Independence, a farm town in Southwest Virginia, is a place that does not suffer fools or change without notice. If your family has lived and farmed here for two hundred years then you are a “been here”. But if, like myself, you have only been pushing cattle through the Blue Ridge for a mere thirty years, then you are a “come here”.
Although agriculture remains the number one business in Grayson County, Virginia, it is not the way the people of Independence remember it. In the old days one would work their forty-hour-week at a textile mill or a furniture factory. The benefits and stability would prop them up while evenings and weekends were spent on their farm, their passion.
Most of those factories are gone now and even if the government could induce them back with massive tax breaks, their processes have become automated and the need for laborers low. Simple math tells us we cannot compete with global wages and I am not even sure we have a workforce willing to.
Those who are inheriting family farms today have little chance of making them profitable. Financial institutions will not loan them money to rebuild and there is often little understanding of farm profitability for the 21st Century.
The children of farmers have seen a life of hard work and sacrifice result in no tangible improvement in their lives or their world. Should we be surprised when we see how they have lost the “fire in their belly”?
So, they barter and swap and help each other, but at kitchen tables in the quiet of night, they fear the future and pine for days gone by. Gazing through a rose-colored rear-view mirror this, “lost way of life” has been idealized. When the phrase “Make America Great Again” hit the airwaves, it resonated with them.
Most of the family farms in Grayson County continue to struggle. Full-time employees are hard to afford much less the financing to improve farm infrastructure and reach a sustainable-level operation. Our evolving world also requires a new way of farming. Family members are no longer, “free farm labor” and often do not share the workload. Today’s working farm requires too much sweat to be shared with off-the-farm jobs.
The slow dissolution of one way of life has left many folks in Grayson County feeling forgotten and displaced. While they may not believe Donald Trump is the best person to lead the free world, and while they may blush or cringe at his style, they are looking for change in their lives, any change. We need to find a way to support some of the hardest working, finest people our great country has ever produced: the people who feed us.
I believe it is the women who can help us find answers to rural America’s challenges. Women raise this nation, women build this nation, women fight for this nation, and women heal this nation.
These are women like:
Katie Trozzo, a PhD candidate at Virginia Tech in the Department of Forestry. Katie moved to Grayson County, VA to assist and instruct the landowners in improving their livelihoods and the environment.
Cattle rancher and wildlife biologist Hilary Anderson who has adopted practices that allow her to ranch successfully alongside wolves and bears in Montana. Hilary is pioneering a model of coexistence that is catching on with a younger generation of rancher.
Amanda Oborne, Ecotrust’s Vice President of Food & Farms, who is helping scale a robust, regional food economy across the Pacific Northwest with a new food hub called The Redd.
Women need equal rights so they can compete at the same level, make the same incomes and contribute their amazing talent, intellect and endless energy to continue make American great!
That is why I’m attending the Woman’s March on Washington on January 21st. The March is a way to express ourselves, to be seen, to be heard, and to be recognized as a powerful force in this nation. It’s also a way to support the women who are leading solutions in rural places like Grayson County and around the nation.
Charlotte Hanes is president & CEO of River Ridge Land & Cattle Company which specializes in naturally-raised beef and organic berries. She is also a co-founder of Grayson LandCare, a grassroots movement of farmers, landowners, and residents working to promote sustainable land and water management.