The third most populous county in Virginia, Loudoun County is in many ways a tale of two places: a fastgrowing suburb full of high-tech businesses and modern homes, and a still largely rural community home to numerous working farms, vineyards, and other agricultural operations.
People who want to get away from it all – but not really get away from it all – enjoy the best of both worlds at Willowsford, a residential development offering beautiful, modern homes with open spaces and agricultural traditions honoring Loudoun County’s rural roots.
Willowsford is a planned agricultural community where half of the land is just that – land. Of its 4,000 acres, 2,000 have been set aside for environmental preservation, recreation, and agricultural use under the management of the Willowsford Conservancy.
Willowsford boasts a 300-acre working farm (which uses sustainable practices), 25 miles of trails, and gardens where residents may pick herbs during a nature “happy hour.” The community’s farm market and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program make homegrown produce available to residents and the public. Willowsford residents also can learn about healthy cooking through programs hosted by local and “celebrity chefs” and held in a state-of-the-art demonstration kitchen. Recreation opportunities abound: enjoy outdoor activities such as hiking or biking the trails, fishing, and renting out free canoes or kayaks from the boat house. Other amenities include swimming pools, community parks, and dog parks. All these diversions and more conveniently are located north and south of Route 50 in three villages (two in Aldie and another in Ashburn).
Willowsford still is a young development – its first residents moved in fewer than five years ago, according to Stacy Kessinger, Vice President of Marketing for Willowsford. We asked her what’s next for this unique and highly acclaimed community.
PH: Willowsford has been around for some time. What have you learned since its opening?
SK: We have learned that the agricultural movement in the country has become increasingly important to people, that more open space and a larger backyard are key combined with the farming aspect. People like getting to know the farmers, and knowing where their food is coming from is invaluable. A top-selling feature of our community is [our] many trails and open spaces. We also have pools, community centers, and other nice features like everyone else has, but it’s always the open space, the farm, and the trails that are the top features the residents want. We didn’t know how different Willowsford was going to be until now. Other communities have followed a similar model and we were named an innovator in this area. Among other awards, the National Association of Home Builders has recognized Willowsford as Community of the Year.
PH: What do you think is attracting people to a planned agricultural community? How does Willowsford benefit its residents’ way of life?
SK: People like that they are still in the suburbs. But on a Wednesday afternoon, for example, residents can go to the farm and get their CSA share [or] pick spices out of the garden with the kids. It becomes ingrained in you and a part of your life in a way that is not the same as if you were going to a supermarket to get your dinner. The community aspect is a big plus, too. Our culinary department hosts cooking classes, pop-up dinners, wine events, and more for residents. The farm supplies the culinary department with the produce for these dinners, and it goes back to that concept of connecting with the land. Not many people have that opportunity. We even do camps for the kids (some as young as five) and they can do things like pick the basil for the pizza we’re making. It creates a whole new life within itself and an interest in food – where it comes from, why it’s healthy, and how to prepare it.
PH: You’ve recently added new homes, so how do you balance expansion with conversation?
SK: Good question. When Willowsford was created we had 4,000 acres on the property. We put 2,000 of those under the Willowsford Conservancy, a 501(c)4 non-profit, as land to remain open space in perpetuity, including Willowsford Farm and the trails. We will have 2,100 homes built and these are single-family homes, detached [and on] lots from a little under a quarter of an acre to a little over an acre and a half… we’re much less dense than surrounding developments. Conservation remains a goal with half of the acreage for home development and the rest for open space.”
PH: What’s next for Willowsford?
SK: We have 20 model homes and by the end of 2017 we will have 25-26 and 10-12 builders offering all single-family detached products. We have tried to respond to the market for empty nesters, people moving up in homes, large families, and more – trying to fill the depth of options in land that is not all contiguous. We continue to grow while being nimble so we can do what is best for the residents, the Conservancy, the farm, and the community. We also are expanding our programming. This year, for the time first, we have six different summer camps for resident kids. We also are growing the farm and the CSA program. We now have 250 CSA shares and we hope to eventually offer 500. We’re excited about all that we can do and remain committed to the preservation of the land.