It’s not just data centers that are bringing prosperity to Loudoun County.
In fact, the county’s humble beginnings as a thriving rural economy, rich with farms, is paying dividends—even in 2019. A recent analysis commissioned by Visit Loudoun found that the growth of Loudoun’s agritourism industry generated an economic impact of more than $413 million last year.
The economic impact study conducted by the Institute for Service Research reported that in 2018, Loudoun’s agritourism businesses hosted 1.2 million people who generated a total economic impact of $413.6 million. About 40 percent of those people traveled from outside the region, the report showed.
The study defines agritourism as any activity on a farm that allows members of the public to enjoy rural activities, including farming, wineries and breweries, cultural, and harvest-your-own events. The industry supports more than 4,000 full-time jobs in Loudoun.
It’s a sector of Loudoun’s economy that has been on the rise.
Long a winery mecca, the craft brewery industry in the county has seen its own emergence in the past few years. Now some wineries and breweries have even dipped their toes into both waters, offering visitors their choice of beer, wine and more.
Those types of agritourism businesses seem to be the ones driving the train, according to the data. An additional survey by the Loudoun Wineries Association, the Loudoun County Department of Economic Development and Visit Loudoun found that surveyed wineries and farm breweries hosted almost 800,000 of those visitors during 2018 and collected an estimated $30.7 million in revenue.
Aimee Henkle, owner of Lost Creek Winery near Lucketts and current president of the Loudoun Wineries Association, said she has seen her own operation double in growth since she and her husband bought the winery in 2012. They had been looking at buying land in California or Oregon to start their winery, she said, but realized the land of opportunity was right in their own backyard when they moved to Loudoun 13 years ago.
“There’s a transformation happening in Loudoun County and Virginia in regards to wine, and we wanted to be a part of it,” she said.
Now the head of an organization advocating for Loudoun’s 45 wineries, Henkle described association members as “a small family that works well together and really thrives together, too.” While there is competition for sure, Henkle said winery owners see the growth of the local agritourism industry as a benefit to all.
Jonathan Staples, one of the founders and owners of Vanish Farmwoods Brewery in Lucketts, said four years in, he’s been surprised at who he has seen in the tasting room.
“When we built it, we were going to be hyper local,” Staples said. “We expected to be a brewery for Lucketts.” Instead, he said, Vanish, situated north of Leesburg on Rt. 15, draws people from all over the region.
“Loudoun County is really the only place close to DC that actually makes for a fun day trip,” Staples said. “I may be biased, but if you look at the options for driving an hour from DC, or from Fairfax or any of those places, where would you go?”
Buddy Rizer, who heads up the county’s Department of Economic Development, has witnessed firsthand the surge of Loudoun’s agritourism economy.
“The concept of agritourism is only a few decades old, but Loudoun has been on the cutting edge of innovation in agriculture,” he said. “Our first farm winery opened 35 years ago, and we’ve averaged more than one new winery opening every year since. Commercial craft brewing in Loudoun dates back 30 years, and Loudoun was the first Virginia county to pass local legislation allowing farm breweries in 2015. As a result, we have nearly one dozen farm breweries in Loudoun and lead Virginia in hops production.”
“Looking ahead, we’re seeing farm vineyards that are ready to build tasting rooms, commodity farmers opening farm stores, and an array of unique farm-to-table events. That direct-to-consumer model really benefits Loudoun farms and closes the gap between consumers and producers,” Rizer said.
To see agritourism continue to thrive, the Department of Economic Development and Visit Loudoun are partnering on the Take Loudoun Home campaign. The initiative encourages residents and visitors to buy local and share a piece of Loudoun with their family and friends across the world. The campaign focuses on agricultural goods as well as crafts from local artisans.
The two organizations will also host another Producer’s Marketplace in January, which connects farmers and other producers to hotels, restaurants and caterers to encourage local sourcing of everything from wine and beer to produce, vegetables and meats. The last Producer’s Marketplace, which took place earlier this year, generated an estimated $182,000 in expected sales.
“There’s a real appetite for responsibly-raised food and locally-sourced products, and that was reflected in our campaign’s first growing season. We reached more than 1 million people with our message, our program businesses saw an increase in sales across the board, and we grew the list of participating farms by about 20 percent over the course of the summer,” Rizer said.