Have you caught the farming bug? Northern Virginia is an excellent place to begin a farming venture, whether you intend to go big or simply enjoy a small hobby farm.
Farm land for sale in Northern Virginia is suitable for various types of farming, including growing grains, fruits, and vegetables, and raising livestock. If you have dreams of owning a farm, there are many reasons to start your farm in Northern Virginia.
Location, location, location…
If you’re looking for farm land for sale in Northern Virginia, then you might prefer a remote location where you can enjoy country life, but still be close enough to urban centers so you don’t have to travel long distances to sell your produce. The region is ideally suited for this kind of set up.
Strictly speaking, Northern Virginia includes Arlington County, Fairfax County, Loudoun County, Prince William County, and a few independent cities. More broadly defined, it extends through the Shenandoah Valley to the border with West Virginia, and south to places like Fauquier County, Orange County, and Culpeper County.
The region is heavily populated, and its proximity to the nation’s capital creates a strong economic foundation with a large job base. In fact, five of the top 20 wealthiest counties in the United States are located in Northern Virginia.
Northern Virginia is served by an excellent system of major highways, so getting produce to market is easy. This is a benefit whether you go to your customers or they come to you by way of agricultural tourism. Therefore, you have an easily accessible market of wealthy customers who will buy almost anything you can grow and produce.
Northern Virginia is known for its vineyards and farmers’ markets, and it’s a great place for a pick your own operation. Urbanites from Washington, D.C. look forward to weekend getaways in the country, which creates some excellent opportunities for seasonal crops such as berries and fruits.
History of farming in Northern Virginia
Northern Virginia has an agricultural history that dates back to the founding fathers. The early colonists raised livestock and grew peanuts and vegetables in the rich and fertile soils of the area.
George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were avid farmers, and their agricultural endeavors yielded notable advances in yield and production. Jefferson was one of the first people to grow wine grapes in the region, earning Northern Virginia recognition as the birth place of American wine.
Tobacco was one of the first exports from the region. It was shipped from Northern Virginia to Jamestown, and from there it was sent to England. The early settlers learned much about local growing conditions from the local Native American populations.
Eventually, Northern Virginia farmers began raising pigs, poultry, and cattle. The famous Virginia hams are a tribute to the area’s agricultural history.
Types of farms and farm land for sale in Northern Virginia
You might be wondering what crops you can grow in Northern Virginia. According to the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, there are over 300 different crops and commodities produced in Virginia. Farms range in size from few acres to several hundred acres. The average farm size is 181 acres.
The State of Virginia ranks among the top 10 U.S. producers of leaf tobacco, apples, grapes, peanuts, fresh market tomatoes, turkeys, and meat chickens. Many of these are grown in Northern Virginia. Products from Virginia are exported to Canada, China, India, Europe, Latin America, the Middle East, and other Southeastern Asian countries.
With hundreds of seasonal and year-round farmers’ markets in the area, the fresh market offers abundant opportunities in Northern Virginia. Some of the most popular farmers’ markets are in Manassas, Alexandria, Arlington, and Fairfax.
What is the climate like in Northern Virginia?
Most farm land for sale in Northern Virginia and the Shenandoah Valley is located in USDA Plant Hardiness Zone 6b or 7a. The Shenandoah Valley roughly separates the two zones.
On average, there are approximately 160 frost-free days in the growing season. This makes it perfect for growing seasonal fruits and vegetables, including those that require a longer season, such as melons.
Northern Virginia averages about 4.5 inches of rain during July, August, and September. Summer temperatures are in the upper 80s and 90s. Winter temperatures may drop to around 10 degrees Fahrenheit. This climate makes it perfect for growing many different types of crops.
Challenges of farming in Northern Virginia
Terrain, soil types, and cold injury can present challenges to agricultural operations in Northern Virginia. The terrain in some of the areas can be steep and rocky. Thomas Jefferson overcame this challenge by developing a terraced production system.
Marumsco silt loam, also known as marine clay, can be problematic in some areas. Marine clay tends to shrink when dry and swell when wet.
Another problem that affects Northern Virginia soils is bulk density. Soils with a high bulk density can inhibit strong root formation. Sandy soils tend to have a higher bulk density than clay soils, but they also have better drainage.
More on soils…
When buying farm land in Northern Virginia, you must check the soil condition of your particular property. Northern Virginia soils tend to be fertile, as a system of rivers continually deposits nutrients and organic matter, particularly in lowland areas.
Much of the soil in Northern Virginia is classified as Pamunkey soil, which is carried to the region by the James River. Pamunkey is best suited for growing tobacco, cotton, vegetables, and small grains such as millet, quinoa, and barley.
Soils in Northern Virginia are especially fertile along the rivers and streams. Except for its mountainous ridges, Northern Virginia is considered to be one of the best areas for agriculture in the state.
The history of the property (i.e. what it has been used for in the past) can also impact soil fertility. Therefore, when you’re looking for farm land for sale in Northern Virginia, it is prudent to conduct a soil test before going to settlement.
Local farm co-ops
Northern Virginia loves its farmers’ markets, local food co-ops, and community-supported agriculture (CSAs). Many of the co-ops and CSAs offer delivery to Alexandria, Arlington, and other nearby metropolitan areas. The sheer quantity of CSAs and farmers’ markets in Northern Virginia says a lot about the size of the local market and the support farmers receive from the local community.
The Virginia Cooperative Extension (VCE) provides a robust support system and research program. It also offers an excellent beginning farmer education program for those who are just starting out.
When you’re beginning your search for farm land for sale in Northern Virginia, VCE is an excellent resource for advice on what to grow and how to market it. VCE representatives can also meet you at your property and help you find solutions to challenges you may encounter as you begin farming.
Many counties also offer support for beginning farmers. One such example is Fauquier County’s Northern Piedmont Beginning Farmer Program.
Northern Virginia’s rich agricultural history, generally favorable climate and soil conditions, proximity to urban markets, and community support for local farmers make it an excellent location for farming and agricultural endeavors.