Change comes hard for longtime Virginia farming communities

In Rappahannock County, we see the sharp political split between the longtime native farming families and newcomers.
The haybale sign in Rappahannock County. (Caroline Kitchener/The Washington Post)

When something changes or appears different in Floyd County, native locals say it is caused by newcomers to the community.

An interesting story about Rappahannock County appeared in The Washington Post about the battle between “trust -fund hippies” and longtime farming families after a 170-foot political sign fashioned out of hay bales appeared.

“Farmers for Trump 2020” read the sign.

“So obnoxiously in your face,”Donna Burge, who lives adjacent to the bales, tells the newspaper.

“We have a large, very large, new political campaign sign in our county,” Rachel Rowland, an independent who plans to vote for Democratic nominee Joe Biden, wrote on Facebook.” Are signs this gigantic allowed?”

They’re not. Rappahannock limits political signs to 50 square feet but no one from the county has told the owner of the hay bales to remove it.

Daphne Hutchinson, former editor of the Rappahannock News, told The Washington Post that the county zoning commission won’t do anything about the sign for political reasons.

“It’s a Republican sign and the zoning commissioners are Republicans,” says Hutchinson, who calls herself a “flaming left-leaning liberal.”

In the 2016 presidential election, 57 percent of the voters in the conservative county voted for Trump.

Rowland says her ex-boyfriend, a “D.C. liberal,” calls Rappahannock County “all racists, it’s all about the Confederacy.”

Athena Emmans now works as a farmhand since COVID-19 caused the layoff for her accounting job in March. She helps farmers butcher cows in exchange for meat to help feed her kids. The farmers are unable to sell their meat to processing plants that closed because of the pandemic, and she says the signs does “accurately” represent the county.

“It’s spitting in the face of the other party,” Emmans told the Post. She plans to vote for third-party candidate Jo Jorgensen for president this year. “But so what?”

In Rural Virginia counties, the farms are disappearing and “transplants” from Washington, DC, and other more urban area of the Old Dominion are shifting the political demographics of Shenandoah community.

Writes Caroline Kitchener for The Post:

Many newcomers to the county don’t have the same appreciation for farming, Emmans said. In Rappahannock, families with farms or small homesteads wait for their food, growing vegetables and raising their own meat. Most former urbanites, on the other hand, are used to going to the grocery store for everything they need, she said.

More so than other rural stretches of Virginia, locals say, Rappahannock has been slow to change. There is still no cellphone service throughout much of the county, and home buyers must purchase at least 25 acres of land if they’re buying outside a town, limiting development. Along with “natives,” Rowland says, there are “hippie queens,” local writers and artists who arrived in the 1960s and ’70s. They’re also eager to keep things the way they are.

These people come up from D.C., and they want to take over,” said Fletcher. “Well there’s an ecological balance in this county, just like there is in nature.”

The “been-heres” do want tourism from big cities. Many recognize that Rappahannock can’t thrive without it, said Hutchinson, 75: They just don’t want newcomers coming in and telling them how to change their county, or when that change should come.

In one particularly memorable letter to the editor, longtime Rappahannock resident Demaris Miller claimed the path would bring “pedophiles and rapists” to the area.

“The idyllic rural county we once lived in is being hijacked,” Miller wrote.

Sound familiar? We hear the same complaints here in Floyd County. Similar sentiments can be heard in other rural counties of Southwestern Virginia.

A home adorned with Trump love on U.S. 221 north of Floyd. (From Facebook)

“We should be able to talk to each other,” Rowland says. “Why is that so hard?”

For many of those whose families go back several generations in a county like Floyd, change comes hard, especially when it comes to newcomers who want to change the way life has been for generations.

When change is advocated by newcomers, the native locals say they find it disconcerting that the transplants come to a rural community because it is different but then want to change it into something that is more like what they left behind.

A common phrase goes something like this: “Things would be better here if we only had (insert the name of a business or action)…”

1 thought on “Change comes hard for longtime Virginia farming communities”

  1. Thank you for an interesting article. I too will be voting for Dr. Jo Jorgensen, the Libertarian candidate for President.

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