Editorial: Rural or pastoral?

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.

Walter Nicklin


  1. In Defense of Rappahannock County Agriculture

    I offer a “glass half full” point of view in response to The April 4 editorial (Rural or Pastoral?) claiming Rappahannock is less “rural” than “pastoral” because it has fewer farms than in the past. Successful agricultural enterprises are the lynchpin of our community, rural culture and environmental health.

    Over the past fifteen or so years I have seen Rappahannock County agriculture (including viticulture, horticulture, and related endeavors) becoming more vibrant, innovative, and in many ways successful than ever before. Here are just a few indicators; maybe the Rappahannock News could report this story in more depth.

    There is a branch of the Holistic Management International farmers club here, pioneering renowned innovative methods that were unheard-of in Rappahannock ten years ago. Four of our five County Supervisors are farmers. Also please do not discount the “real farmers” who work full time to manage and operate farms on land that others own.

    Several of our farms market directly to consumers. We have active farm marketing and successful Community-Supported Agriculture programs. Some of our farms have brought in young people from around the country who contribute to the vibrancy of our community and the know-how of our farm industry.

    Our public schools have an agricultural curriculum, and a famous “Farm to Table” program that encompasses a broad range of activities and ages, from little kids planting the school garden to high schoolers selling seedlings at the annual plant sale, and learning culinary skills to turn produce into food products for the school cafeteria, local events and customers. We have schools in which agriculture is a central curriculum, such as Belle Meade and the Montessori Middle School in Flint Hill.

    We even have a Rappahannock County Farm Tour! That was unimaginable fifteen years ago when we started making a tourist map of farms in the county. Flavor Magazine (now Food-Shed Magazine) has featured many of our farms and vineyards over the past three years. The locally-based program called Plant A Row for the Hungry receives thousands of pounds of fresh produce from our local farms and back yard gardens annually. Some of our farms sell high quality produce and meat at regional markets and restaurants. In addition to traditional farms we have niche activities such as horticulture that focuses on native species of plants.

    In the summer time in Rappahannock you can now buy almost all of your food raised locally. The Rappahannock News can help in this industry by providing current information on local products and services in the agricultural-related field.
    Beverly Hunter

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