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Read About Our Grants

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This charming new book is by the Virginia author Frank Levering, who runs a Patrick County cherry orchard (now 100 years, still a family business) and helps his wife Wanda Urbanska produce the PBS show "Simple Living TV".
Frank's new book introduces urbanites to "country culture"... with Frank's warm welcoming style, sharing the unwritten rules by which rural people live and get along.

Order a copy from Amazon Books or Barnes & Noble or telephone the Virginia Cooperative Extension Distribution Center at (540) 231-1322 and ask for Publication 275-200. Cost is $5.00 per copy, plus shipping and handling.

For bulk sales of 72 books per case: please email your request to Albemarle Books.

Here (without its delightful visual images) is Chapter One:

Welcome to the country. Good to see you here.

Now imagine, for a moment, that you’ve just knocked on the door of a house in the Virginia countryside. The sun’s going down, and though the slanting light is rosy and mellow across the rolling fields and forests, you’re a little nervous. After all, maybe you’ve just moved here, or are getting ready to move. In either case, your life is changing. You’ve left a city or a suburb behind, and now—of all things!—you’ve thump-thumped off the road with a flat tire, and you’re standing on the porch of a complete stranger’s house hoping for a little help. Certainly, you’re anxious about your flat! But truth be told, you’re here for more than help. Deeper down, you’re feeling a bit like a fish out of water, and you’re hoping to forge your first connection with a native of this valley. You’re hoping that person knows how to make a newcomer feel welcome.

Now imagine that the person who says “Hello” has a friendly face. You explain why you’re here, and apologize for the imposition. What you didn’t expect is that this native who enters the house and returns with a compressed air bottle doesn’t appear to think you’re imposing. “Glad to help.” But despite the friendliness, there’s an awkwardness you’re still feeling. You sense that this stranger would like to ask some questions. After all, you’re moving in just across the ridge there. You’re a new neighbor, and this native has reason to get to know you. What you do with your newly acquired property—and the perspective you have on the values of other rural property-owners—will inevitably affect the lives of your neighbors. Thanking your new neighbor, you promise to return the air bottle as soon as you inflate the tire, and walk back to your car.

The air bottle does the trick. Breathing easier, on the walk back to the porch you notice the hay bales strewn across the fields; there’s a very large tractor with a big cab parked just on the other side of a fence; and all of a sudden it dawns on you that the person you’re talking to is a bona fide farmer.

A farmer. This is the sort of creature you’ve read about in the newspaper or seen interviewed on the TV news. You’ve never had occasion to get to know one, and now this stranger who steps back onto the porch has proved to be the very soul you needed in an emergency. You’ve made your money in an urban profession, and here is this person who somehow earns a living and does something—not entirely clear what—with that oversized tractor. Bales hay, maybe? You figure it probably has something to do with hay. Not wanting to be seen as a greenhorn, or seem nosey, you leave your questions in your throat. Next time.

“Thank you, again,” you say.

“Any time! Just glad to help!”

Funny thing, you think to yourself, driving down the road. You had questions—and this native, you sensed, had questions. Yet neither one of you asked a single one. An opportunity lost, you’re thinking to yourself—to bridge that awkward gap. But there was one good thing: That farmer was friendly.

No. Two good things: That farmer was friendly and eager to help. Although this is a fictional scene, the fact is there are many rural Virginians who would answer to this description. But, in some cases, it’s true that friendliness doesn’t always come so easily. Rural Virginia is beset by some daunting challenges—skyrocketing land prices, infrastructure and school deficiencies, rising property taxes and the loss of youth to urban areas. Rural residents trying to earn a living and accommodate the pace of change feel the strain of those challenges. Strains and pressures can make some folks very cautious.

In this guidebook, we aim to offer you the same kind of help and friendliness as our farmer. So, Welcome to the country. We’re glad you’re here! We want to know what your hopes are in living here. We hope you’ll stay. That said, we certainly don’t mean to exclude natives from the ranks of our readers. For natives, too, can add to their store of knowledge by reading this book. So, to those hardy souls long established down a Virginia lane, you come along, too! We’re getting ready to follow a road deep into the heart of rural Virginia.

We really want to explore this place with you. We aim to introduce you to the way things are done here, who does them, and why—they’ve been doing it a long time, and chances are, they know what they’re doing. We’re here to teach and to learn, to get better acquainted, and come away better informed—and maybe even a little wiser!

By the time you finish reading Welcome to the Country you’ll know, likely, a fair bit more than you do now about the cultural traditions, unwritten codes of behavior, laws, and farming practices in rural Virginia—with particular attention to the ten-county Central Virginia heartland that straddles the Blue Ridge Mountains. This region of often exponential growth is comprised of Albemarle, Nelson, Louisa, Orange, Fluvanna, Madison, Greene, Augusta, Rockingham, and Rockbridge counties. If you’re a newcomer to this ten-county region—or, indeed, to any predominantly rural region in Virginia—this book will help you adapt to your surroundings and live harmoniously with your neighbors. If you’re a native, reading this book will offer you a crisper understanding of and more up-to-date information about the place you have long called home.

Consider this book a cultural road map to life along some of Virginia’s most intriguing back roads. It’s a guide to the established customs of the countryside: what people do to earn a living here; how people who own property get along with others; and why farmers and farm land must never become marginalized. Our primary goal is simple: to promote mutual respect and enhanced communication between newcomers and natives. We think that mutual respect and more open lines of communication are made possible by opportunities to learn and to expand our vision. With lessons drawn from numerous interviews, extensive travel in Virginia, and our own combined experience as members of a rural culture, we hope that Welcome to the Country will provide such an opportunity.

We believe that—working alongside one another—those who are new to rural Virginia and those who have been here a long while can share a community and landscape—and together achieve great things.

In central Virginia as well as some other parts of the state, the past few decades have witnessed an extraordinary urban-to-rural migration. The splendor of the countryside, the yearning to escape the urban fast lane, the lure of a simpler life lived closer to nature have all combined to bring flocks of “metropolitans”—folks accustomed to the brisk rhythms and vibrant cultural activities of cities—to rural areas. Most of these areas, including the central Virginia heartland, have traditionally been farming communities, the sorts of places where Farm Bureau baseball caps shade the eyes of tractor-drivers, where a crossroads store is a haven for dusty pickup trucks, where cows—and crops—and the weather—are hotter topics than the latest misadventures of Hollywood celebrities in People magazine.

With this major in-migration has come the clamor of saws and hammers, as new houses go up and lawn grass is sewn where once was a rolling pasture. With it, too, have come jobs, greener pastures for local economies, and a more robust bottom line for any business fortunate enough to service the needs and tastes of the urban transplants. It has also brought in some newcomers who value the work and the wisdom of farmers, and who have a keen interest in preserving the agrarian heritage of Virginia’s rural areas.

But along with these and other positives have come additional strains on county services, as local governments weigh the pros of a pumped-up tax base with the cons of “progress” that threatens to reshape the character of rural communities. Along with the positives, too, has often come a dearth of knowledge and understanding about the agrarian way of life—a cultural “tone deafness”—leading frequently to conflict between transplants and natives.

One of the natives we interviewed expressed his perspective on the conflict this way: “People moving into rural areas like the idea of farms. They just don’t understand farming.”

A recent arrival from the Washington area expressed a newcomer’s perspective very differently: “People out here, they’re not very trusting when people move in, are they? Seems like they’ll just sort of keep an eye on everything you’re doing. And not tell you much.” Another native expressed the friction this way: “There’s a widely divergent economic base between newcomers—who often have higher incomes—and locals, who may have less income. Newcomers don’t want industry and they know how to work the system to prevent anything that threatens their land. They want to “protect” what they’ve purchased. This isn’t always good for natives, especially younger ones, who might ask: ‘Protect from what?’ With no jobs, natives cannot afford a house.”

Martha Walker, Ph.D., a Community Viability Specialist with Virginia Cooperative Extension, summarized the state of affairs this way, in a Roanoke Times article: The Reality of Rural Life: “Each side wants to be engaged with each other, but they choose different paths to do so, and they don’t take the time to talk to each other first.”

This culture clash—this friction point where two world views rub against each other—takes many forms. Picture this scene: on a sinuous country road a tractor trundles along, its driver getting the workday started by taking the highway to a distant field. Behind the tractor with its wide farm implement attached, a new resident of the area follows impatiently in a BMW, unable to pass because of the road’s incessant curves. Finally, his patience frayed to the snapping point, the BMW driver lays on his horn in frustration, a prolonged blast which the farmer interprets as “Pull off the damn road and get out of my way!”

With a wide machine and nowhere to pull over, the farmer doesn’t budge. “Who owns this highway, anyway?” he probably thinks. He’s paid his taxes same as the car driver—and he’ll be damned if he’s pulling off into the ditch to accommodate the speed-lust of one of “them.”

This scene isn’t fictional. It’s one of a number of farm-equipment-on-the-highway incidents reported by farmers we’ve talked to. Nor is the following scene fictional: A new resident of a rural community crosses paths with a farmer at a country store. It’s lunch hour, and as rural folks often do, the farmer is eating his lunch and drinking his Pepsi on a bench outside the store. “What was that stuff you were spraying with this morning?” the new resident asks the farmer, a neighbor on one side of the new resident’s property.

The farmer’s neck stiffens, as he recalls the many times he’s been told by some new “expert” what he can and can’t do on his own land. “Why do you ask?”

The new resident tries to smile—he’d thought his tone was pleasant enough, he certainly hadn’t meant to offend. And besides, doesn’t he have a right to know? The wind was up a little that morning, and whatever the farmer was spraying could have drifted over onto his property. “Well,” he says, not quite daring to bring up that point, “I was just curious.”

The farmer smiles but replies without warmth “It’s nothing for you to worry about.” With a nod, he touches his cap and returns to his lunch.

These two scenes—both slices from real life—dramatize a fault line in rural Virginia: the tension between the traditional prerogatives of farmers in going about their business, in making their work pay off, and the imported cultural norms of newcomers, norms that may view an impediment on the highway or a pesticide wafting airborne as non-negotiable detriments to life in the country. In each case, communication, such as it was, degenerated quickly into open hostility. In each case, the prospect for further communication and eventual mutual understanding was aborted at the outset, with opinions freezing solid, unlikely ever to thaw. It doesn’t have to be that way…

Order a copy from Amazon Books or Barnes & Noble or telephone the Virginia Cooperative Extension Distribution Center at (540) 231-1322 and ask for Publication 275-200. Cost is $5.00 per copy, plus shipping and handling.

For bulk sales of 72 books per case: please email your request to Albemarle Books.

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