How would you define Rappahannock County?
Most definitions would probably include the word “rural.” And one of the main meanings of “rural,” according to the dictionary, is “of or related to farming.”
But is Rappahannock really an agricultural county still?
According to the most recent U.S. Census of Agriculture, Rappahannock has 416 farms – down from 443 farms five years earlier. And only 38 percent of the county’s 170,880 acres – 65,085 acres – are actually being farmed.
It is therefore not surprising that the Agricultural Council of America’s “National Ag Week” back in March was hardly remarked upon here. “Recognizing and celebrating the contribution of agriculture in our everyday lives” is the purpose of National Ag Week.
It is easy to spot the real farmers here in the county: they are the ones who seldom leave. Their places in Rappahannock are not second homes, nor do they have day jobs that require a daily commute out of the county.
Indeed, the real farmers I know seldom see any good reason to leave. All they could ever want is right here. Plus, they’ve got lots of work to do: The hay won’t get mowed, the corn won’t grow, the calves won’t fatten unless they’re totally engaged – “all in” – watching over things.
So as the number of real – as opposed to hobby – farms and farmers continues to decline here, perhaps the better description of Rappahannock is not “rural” but, instead, “pastoral.”
In the classical tradition of Virgil and Horace – whose Latin poetry gave voice to city dreamers wanting to escape the rat race – the pastoral evokes images of idealized country life. It has little to do with the hard business of farming. So it is that as the county’s fate is increasingly in the hands of non-farmers, their dream of the way they think life should be here is what really counts.
Is that a good or a bad thing? I’m not wise enough to know. But I do know that county residents, if they are honest, can no longer pretend that Rappahannock is primarily defined as agricultural.