Season 1



What Is Serenbe?

Many people wonder “What is Serenbe?” Monica Olsen introduces Serenbe founder Steve Nygren as they sit down to talk about why he created Serenbe and what Serenbe is today.

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Questions Answered

What is Serenbe?

What else is here other than people and trees?

Who lives here?

What drove you to build Serenbe?

What should we know about Serenbe’s neighborhoods?

What is a well-lived life?

What can I do here?

People + Organizations Mentioned

Ray C. Anderson

Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport

Audubon Society


The White House Council on the Environment

Rocky Mountain Institute


Episode Transcript

Monica Olsen (1s): Hey guys, it's Monica here. I wanted to tell you about a new podcast that I've started with my very good friend, Jennifer Walsh called Biophilic Solutions. Our last season of Serenbe Stories, Building a Biophilic Movement, was so popular that we decided to dedicate an entire podcast to it every other week. Jennifer and I will sit down with leaders in the growing field of biophilia. We'll talk about local and global solutions to help nurture the living social and economic systems that we all need to sustain future generations. More often than not, nature has the answers. You can find Biophilic Solutions on apple, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. Subscribe and follow us today so you don't miss an episode.

Monica Olsen (41s): All right, now let's get back to Serenbe Stories. Serenbe is a place where people live, work, learn, and play in celebration of life's beauty, and we're here to share the stories that connect residents and guests to each other, and to nature. This is Serenbe Stories.

Intro Music (1m 14s): <intro music>

Monica Olsen (1m 23s): I want to welcome everybody to Serenbe Stories. I'm Monica Olson, and I'm here with Steve Nygren, who's the CEO and founder of Serenbe. And we're here today to talk about what is Serenbe. Steve, I want you to imagine I've never been here before. I know it's hard to do cause I've lived here for almost 10 years, but if I have never been here, tell me what it is and what it's all about.

Steve Nygren (1m 50s): The simplest explanation is we're simply a village of people living in a community of trees on the edge of a metropolitan Atlanta. Then of course you have to get into what does community mean to everyone? And for me, it's just a connection of people living vitally in a life, very similar to how we might've lived 80 years ago when we were connected to one another in a simpler world, but it isn't necessarily the technology that makes our world so complicated it's that we're not related to one another.

Monica Olsen (2m 24s): So a community of people living within a community of trees. So is everybody just out in the woods here? What what's going on? Is it just people? What else is here besides those people in the trees?

Steve Nygren (2m 36s): So there is, you know, the, your definition of community. So where we have defined community is it includes all the of aspects life. So it's a place where art is important, not just performing arts, but the way we build our buildings, architecture is important. Our streetlights are, are very special. It's a place where we're growing our own food. We know the farmer, but also the things to eat are in the landscape. You know, blueberries at the crosswalk. It's a place where we think about staying healthy. It's a place where you see people jogging and there are groups of people meeting for bicycle rides.

Steve Nygren (3m 19s): And so Serenbe is developed in a, in a manner that the entire forest is considered a playground in the streets. And so we see children experiencing nature. And it's amazing to me, how many people comment on our free range kids. And isn't it sad that today we are putting so many of our children behind fences, that we notice children that are actually experiencing nature in a natural way?

Monica Olsen (3m 55s): That's great. That is really great. You know, my kids have such confidence from growing up in this environment. Tell me what else is here? Like what can I do here? So I can pick blueberries. I can go to a farm. I can bicycle and hit nature. What are the other things I can do here? Is it just houses?

Steve Nygren (4m 11s): Well it depends it, you know, do you want to visit for the day? Do you want to change your life? If you're coming for the day, you can come to theater. You can come to a variety of restaurants. We have shops. You can experience various health programs from yoga to seeing a kinesiology doctor, a Chinese doctor. You can literally decide that you want to change your lifestyle if you're not happy with what you're doing and really dig in deep and buy a house, know your neighbors, connect to nature every day. There's people are really on this idea of mindfulness and the hours it takes you to get your mind clear in meditation, but I find most people can have a 10, 15 minute walk and it clears your mind in a way that sitting in a circle is more difficult for the average person.

Steve Nygren (5m 10s): We are set up in a series of omegas. And so if you're walking from one side of a street to another there are paths that take you right through a moment of nature, and that's what I call just a minute reset button, no matter how frustrating the news was that day or personal matters, if you just step into nature, it's a reset on, it's a much bigger world and a lot bigger things than what's happening in that moment in your life.

Monica Olsen (5m 37s): This is great. So if I want to come here for the day, how do I do that? How do I get here? Where are you located?

Steve Nygren (5m 46s): While we appear to be very far away in the middle of nowhere we're actually on the edge of everywhere. And I can say that because we're 25 minutes from an international airport, the busiest international airport that connects you to the capitals of the world. We are on the edge of metropolitan Atlanta. I can get downtown in 35 minutes. And so if you're interested in world-class sports, retail, medical services, it's all right here within a short distance. So literally you can have whatever experience you want. You can also go back on our back trails and feel like you're in a wilderness.

Steve Nygren (6m 28s): The Audubon society does regular walks here because they find more species this close to metropolitan Atlanta that they can in anywhere. It's more comparable to places that are far off. And that's part of that is because we've changed zoning on 40,000 acres and we are all organic. So we don't have any chemicals here at Serenbe. And so the natural nature life of animals and, and plants and trees are more resembling, more remote areas. But we're right here on the edge of the city.

Monica Olsen (7m 5s): Who lives here, what kind of people?

Steve Nygren (7m 9s): It's curious that people want to know what boxes that people are in. We're so interested, I guess, in the boxes.

Monica Olsen (7m 19s): Sure.

Steve Nygren (7m 20s): And real people live here. I think it's self-selecting is it's it's people that connect with nature can see the inner reaction on the streets of everyone. But, you know, we, we have people from various races. We have ages from my grand child who had just born a few weeks ago to a 91 year old woman who just bought a house. So age wise, we have an economic diversity because of all the rental programs, we have a complete range of people and in, in extreme range.

Steve Nygren (8m 7s): And I think this is the way most communities used to be. And we've come to a point where we're so focused on the boxes and the idea that all the million dollar houses should be one place and that there's racial profiling. And that there's only certain governments that allow sexual orientation preferences. And so we tend to have tried to move people into these boxes and as a society and the press, we seem focused on those boxes. So sometimes when I get that question, I react because I realize it's more than just answering it.

Steve Nygren (8m 48s): It's another one of those things is how we grow our food or how we connect to nature. It's that we're focusing on something that's actually causing a problem rather than solving it. We're worried about where the big box stores are rather than where the path is to walk spontaneously. And it's that same kind of misdirection in our curiosity.

Monica Olsen (9m 14s): That's great. So that gives us a good background in sort of who's here and a little bit about what it is. Why did you build it, or how did you decide to build what really is almost like a little town, but it's technically a neighborhood within the city of Chattahoochee Hills. Like what drove you to do this?

Steve Nygren (9m 38s): People are curious, why, how did I come up with this and why did I do this? And this isn't something that I thought out or has always been my dream. And, and often I wonder, how did I decide to do this? Some mornings when I walk out and realize we have a, we have a village here with several hundred people living here and functioning and, and babies being born and people dying. How on earth did I ever decide to do this? And it really was something that I didn't consciously decide, right? This began as a reaction to save our backyard.

Steve Nygren (10m 22s): And I was one of those pessimistic people, I believe that was worn down because the political candidates I supported, weren't getting elected as much as I thought they should. I served on a lot of state national local boards, and I really wasn't getting the change that I was so invested in doing. And so at one point in, in 94, after we were driving to the farm, which was our weekend place, and I was driving back into Atlanta, and that morning there was a, a cloud of smog sitting over it. And just something felt like it was, it was this cloud that was over my entire life, that there just things weren't moving.

Steve Nygren (11m 9s): And at that point I was one of those pessimists that decided the world was never going to be like I thought it should be. And there wasn't anything I could do about it, but I could put my arms around my own family of three daughters and the five of us I could grow around food. And in that snap decision, I decided to sell a company to sell the big house and to step off the treadmill. And so it wasn't out of anger. It was just resignation. And, and I was totally happy in a retired lifestyle. And then I had a, a morning that we refer to as the bulldozer story where I thought houses were coming next door to us.

Steve Nygren (11m 56s): And this was in my seventh year of retirement.

Monica Olsen (11m 59s): So in 94, you, you moved down, you had bought this farm there's property down here, you moved down, you're driving back to the city and you just were kind of headed. It sounds like you kind of had it. And it sort of, sort of as a sadness there, but it sounds like you said that you're going to refocus inward and you retired and brought everybody down here.

Steve Nygren (12m 18s): That's right.

Monica Olsen (12m 19s): And so how long were you down here before you were saying this other moment?

Steve Nygren (12m 23s): This is why I look back. I really wasn't sad. It was just a realization. It felt this is all bigger. Who am I to think that by serving on a board?

Monica Olsen (12m 34s): Sure.

Steve Nygren (12m 34s): Who am I to think that I know who should be the elected person? And it was just, it was a real point of, of a resignation. It wasn't anchor. It wasn't sad. It was just aha. Let's, let's focus more on what I can control rather than those things that seem beyond my control. And that was a big realization for me. And so at that point is that morning, I decided to sell the company, which was the big thing. And then following that would be selling the house and then moving full-time to the country, which was our weekend house.

Steve Nygren (13m 16s): And, and I was delighted, there was no missing, you know, in fact people saw, they said, I looked 10 years younger. That was because I was out doing manual labor. I was in the garden. I had great tan. I didn't bother to go to the city to get my hair cut so I had hair down to my shoulders. So I was-- clearly different lifestyle. And, and here I was the kid that grew up in the sixties when long hair and hippies was in and I was the closely clipped corporate executive. So I was going through my, my sixties rebellion, maybe, although I didn't look at it that way. And so I was in my literally seventh year of retirement. When, when suddenly there was this idea that I could not remain in retreat.

Steve Nygren (14m 0s): If I was going to save the paradise we had. And that was the moment that I realized looking back, that, that I had to step back into active society if you will, I couldn't be in this remote place. And looking back, I realized when and why it felt so panicked is it reminded me of where I grew up. I grew up on a farm, just 30 miles north of Denver. And my family has been there since the 1860s and today that's suburban Denver, and that happened to over a period of a couple decades.

Monica Olsen (14m 46s): Wow.

Steve Nygren (14m 46s): And so where, you know, the ditch banks in the fields that I roamed as a child, I can not take my children back to. And in my seven years of retirement, I'd gotten to know some of the people living here in this area, south of Atlanta, and they are seventh and ninth generation, some of them. And so even though they had a Southern accent, they reminded me very much those Midwesterners that I had grown up with, and that had been generational family, friends for years. And so suddenly that morning, while I can't remember consciously thinking about Colorado, I realized the panic was remembering that on some level.

Steve Nygren (15m 30s): And it was a sense that I had to do something and there was an urgency to it. Now I had no idea that that urgency was going to lead me into being a developer and to create a community. It was just, I had to step into action. I couldn't stand and watch this area destroyed.

Monica Olsen (15m 47s): So tell me a little bit more about that moment. So, so your three daughters that you have, how old were they when they in 94, when they moved?

Steve Nygren (15m 54s): When we moved full time, they were six, eight and ten.

Monica Olsen (15m 57s): Okay. And then you were saying seven years later, you're with one of the daughters?

Steve Nygren (16m 0s): I was with Garnie seven years later. And we were on our morning jog on what was in our property line. During those seven years, I had purchased two more pieces of property. I'd put the original 1904 farm back together. And so we had 300 acres and we had a waterfall on trails and paradise. We had 300 acres that we never saw anybody on except us. And so that morning we were jogging and suddenly we came up over a little hill and there was a bulldozer bulldozing the forest next to us. And with panic, I ran out to stop the guy and "what are you doing?" And he said, "we've just been hired to clear the trees, I guess they're putting houses here."

Steve Nygren (16m 44s): That's what always happens. And so that was panic. And when I ran back and, and tried to call the retired doctor who owned it, who lived a couple of counties over, couldn't get him. And five weeks later when he returned, I found out that he had sold it to someone down the road who had a little prop plane and wanted to create a pasture airstrip. But in that five weeks of panic of trying to save my own backyard, I had another 600 acres under contract and various stories on how that happened. It, it just seemed amazing.

Steve Nygren (17m 23s): Some of these properties had been held for three generations and suddenly it was a time to sell. And so there's stories behind each of those. And so I was then sitting with 900 acres and I realized I couldn't continue buying property, save our backyard. And 900 acres didn't really protect us from urban sprawl. And so I was in that unique position of being concerned about our environment and protecting this, this wonderful rural landscape yet protecting my investment of the money I had invested in these 900 acres.

Steve Nygren (18m 4s): And, and that curiosity concern is what really led to the development of Serenbe.

Monica Olsen (18m 13s): At some point that when you started making those phone calls to these neighboring landowners, kind of tell me a little bit about that, because I think you had said that, you know, everybody was kinda willing to sell. So tell me that story.

Steve Nygren (18m 28s): One piece, it was a beautiful piece of land. It's where Grange is now located. And some of our city friends who were coming down in those three years, that this was a weekend were curious in other property. And so we had contacted the elderly woman who owned it and she said, oh, she would sell it for some astronomical price that her daddy told her that one day it would be worth that. And of course that was a totally unrealistic. So I thought I've got to go back and talk to her because maybe a developer would offer her your own negotiate. And I've just got to know what's going on and be a party to it. And so after visiting with her for two hours on her sofa, that was all covered with white sheets, the whole room was covered in white sheets.

Steve Nygren (19m 12s): She said, maybe you should talk to this lady. And she handed me a card of a lawyer in Decatur. Well, it turns out that, that week her nieces had had her removed as executor because she hadn't paid taxes in five years and they had to sell the property. The next person I called said, "oh," he said, "I inherited this land from my dad. And I'm in a nasty divorce. And this is the only thing outside the divorce. I will gladly sell it because I'm, I have no funds." And the third person I called said, "oh, we bought this property 30 years ago to raise our kids. They're gone. And we just returned from Ellijay with our grandchildren and we made the decision. We're going to call a realtor and sell this and move to Ellijay."

Steve Nygren (19m 54s): So here were three very different stories. All people at that moment decided to sell or needed to sell. I have no idea what that means. Just coincidental or are we in a, in a destiny? I don't know, but that, that began the purchase of the property. And then that was both an opportunity and a responsibility that I suddenly felt.

Monica Olsen (20m 27s): So fast forward. Today it's 2019 when we're recording this and we have over 700 people living here. You've built out three neighborhoods, right? And we call them hamlets. What should we know about those neighborhoods? And sort of what's unique about them?

Steve Nygren (20m 44s): Well, I believe that to answer that you almost have to understand the next step of my story. And as we were doing the research on how do we save this? It led to a conversation with a dear friend, Ray Anderson, an environmentalist would know Ray as the founder of Interface Carpet. And he was one of the early voices in the environment when the White House created the council on the environment in the seventies or in the nineties, he was the first chair, but he had been a dear friend for years. His step son is godfather to our now 30 year old.

Steve Nygren (21m 26s): And so I asked Ray if he knew some of the smart people that he was associated with that could help me figure out how to help preserve this area right here on the edge of Atlanta. And Ray is really the one who then introduced me to a lot of the leading environmentalists. He asked the Rocky Mountain Institute to assist. They assembled 23 thought leaders here in September of 2000. To put this in perspective this is before anyone had even heard of lead certification. There weren't many voices in the environmental movement in 2000 and you can name a lot of them.

Steve Nygren (22m 7s): And so it was because of Ray and Ray is the one who really pushed me through that threshold of passion. I can't remember the day it happened, but I remember the resistance that I was going to step back into an active life doing anything, because I was pretty happy in retirement, to that place that I absolutely had to do it. And that there was, there was no obstacle that I wasn't determined to pass because it became a passion that, that this was much bigger than just saving my neighborhood, that, that this wasn't complicated, but it just wasn't being done.

Steve Nygren (22m 50s): And so that really set me on looking at what are the elements that lead to a vital lifestyle. And it started out as preserving the land. And now here we are in 2019, and it's what really creates a healthy lifestyle because we're now looking at health and wellness and what are we going to do about that in America and in the world. And I think we're at a place where we were 20 years ago with the environment where we knew something had to be done, but we weren't sure what, and that's where we are in health and wellness. And if I look at what Serenbe's doing today, and maybe one of the biggest things we can contribute to is being a model on how we can live a healthier lifestyle as a result of the built environment.

Monica Olsen (23m 37s): So Ray sort of pushed you, he brought all of these environmental issues sort of to light for you and sort of pushed you to do this. And so it started off with saving the land, which makes sense. It's gorgeous. But then you really started thinking about what makes a well lived life. And I I've heard you say that before, and I've sort of taken by that because I don't know if a lot of us stop and think what does make a well lived life, right? You know, I'm just sort of going about my thing, right? I'm growing up, going to college, having a job, getting married, get kids, you know, it's sort of this process, but am I really being mindful or thoughtful about it?

Monica Olsen (24m 18s): So, so as you said about thinking about not maybe the sustainable environmental aspects of Serenbe, but, but what was a well-lived life? What were those sort of tenants that you sort of identified or you thought of for yourself? A well-lived life. What are those?

Steve Nygren (24m 35s): When thinking of my own life when I was opening restaurants around the country, we had a beautiful home and an in-town neighborhood in Atlanta with the pool, the media room, Barbie cars for all three girls with batteries. It was what we thought of as the ideal life, serving on boards, going to the key balls for health and for arts and for, for political events. And we were in that, what appeared to be an ideal lifestyle. And we were happy in it. We weren't looking for a change and then a afternoon drive changed our lives.

Steve Nygren (25m 15s): And then seven years later, really 10 years later from then when we first purchased the property, I was in this place of analyzing the difference. Because those seven years we weren't doing any of the balls. We didn't have the big house. We weren't on that ideal success treadmill. And where, what was giving us joy? Well, it was, it, it was our own garden and, and harvesting our food. It was traveling to Europe with the family and, and these little walking villages from a hundred, 200 years ago, it was visiting some of the historic places in, in the Southeast where, you know, where was the foundation of America?

Steve Nygren (26m 3s): And what did those places look like. Now in all of those seven years, when we were traveling with a family, that was just because I was lucky enough that we could do it. I wasn't thinking of it as research, but all of a sudden when I start thinking about if we're going to create a place, and it was the realization that the only way we were going to preserve not only our farm, but the greater area, it was, we had to find a balance between development and preservation. And that is a balance that anyone developing a hundred years ago naturally had.

Steve Nygren (26m 44s): But we have today separated and developers seem to be on one side, looking at the quarterly return for development. And the preservationists have become on the other side. And there are the two groups that sue each other in zoning battles. And so here I was with a foot in each camp and we needed to find out a way to bring this together. And if I look back 80, a hundred years, it was naturally together. There wasn't a separation. And so that's where I really focused is, is both what were the principles of that time? And then what were some of the physical and social aspects that were happening in those times?

Steve Nygren (27m 30s): And the rural England was one of our best examples physically because after world war two, they put good land laws in because realizing the island was so only so big, they had the foresight to realize they could not indulge in the corporate or in the urban sprawl that was about to happen. Interesting. And so if you visit the countryside of England, you'd drive through country, and then you see in the distance, the, the, the Hamlet or the village and the town, you actually drive into the edge of it. And they've got a lot of people living in those places, but you feel still feel the countryside. And so that was our best model.

Steve Nygren (28m 10s): And of course, it's a whole story on how we brought English land law to a property rights Southern state.

Monica Olsen (28m 19s): So that's interesting to sort of give us a reference point, because I know when people come here and I I've given people tours, or I've had friends or family, it's very hard to describe it. And until you get here, you don't really, I don't want to say get it, but you don't really get it. You don't really understand it. You sort of have to feel the land. Is there another reference point or is really England the best English villages? Is that the best reference point? Because it really, isn't a typical neighborhood that we've seen in the U S at least.

Steve Nygren (28m 54s): It's very difficult to say, "we are like" because there's really no place that we're like, sadly enough. If you want to look at land, use, you look to England. I can think of places. You can look, that's growing their food near where people live. I can think of communities that have an importance and honor the arts still. If you look at the blue zone communities that shows you communities that have health. So there's various places that have components of this. It, it reminds me of various times, but specifically I was taken. It was, I think maybe the first time it was two or three years ago.

Steve Nygren (29m 35s): And there was a woman in her sixties or couple in their sixties. And they were looking where they might retire in a couple of years. And they had seen me on the street and recognized me on a Friday. And we chatted briefly. And then I saw them on that Sunday after they'd been here 48 hours. And she had this curiosity in, in her eye and was asking me, what is this place? Is it real? And it was when I was just starting to get those kinds of questions that people were seeing Serenbe as someplace special. And they were starting to ask, and I hadn't really been able to articulate it. And it's still difficult to articulate it.

Steve Nygren (30m 16s): But I asked her what it was that she had seen and experienced in the previous 48 hours that made her ask if this place was real. And she talked about the kids and she didn't see their parents running freely. She talked about seeing people bringing fresh food from the farm. She talked about seeing a neighbor sitting on their front porches, talking to people, walking down the streets. It was a lot of just civil inner reaction. And this is a woman or sixties. And I say, where did you grow up? And she told me about this mid-sized town in, in the Northeast. And I said, well, tell me, what did you see that was different in this 48 hours?

Steve Nygren (31m 0s): And from where you grew up as a child. And she just almost turned white and sat back and looked at me and she said, absolutely nothing. And isn't it sad that in five or six decades, we now accept where we live. That it's places that do not have these simple courtesies and respect for one another. That today, when you see that it's Serenbe, you think it's unusual. You think it isn't real. And that was just my first eye-opener that, whoa, what we've done here is something very special and a sadness that what has happened to us, that we have stepped away from some of this simple respect for one another and for nature.

Monica Olsen (31m 55s): So, so Serenbe is not a typical neighborhood, you know, over the past 70 years, you know, there's a whole historical of how we came to sort of suburban and the suburbs. And so many of the places that we think of as quote developments or community developments have gates, or they've got key cards, a lot of them don't even have sidewalks, you know, big old lawns with a, you know, garage attached to the house. They've got, you know, maybe a place to gather a swim or tennis club within, but, you know, you're there doing those two things, or maybe you throw a birthday party for your kids, but, but, but I don't see those things here. I mean, we have amenities if you will, there's a swim club, but give me a mental picture as you walk in, or you, you come into Serenbe for the first, what am I going to see?

Steve Nygren (32m 43s): If you're coming for the first time you probably think you're lost because you're coming down country road. And because of the base zoning that we've created for the greater 40,000 acres, it requires that there's buffers on all of our roads and all development happens interiorly. So the, the rural landscape has been preserved for the greater area. So you're really convinced that you must be lost. And then you're generally searching for that big entrance gate. And of course, there's a little sign with a turn lane and people arrive really concerned that they're out here in this unknown place and they must have taken a wrong turn.

Steve Nygren (33m 25s): And the first thing you're going to see then is a beautiful stable sitting on the hill with paddocks and horses running. And so this really captures that you're in a rural landscape and you come a, a little further and you're see something that's very quaint. It's a little, a settlement of 16 houses, four townhouses. And these two little live works with apartments above them. There's the bike shop and the flower shop. And it's just this little nestling, a little cluster of houses, and they're all painted white with little picket fences. And suddenly it feels that you've arrived at a movie set.

Steve Nygren (34m 5s): And, and, and so you, you you've hit this immediate dichotomy of the rural landscape and this little village right here on the edge of the city. And so I think people become curious and, and it's sort of, isn't the expectation. And of course you come a little further and you see this beautiful park with a boardwalk on it. And what people don't realize is that's our wastewater treatment center, this all naturally, and you might, you, you might see people having their picture taken because it's one of the most photographed areas of all of Serenbe. So, so this starts to, to, to really outline whether, you know, it or not, what a different but common sense places is.

Steve Nygren (34m 45s): And, and then most people are surprised to see then as they is, they come into Selborne our first community, the street lights commissioned by an artist, that there's four restaurants. There is a busy activity. You might see the billboards for the theater session that's coming on. And, and all of a sudden you're in a very culturally obvious place. That's a total difference than what you expect to find in rural Georgia. And people at this point are starting to ask, where am I? The more pessimist people think it's a movie set.

Steve Nygren (35m 26s): The people that are looking for hope are totally inspired and want to know more. And their curiosity is totally opened. The thing that I find unusual or sad that people find amazing is how everyone's smiling and waving. And it becomes contagious after you've been here an hour, you start looking people in the eye and greeting them. And it's, it's a contagious feeling that by the time they leave, they're also nodding and waving to people. And generally everyone comments about the kids that they see. It's just amazing to me that today that's one of the main things that the people see.

Steve Nygren (36m 9s): So, and, and then if you, you know, you, you, you go a little further and either if you're at Grange, or the Inn, you see a trampoline. Now, sometimes you're looking at the landscape and you just see people bouncing, and it looks like they're bouncing off the, but our trampolines are buried in the ground. And to me, that's a good example of common sense. When my, I guess when we moved out here, she was five, six, wanted a trampoline. I refused to do it because I was afraid that she was going to break something or be permanently injured. And the more she asked as a father, the more I wanted to give her what she wanted, but I didn't want to put her in danger.

Steve Nygren (36m 51s): And finally I thought about, well, why not bury it? That's the problem is falling off. And so I think that trampoline is an example that we many times resist out of fear rather than thinking about the common sense issues. And that's what Serenbe really, it really represents it is to step out of fear, but not to ignore the issues, to really look at what it is we're afraid of. And how do we accomplish the same thing in a more real way.

Monica Olsen (37m 21s): Yeah, you're right. It's a pretty profound observation. I might call that the trampoline metaphor going forward. I've got one more question for you. So people have heard a little bit, I'm hoping they're getting a sense of sort of what Serenbe is and what they might expect when they get here. Once you are here besides with seeing happy people on the street and beautiful homes, and what would you tell people to do here? Like what are their options on a typical week at Serenbe?

Steve Nygren (37m 52s): Well, first I have to ask who the person is. Because some people are looking for a break from their busy lifestyle. And for that person, I would say, find our trails, find the bench that's on the stream, clear your mind by walking the labyrinth. And, and, and so you can walk the woods and hear the birds and really see the various species of, of wildlife and flowers that are blooming in the field. So you, you just connect back to nature and you'll find that that piece that's maybe driving you crazy. You have other people that are, you know, looking for something to do.

Steve Nygren (38m 34s): And so point start, start you visiting the restaurants, go to the wine tasting. If it's theater season, we're going to have theater like 40 weeks this coming year, or maybe it's ballet check what's going on here. There's always an art activity, an art show there, things happening here. If, if you're interested in food and agriculture, our farmers that teaching farm they're scheduled tours, you'll want to check our schedule. And we post the complete schedule on our webpage because there are so many things happening to Serenbe, but we can't possibly talk about everything, but just go to our calendar at our webpage at

Steve Nygren (39m 19s): And you can start planning your visit before you get here. So you kind of know some things you do have to make reservations for. The restaurants are busy. The theaters sell out. People fly in from literally all over. If they've seen one production, sometimes they buy their season tickets and come from all over. So you, you can have both a meditative experience or a very engaged experience, and sometimes it's addressing the needs for a couple. That many times we, we have different things. And so you can balance it between those two.

Monica Olsen (39m 54s): Well, this is great. I'm really thank you for your time. I'm very excited to dig in more on another episode of that. Talk more about the farmhouse. Talk more about how you got here and how your kids sort of grew up here before it became Serenbe. So thank you, Steve.

Steve Nygren (40m 7s): Thank you. So many stories to tell so glad we're telling them.

Monica Olsen (40m 15s): Thank you for listening to Serenbe Stories. New episodes are available on Mondays. You can subscribe anywhere you listen to podcasts. For more details, visit our website at

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Steve’s early career was in hospitality and in 1972, he opened the Pleasant Peasant, which became a restaurant corporation that grew to 34 restaurants in eight states by the time he departed in 1994. Steve and his wife, Marie, retired to a farm just outside Atlanta with their three daughters and six years later, he became concerned about urban sprawl invading their adopted country paradise.


The Serenbe Stories podcast provides an exclusive inside look at the thriving biophilic community, from its history and development to first-hand interviews with the residents. Listen to Serenbe Stories today on any platform where podcasts are available.