Howard: Loudoun County’s Rare Blend

By Tony Howard

I often wonder: Is there any other community quite like Loudoun County?

While every community is unique, I would bet you a Loudoun-made craft beverage of your choice that our community’s rare blend of economic and quality of life attributes is truly one of a kind. 

Think about how many globally unique assets that call Loudoun County home. Places like Dulles International Airport, Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Janelia Research Campus and the internet. 

OK, not the entire internet. But 70 percent of the internet flows through the world’s largest and most important data center market here in Loudoun.

Yet, just minutes away, exists a remarkable rural way of life that is rooted in heritage, agriculture and artisan traditions that predate our nation’s founding. 

There in western Loudoun, you will find world-class farms, wineries, equestrian facilities and B&Bs that are a match for their eastern neighbors’ global reach and reputation. These rural assets not only contribute to Loudoun’s singular quality of life, together they form their own economic powerhouse.

While Loudoun has long been known as Wine Country, probably because we have more wineries than any other Virginia county, we also have more acres of grapes, more hops grown, more honey collected and sold, and more alpacas and llamas than any other Virginia county.

In fact, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, we have more farmers who are women, Latino, Hispanic, Asian, and military veterans.

How did Loudoun, a D.C. suburb known for its data centers and airport, become the commonwealth’s agricultural leader?

Good soil, a good pro-business environment, and good planning.            

“The Board of Supervisors have made it a priority to preserve our farmland and support those who are putting their land to great use,” said Loudoun Board Chair Phyllis Randall, when the USDA released a report with those findings.

That decision to preserve Loudoun’s farmland is something most Loudouners support. 

“Through the process of gathering citizen input for Loudoun’s comprehensive plan, the overwhelming constant was the support to keep the west rural. Our citizens recognize that farmland and other rural uses are good for residents, visitors, and as a balancer for the more urban lifestyle,” said Doug Fabbioli, of Fabbioli Cellars and past Chair of Loudoun’s Rural Economic Development Council.

The great thing about Loudoun’s dual identity is that both sides not only coexist, they thrive on each other.

“Loudoun truly is one of the best places to live, work and play because our rural west and suburban east support and even sustain each other,” says Kate Zurschmeide of Great Country Farms, who also is a past Chair of the REDC.

Kate also says her customers appreciate how small farms like hers are practicing sustainable agriculture.

“Our customers tell us that they enjoy so many benefits from buying local, including knowing their food is produced safely and sustainably. There is something truly priceless about actually knowing your farmer and knowing how your food is grown,” Kate added.

If you are interested in learning more about how to access some of Loudoun’s world-class, locally produced farm products, there three great upcoming events.

The first is the 10th Annual Loudoun Grown Expo on Saturday, Feb. 29 at the Bush Tabernacle in Purcellville, where you will find up to 40 Loudoun’s finest growers, producers, artisans & makers, breweries and wineries—all under one roof.

Then don’t miss the Take Loudoun Home expo on March 14 at the Loudoun Heritage Farm Museum in Sterling, where you will meet many of Loudoun’s Community Supported Agriculture programs and wine clubs. CSAs are the perfect way to support agriculture in Loudoun, while getting the very freshest items for your family.

For information on both, visit loudounfarms.org.

Finally, join the Loudoun Chamber on April 1, from 8-10 a.m. at the Belmont Country Club, for a conversation with local farmers, farm market operators and rural economic development experts, focused on the economic and health benefits of buying and eating local foods and drinking local beverages. For more information on this event, visit loudounchamber.org. 

Also, always look for the “Loudoun, Made • Loudoun, Grown” logo when you buy. That’s how you know it has local roots and world class quality.

Tony Howard is President and CEO of the Loudoun Chamber of Commerce.

2 thoughts on “Howard: Loudoun County’s Rare Blend

  • 2020-02-28 at 12:07 pm
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    No broadband internet and many unpaved roads in western Loudoun – in the 21st century…

    I guess that makes us unlike most communities.

  • 2020-02-28 at 2:13 pm
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    We are blessed with an incredibly unique county here in Loudoun. Its important to put some of the USDA numbers in perspective though. While in 2017 we had “the most” hops planted in the state, that amounted to a total of 22 acres, and that acreage has gone down over the past couple of years due to the difficulty in sustaining hops successfully in our humid climate. So while it may be true in 2017 we had “the most” hops in the state, it was a minuscule part of our overall agricultural footprint.
    So what are the big players in Loudoun ag? Hay and forage is the most widely planted crop. That hay and forage goes to support the largest equine industry in the Commonwealth, and also over 16,000 head of beef cattle. We also rank highly in the state for sheep and goats, which far outnumber alpacas (even though we are in fact #1 in terms of alpaca herd size.) The cattle sector alone brings millions to Loudoun farmers.
    We also rank #1 in acres planted in grapes, and the grape and wine industry is hugely important in Loudoun. In terms of raw acreage though, grape acreage ranks far below things like hay, corn, soybeans, and wheat.
    The point of this all being is that while the agritourism components of our rural economy are very special, they aren’t the majority of Loudoun ag, and those other components are equally important to the overall health of our rural economy. So enjoy your beer and wine, just don’t forget about the cattle, hay, horses, and grain that keep our rural economy alive!

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