BALA on the Road: Willowsford

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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.

Photo by Molly M. Peterson

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.

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.

Photo by Maxine Schnitzer Photography

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.

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.

Photos from Best in American Living Staff Site Visit

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