Affluent families and millennials across the U.S. are increasingly foregoing traditional suburbs, town centers and country clubs for developments centered around natural spaces and small-scale organic farms.
Known as agrihoods, these high-end communities sit on large properties convenient to metropolitan areas and cater to active and outdoors-loving foodies. They’re typically about 50% wooded and peppered with spacious lots, low environmental impact homes, hiking and biking trails and working farmland. Amenities include things like community kitchens, educational programming, onsite farm stores and CSAs, weekly gatherings with food trucks and music, stocked fishing ponds, opportunities to help grow and harvest vegetables and more.
Here, we talk with a pair of industry insiders that’ve helped bring agrihoods to Virginia.
Thirty-two-year-old Collin Thompson manages the farm at Loudoun County’s Willowsford agrihood, which was founded in 2010. He’s also a resident.
Savor Virginia: Give us a quick overview of Willowsford.
Collin Thompson of Willowsford Virginia: It’s a big 4,000-acre property located about 10 miles west of Dulles International Airport. Three-hundred acres are working farmland. Two-thousand are in a conservation easement managed by [our sister nonprofit], Willowsford Conservancy. The conservancy has a couple of full-time employees who’re working to restore ecosystems to their natural, native state. They’re also in charge of trail maintenance, mitigating community impacts on waterways and land, and providing nature-based educational programming for residents throughout the year.
Willowsford has about 2,000 homes, [which range from $600,000 to $1.5 million in cost]. They’re divided into four living areas called ‘villages.’ Each has different amenities and a slightly different feel. For instance, one may have a family campground, amphitheater and community treehouse; another a dog park, community garden and fruit orchards; still another, a zipline course and manmade lake for swimming and fishing.
Villages are all interspersed with conservancy lands and parcels of farmland, and connected by about 40 miles of hiking and biking trails. There are central lodges with pools, gyms, lounges, gathering spaces for social events and community teaching kitchens. [The latter] offer cooking classes and workshops led by celebrity chefs and local food artisans, as well as pop-up restaurants with menus that make use of seasonal ingredients grown on the farm.
Tell us about the Willowsford Farm and the role it plays in the community.
The farm looks like—and is—a working, small-scale organic farm. We practice sustainable and regenerative agriculture, and while the main focus is growing produce, we do keep around 450 free-range laying hens for eggs. In terms of livestock, we lease acreage to a local, family-owned farm that raises beef, pigs, sheep and goats for us. We have some fruit orchards and grow more than 150 different varieties of produce on 20 acres, give-or-take.
Residents can purchase farm products in two ways. A lot of families will join our Community Supported Agriculture program, which offers weekly bushel-sized shares of produce throughout the year. We pack roughly 10,000 boxes during peak summer months and serve about 500 community households.
We also have an onsite, indoor farm market where residents can buy our seasonal produce and meats. Partnerships with other local and regional artisans supply honey, specialty herbs, milk, sustainable fair-trade coffee, soap and shampoo, charcuterie [and more].
The farm also offers educational programming and volunteer opportunities, both of which are surprisingly popular and well attended. Most residents enjoy getting outside and digging with us in the dirt maybe once a month or a few times a year. But we do have some core families and older participants that’re basically doing workshares. They help us with everything from gathering eggs, to planting veggies, to tending pollinator gardens and berry patches, to harvesting carrots. In exchange for their labor, volunteers take home baskets of delicious produce.
Lastly, I think residents love having the ability to walk or bike over and check out the farm whenever they like. There’s something beautiful and intrinsically valuable in, say, strolling through a row of ripening heirloom tomatoes, or watching a sow nurse her piglets. That’s not something you can do in a city or typical suburb.
How different is living in an agrihood compared to traditional neighborhoods?
I’ve found the difference to be profound. First, the people that are moving into communities like Willowsford are doing so deliberately, based on certain lifestyle decisions. It’s a mix of wanting to spend more time outside, to live more sustainably and closer to the land—but without having to sacrifice the amenities of urban life. That common ground makes it really easy to connect in a way that feels meaningful and authentic.
Meanwhile, I can source nearly all of my food from less than a mile away and literally step out my backdoor into acres and acres of forest. And I’m like a 30-minute drive from downtown D.C. To me, that’s like having your cake and eating it too.
Chickahominy Falls Agrihood
Kirsten Nease is the director of marketing for Cornerstone Homes. She helped with concepting for the company’s Richmond-area agrihood, Chickahominy Falls, which was established in 2018. The Home Builders Association of Virginia named it their 2020 “Community of the Year.”
Savor Virginia: Chickahominy Falls is the only U.S. agrihood exclusively for adults over age 55. How did Cornerstone arrive at that concept?
Kirsten Nease of Chickahominy Falls: The company was founded in 2001 around the idea of developing groundbreaking 55-plus communities. Twenty years into the game, we know this age group places high value on large natural spaces with ample walking trails, as well as easy access to community, activities and health amenities, including healthy foods. Seeing the recent proliferation of agrihoods near top U.S. cities—well, the protected lands and working farm fits perfectly into that equation.
At 180 acres and 396 homes, Chickahominy Falls is on the smaller side [of the agrihood spectrum]. That’s big enough to have plenty of diversity. But it also creates a more intimate environment where it’s easier for residents to get to know one another and find community.
From a design perspective, what makes the agrihood concept so great is its ability to attract like-minded people. Generally speaking, our residents are well-educated and environmentally conscious. They live healthy, active lifestyles. They enjoy nature and being out of doors. And they’re enthusiastic about healthy, high-quality foods and beverages. Those shared interests make it easier to connect and form new friendships.
Tell us about Chickahominy’s onsite farm and other foodie elements.
We call our four-season, Woodside Farm the heart and soul of the community. It’s about 10 acres in total and is run by a professional farm manager and a holistic nutritionist. Together they’ve curated a wide selection of sustainably raised, organic fruits, veggies and herbs that cater to the health needs and taste preferences of our residents.
A central, two-acre produce garden and a large greenhouse are located by “The Barn.” [The latter is] a social event space with indoor and outdoor seating areas. It has a professional grade community kitchen where we host cooking classes, canning parties, workshops, potluck dinners and more. During the warmer months, we do outdoor block-party events with food trucks or pop-up restaurants, and entertainment.
Community members can—and the vast majority do—purchase produce at our onsite farm store, or through our CSA program. Our farm manager, Kara Siewers, has also created a ‘Neighborhood Farm Alliance,’ which offers additional items, like meat from humanely and sustainably raised livestock, or heirloom apples from regional orchards.
Many of our residents, especially retirees, enjoy participating in workshare programs or volunteering on the farm. They help prune fruit trees, spread compost, pick berries, transplant seedlings, harvest onions and fingerling potatoes, [and so on]. Others just enjoy dropping by to take a look and observe the fun.