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Farmcolony-One of the First Conservation Subdivisions that Thrives Today

Nestled on the eastern slopes of the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Greene County, Virginia, Farmcolony is a farm-subdivision created in 1976. The subdivision contains 150 acres of working farm, 95 acres of homesites, and 40 acres of mountain open space.Farmcolony has been loved and nurtured by its residents throughout its history. It is also one of the most well known projects in the U.S. and consequently has been the subject of studies and commentaries that continue today.

Farmcolony was first featured in Volume 35, No. 2, of the February, 1976 Urban Land Institute publication Urban Land. Author Joe Nash (former Farmcolony lot owner) described the concept behind Farmcolony:

The basic concept of Farmcolony is to keep as much of the agricultural land in farming as possible while using the remainder of non-farm land for residential development. The owners of various lots and/or homes control use of the farm land through the Farmcolony Homeowners Association. The Association owns the beneficial interest in the common farm land, all the buildings, equipment, livestock, and produce. A Board of Directors directs the farm manager as to what the general uses of hte farm will be, and the farm manager implements the Board’s directives and operates the farm on a day-to-day basis.

Farmcolony was created by Florida developer Gilbert P. Edwards. In 1973, he hired Michael Redd, a landscape architect, to assist him in finalizing the concept. According to Nash, Edwards and Redd developed a matrix of criteria for selection of the first and future Farmcolony sites.

Edward’s idea was that the food produced by residents would be made available to residents at the cost of production. Excess food could also be sold to the general public as a way to offset farm costs. Edwards and Redd canvassed the Blue Ridge Mountain area from Charlottesville to Front Royal and finally decided on the Shur Farm five miles from Stanardsville on the east slope of Parker Mountain. The lots were created in the uplands area of the parcel, leaving the pasture and steeper mountain land as common area. Lot sizes varied from 1.4 to 3.5 acres.

The Farmcolony HOA operates the common areas and buildings and equipment and legally is a Virginia Real Estate Trust, with a Board of Directors comprised of residents. Lots and common areas have fairly substantial covenants and restrictions. In addition, structures must be approved by an Architectural Committee. Nash’s article concludes with the thought that the subdivision would likely prove to be particularly attractive to commuters.

Today, 34 years later, Farmcolony not only endures, but thrives.

Farmcolony Today

The fencing is perfect. The garden is glorious. Exotic invasives are generally controlled. Eggs are in the farmhouse refrigerator and the farm as a whole continues to find a way to break even. While there are always a variety of issues and conflicts, the farm in 2008 is doing remarkably well. A high quality newsletter is regularly published and a prototype website has been launched.

The quality of the families that live there are the greatest reason that it continues to thrive. The spirit of the farm is well captured in words and photographs by former resident Roger Arbogast. Roger passed away a few months ago but his blog does a great job of capturing life on the farm. Roger was loved by the farm community and they recently completed a gazebo as a testament to his life and energy.

Farmcolony: The Future

There are challenges ahead. The cost of fencing and fuel continues to increase. The Past-President of Farmcolony, Smith Coleman, began to ask in a serious manner what other options for farm income might exist. Is the farm’s historic reliance on beef still the best option? Are there other creative revenue options that have yet to be considered? The solar aspect of the farm, south-southeast, may provide options for solar energy generation in the years ahead. The ridgeline may also provide opportunities for wind. Perhaps a native plant or nursery operation or shiitake mushrooms are options.

Another issue is the fate of related lands around the farm. Discussions have begun in recent years to consider ways to gain control of potentially available parcels around Parker Mountain, to ensure the continuation of land uses that support the agricultural operations of the farm.

Then, there are demographic issues. Farmcolony is what it is today because of the unique blend of young families and retirees that love and care for it. long-time farm manager, Don Thurnau, has run into serious health issues recently. Don’s imprint on the farm and its families is beyond description. Will new folks begin to step in and not only maintain the farm but institute change to bring it into the 21st century, whatever that may mean? The evidence appears to be yes. The Bohns, Haases, Hodges, Helsings, Higgins, Mitchells, Nitzsches, Priors, Sinclairs, and many others not listed here, have stepped up to the plate.

Recently, folks from Farmcolony and Bundoran Farm have begun to meet and toss around ideas. Some of those conversations will be captured in an upcoming Conserv success story.

For More Information on Farmcolony

Landchoices has a recent informative article.

Farmcolony is also featured in a book by Randall Arendt, Growing Greener, Putting Conservation into Local Plans and Ordinances.

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