High-End Development, Down on the Farm

Filed in Land Development by on July 14, 2017 5 Comments

Photo by LandDesign

Home builders and developers design homes, but they also design communities. If 4,000 acres of land nestled into four adjoining areas in rural/suburban Northern Virginia were your canvas, what would you paint?

You might look at the people who would be buying your homes, and what they like. High-end, organic produce grocers are thriving in the Washington, D.C. metro area. Farm-to-table restaurants are popular. And people are happily paying for farm produce from farm shares and gourmet-style meal-prep kits.

So people today like farm fresh produce. A lot. And they also want to be healthy, have places to walk, to run, to exercise. And everyone wants to offer their kids safe and ideally wide-open spaces to stretch their legs and their minds. Read: People don’t want to be boxed in. “Give us nature.” And of course, nice open floor-plan homes and luxurious amenities whenever possible.

Photo by Molly M. Peterson

Enter the agrihood.

Agrihoods have been popping up across the country — dubbed by some as an alternative to the golf course planned community — wherein a functioning farm or food growing is the shared amenity of a new residential development.

With the 4,000-acre blank canvas of mostly farmland and forests in Northern Virginia they’d purchased, developers of the Willowsford community created four “villages” surrounding a true family farm, as well as expansive outdoor space including 45 miles of trails, playgrounds and activity areas, two main community buildings with pools and other recreational and outdoor gathering areas.

Did we mention that this community includes its own farm? Chickens, goats, pigs, vegetables and farmers to work the land and tend the herds. The food they produce is sold onsite at a farm stand and market style and via CSA food share. And there are cooking demos for children and adults in the community’s large kitchens and meal prep spaces.

Photo by Maxine Schnitzer Photography

Is it a gleaming, high-end development? Yes. Is it also a return to the healthy eating and outdoor space focus we had before the microwave meal generation? Yes. It’s both. It’s an agrihood.

Willowsford Agrihood: By the Numbers

  • Opened: 2011
  • Land: 4,000 non-contiguous acres in total
  • Non-residential use: 2,000 acres are held in conservancy for outdoor recreation, farming and sustainable use separate from the HOA. 300 acres of this conservancy-managed land is used for the farm itself
  • Expenses: Residents pay around $190/month to the HOA and $100/year to the land conservancy
  • Varieties of vegetables grown onsite: Over 100
  • Ratio of first-time home buyers: A little over a quarter of buyers are first-time buyers. 72% are “move up” buyers purchasing their second home or beyond
  • Lots sold: 1,200 to date
  • Expected capacity: 2,100 homes
  • Lot size: Ranging from 1/4 acre to 1.5 acres
  • Average home selling price: $840,000

Willowsford has received several local and national awards, including Community of the Year from NAHB’s Nationals awards program in 2013. Willowsford Lodge, a visitor’s center for the community, was a 2013 NAHB Best in American Living (BALA) Gold Award recipient. And Willowsford has won several awards through Northern Virginia Building Industry Association’s Great American Living Awards (GALA) program, including Community of the Year in 2014.

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  1. High-End Development, Down on the Farm | July 18, 2017
  1. Lee Stauss says:

    Very cool concept. Now, if we can find a way to have residents contribute labor directly to local farmers, this becomes even more interesting. For example, have the HOA board get involved in the logistics of the farmer supply chain and maybe facilitate delivery of produce. That could help drive down the cost of produce for the residents and make the farmers happy.

    • Leigh von Wilk says:

      Hello. I wanted to reply to your comment. My brother owns and operates a certified USDA organic farm on the outskirts of D.C. That is his sole demographic. My family has been farming for many decades. One of the troubles that farmers have includes the concept of consistent request to sell their product for less. It’s nearly impossible to constantly bring down the cost of a farmer’s product when they rely on Mother Nature for the most part. A year’s income can be devastating by occurrences such as drought or floods. My brother, as well as many farmers, sell their goods at the appropriate market value because they know it’s competitive and holding onto their product for the next purchaser that’s willing to buy their goods at a higher cost will inevitably loss them money. The product will expire before a buyer comes. The real issue with the cost of produce and farm produced products are the retailer’s mark ups, as well as transport. My brother, as well as many other farms, offer CSA shares. Customers can pick up their weekly box at the farm or at a designated CSA pick up location. Creating a decrease in cost due to logistical matters involving delivery fees. A farmer depends on themself, and often their family, to produce the labor on the farm. If farmers opened their fields in a way that a city community garden operates to allow the end user to assist in production to bring down the cost of supply, then they are hurting the financial stability of their own family’s needs on a tea round basis. Farmers are not the problem regarding supply and cost. It’s the retailers and larger distribution companies. The Agrihood is an interesting concept, but looking at it as someone that now lives in a city with a childhood on a farm, it’s just a neighborhood in a country setting. These neighborhoods can create their own community agriculture produced fund drives and volunteer work. That’s a way to keep the cost down if they’re interested in being involved and lower food prices.

      • Lee Stauss says:

        Leigh, you’re the SME on this topic. It seems we have the same interests in mind, but you know the ins and outs of the farming profession better than most people. The point where our approaches seem to strongly intersect is on the delivery piece of logistics. Your comment about getting these neighborhoods directly involved in local farms makes sense. On hurting farmers’ profit margins with a “race to the bottom”, this isn’t a farming specific issue. This is an obstacle every business faces. As a small business owner, myself, I can assert that the struggle between offering a product/service of high quality vs low cost is business decision that has to be driven by customer demand – and it’s dynamic. In the security and surveillance industry, sometimes competitors give things away and we have to adapt based on the quality message because we can’t compete with the low prices. We ask customers if they want McDonald’s, or if they want to be healthy.

  2. Luke Durkin says:

    Very interesting concept. I’m glad to see Leigh’s input. I think one of the biggest challenges to this and similar ideas is the massive disconnect between the idealists and the farmers. The people coming up with these concepts are often city-dwelling idealists who have almost zero real knowledge of farming. So it’s great to see Leigh’s input. Thank you.

    I’m just wondering how viable this actually is. My initial thought is that this is only a niche product as land values in many places won’t support this. This probably works in N. Va. because they have a reasonable enough land cost that filling half a lot with single-fam res and half with farm/open space is in line with land values. But they also have very-high end buyers that will pay up for this community. (would this work elsewhere at a average price point or is this something that people have to pay up for since you’re building fewer houses and more assumingly less valuable open space. N.Va. also has superior road infrastructure that can get drivers from exurbs where these will be constructed to the city. Otherwise I could see this working in the south where you have smaller cities where low-density is practical in terms of commutes and land values. Where I live in Denver I don’t see this being viable, the land value is too high close-in and the road infrastructure is too poor when combined with the size of the city yields commute times that drive buyers away.

    I don’t know, I’m young, just a thought, I’d be interested to know what others think.

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