As the Purcellville Town Council works to generate more revenue from its facilities, two ideas for how to use its Aberdeen property have recently made their way to the forefront.
The council last week briefly discussed Vice Mayor Nedim Ogelman’s suggestion to grow hops on the land and Parks and Recreation Advisory Board Mackenzie Forno’s suggestion to host steeplechase events at the 189-acre property, which the town has owned for nearly a decade.
Ogelman briefed the Town Council on an idea that could see the town creating a coalition of hops growers, in which the town would lease 8 to 10 acres of the Aberdeen Property for individual growers. “That would make this hops growing area … the largest hops growing area in all of Virginia,” he said.
According to Kellie Hinkle, the county’s agricultural development officer, the 5-acre Black Hops Farm near Lucketts is currently the largest hops yard in the commonwealth.
While the town could use reclaimed water from its water treatment facility to irrigate the hops, it would also need to consider whether it or the individual hops growers would be responsible for other expenses like infrastructure upgrades, farm equipment and labor.
Dragon Hops Brewing Co-owner Emily Coryell, the one helping to spearhead the initiative, said that the town is looking at a business model that would collect rent payments in addition to a percentage of what the growers make on their harvests. As for the upkeep of the hops, she said the growers would need to pay only for the initial set up, since the town would most likely pay a single company to maintain the entire yard. Of course, each grower would have the option to come in and care for their own product as often as they like.
“It allows people to become active in agriculture when it’s not necessarily in their backyard,” she said.
According to a sample budget composed by the Hop Growers of America, infrastructure like trellises and an irrigation system for a 10-acre hop yard costs about $130,000 to set up, while the initial labor costs nearly $50,000. Initial equipment purchases, including a tractor, harvester and baler, cost nearly $100,000. Doug Fabbioli, the owner of Fabbioli Cellars and a six-year hops grower, said that on the lower end of the spectrum it costs about $3,000 per acre annually, with labor included, to maintain the crop.
Ogelman said that the town’s Economic Development Advisory Committee would evaluate the venture in greater detail before making a recommendation to the Town Council on how to proceed.
Already, Coryell said she has already spoken with six hops growers interested in setting up on the property.
In discussing the possibility of bringing steeplechase events to the property, Ogelman said that the town is looking to solicit advice from a resident who designs equestrian courses worldwide. He said that a project like this would take a while and that it might be best to phase it in. “This is an ongoing discussion,” he said.
Councilman Ryan Cool said that even though a high school student proposed the project, it should be taken just as seriously as other ideas.
“We don’t know what the cost is and we don’t know the liability until we take a look,” he said.
Forno proposed the idea to the Town Council in February, noting that the town could generate revenue from ticket sales and by eventually building a barn and riding arenas to create public-private partnerships and charge rental fees.
Other ideas for use of the Aberdeen property that Mayor Kwasi Fraser has heard include renovating a house on the property to rent out for events, working with local farmers and colleges to create an agricultural business incubator that focuses on organic farming methods, creating a pick-your-own fruit field and opening a viticulture academy.
In January, Fraser also gained the Town Council’s support to move forward with the town’s application for the Department of Transportation’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Pilot Program. If selected, the town could use drones to take photos of the property’s forestry and agricultural assets and use them to get companies interested in moving onto the land.
The town purchased the Aberdeen Property in 2009 for nearly $2.2 million with the goal of increasing the water supply. Until late last year, the town was unable to generate any rental revenue on it because of Internal Revenue Service restrictions on the nontaxable bonds used to finance the purchase.