Column: Earth, wind, fire . . . spirits

Most farmers in Rappahannock County farm their land by selling grass. Not the kind of grass that President Clinton didn’t inhale, the kind of grass that cows eat. The cows eat the grass and produce milk that their calf suckles. When the calf is big enough to wean, it is taken to the market and sold. Thus food is produced for human consumption, beef, from a food source that humans cannot consume, grass.

Market forces, excessive regulations, taxes, health concerns, or any of a number of reasons can force farmers to quit farming their land. One must give thought to other possible uses for the land. Presently the fastest growing sector of the agricultural economy is vineyards. The climate and soil in the county are perfectly suited for the production of grapes.

There is one major drawback to vineyards, however, and that is that when the vines go in, the signs go up. Rappahannock County has a far greater chance of running out of highway space for vineyard signs than it does running out of land suitable for vineyards. Given the immense amount of influence that the wine industry has with the authorities in Richmond, it would not be surprising to see the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) building new roads in Rappahannock County — not because the amount of traffic justifies more roads but, rather, because the vineyards need more roadside space for their signs. Our own watchdog groups that are usually quite vocal with regards to issues relating to signs are curiously quiet when it comes to vineyards signs.

There are certainly many other types of farming that one can do in Rappahannock, but I think it would be shortsighted to only mention farming the earth. What about farming the wind and the sun? Green energy is most definitely a red hot topic. I have noticed that around the country governing bodies are seeing applications for wind and solar farms. Unfortunately, it is the local environmental groups that often lead the opposition to those green projects. They always say, “we are all for alternative energy, but not here.” It seems there is always another place where the wind blows harder or the sun shines brighter. What it boils down to however is, “not in my backyard.”

If America is to rid itself from a dependence on fossil fuels, it will take many people making a lot of small sacrifices so that we can avoid the big sacrifice like the one the Gulf of Mexico region is making now. Richard Petty, the famous race car driver, said it best: “Winning a race ain’t doing one big thing right, it’s doing a lot of little things right.” Wind farms and solar farms in Rappahannock will not solve the energy crises, but we can do our part, small though it may be.

It is my understanding that under current county law, farmers can use wind and solar power for their own use, and then sell to the power company what small surpluses they may have. Farmers are not allowed to farm the wind and the sun on a commercial basis. This is akin to restricting farmers to only growing food for their own use.

Rappahannock County has always been at the forefront on issues relating to planning and zoning with preserving the environment and maintaining the tax base being paramount. It seems to me that wind and solar farms are good for the overall environment, and will bring in to the county much needed tax revenue. I am curious to hear what the local environmentalists have to say about it.

For most everyone there is something that they do not enjoy seeing. For me, it’s off-site signage, for some it’s cell phone silos, or maybe even cows. For others it’s windmills and solar panels. However, let’s not forget the bottom line, which is that vineyards, cell phone service, beef produced from grass, and green energy are all good for Rappahannock County.