.
Neveda City, CA

A cohousing community in Nevada City, California.

Durrett’s own neighborhood is a cohousing community in Nevada City, California. He developed and designed the community along with the other residents of this 34-unit neighborhood. Of his own experience, Durrett said, “Our cohousing community is what used to happen naturally in neighborhoods – it feels like a little village.”  You can learn more about Nevada City Cohousing here.

Overall, the audience for Durrett’s presentation left with a positive assessment, filling out survey and comment cards for additional information regarding their interest about the possible cohousing community developing at Turtle Farm in Granger, Iowa.

“I’d say that we had about 85% of the audience that night fill out surveys and ask for additional information,” stated Chaden Halfhill, owner of Silent Rivers and Indigo Dawn, co-sponsors of Durrett’s presentation in Des Moines. “There was a diverse group of people in attendance and who expressed interest. The most common questions I heard were about financing for the project and how the development process would evolve. I expect more than adequate interest in the Turtle Farm Cohousing Development that will then keep it moving forward into the planning stages.”

Those who were interested in being part of the Turtle Farm Cohousing Community were invited to view the property at an open house held on Saturday, July 16, two days following the discussion.

Turtle Farm

Angela Tedesco at Turtle Farm

Angela Tedesco at Turtle Farm.

Located just off Highway 17 in Granger, Iowa, Turtle Farm is currently a 20-acre, privately owned and certified organic fruit and vegetable farm. Owner Angela Tedesco operates this farm as Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). The CSA is a partnership between growers and CSA members who share costs of supporting the farm, including the risks. In turn, members receive local, fresh and wholesome food that’s grown in a sustainable and responsible manner by farmers that they know.

The Turtle Farm Cohousing Community

On a hot and humid July morning, Angela Tedesco of Turtle Farm welcomed more than 20 visitors, mostly from Charles Durrett’s presentation on July 14, to her organic farm and the stretch of land that lies behind her crops. They all came to talk about the potential future of Turtle Farm Cohousing Community.

Walking up the gravel road toward the expanse of open land and the wooded area that borders it, Tedesco talked about why the idea of creating a cohousing development on Turtle Farm appealed to her.

“I have owned and farmed this land for 13 years. As my husband and I plan for our own future and retirement, we’ve discussed a number of options. One of those would obviously be to sell the farm and hope that it would continue to be used as an organic farm and CSA,” said Tedesco. “But the idea we were most drawn to was to create a planned neighborhood, sharing the organic farm and a cohousing community. Our vision statement is simple: To preserve Turtle Farm by creating a model of a diverse, sustainable, cohousing community.”

Tedesco and others interested in Turtle Farm Cohousing Community state that they envision a new model for urban agriculture that places cohousing on the non-farmed portions of the land. The community owns the farm in common, so it can continue to exist as a farm to feed the community or to remain as an income-generating resource, serving residents of central Iowa.

Nancy Rambo and Donald Bustell have joined Angela and John Tedesco in forming TFCC, LLC to support the Turtle Farm Cohousing project.  Together they are moving forward to bring Durrett and McCamant to Iowa in October to lead a “Getting It Built” workshop for the next step in the process.

Indigo Dawn and Silent Rivers

A major proponent and leader of developing and building sustainable communities in Iowa is Chaden Halfhill. Along with others at Indigo Dawn and Silent Rivers, Halfhill’s efforts have been instrumental in helping to increase awareness and education on initiatives such as Turtle Farm and cohousing in Iowa.

“Our work in developing, designing and building sustainable sites makes the cohousing initiative a natural fit for both Indigo Dawn and Silent Rivers,” said Halfhill. “Indigo Dawn’s mission is to champion the initiative for preserving and developing sustainable communities everywhere, not just here in the Midwest. The cohousing movement definitely supports the philosophies of sustainability. We hope that Turtle Farm Cohousing Community is just one of many to be developed in Iowa.”

How to Learn More about Turtle Farm Cohousing Community

If you would like to get involved with the Turtle Farm Cohousing project, please contact Michelle Peiffer, Director of Communications Strategy for Indigo Dawn.  She may be reached at


For a personal account of exploring cohousing, please see Ann’s article here.


– Ann Wilde is a Des Moines marketing strategist and writer who also has a special interest in preserving and creating sustainable communities. Ann prefers it when people include the ‘e’ in her last name and not in her first.

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