- The Washington Times - Monday, February 7, 2005

Forget big-city hubbub: The pastoral heartland is calling — and Virginia’s Fauquier County is issuing the sweetest call.

Wooed by quiet nights and verdant countrysides, the United States is undergoing a “rural renaissance,” says Alabama-based Progressive Farmer magazine, which has named the top 100 places to live for those who want a few green acres to call their own.

“We’re seeing a definite trend of people choosing to live in the country rather than in urban areas. We wanted to celebrate that,” said Jack Odle, editor of the 119-year-old publication, which this month features articles on 28-gauge game guns, chimney care, stump grinders, gingerbread waffles and the health of newborn calves, among other topics.

“Best Places to Live in Rural America” analyzed the attributes of 600 counties and rural areas across the country and is the first compilation of its kind, Mr. Odle said.

Neighborliness, scenery, quality of schools and health care, local culture, weather, taxes, cleanliness and crime rates were among the judgment criteria for the list, inspired by similar fare in magazines that typically rank life in swank suburbs.

Fauquier County, about 45 miles from Washington, placed No. 1 in the survey, and Progressive Farmer noted that “former urbanites, tired of the grind, are pouring in like a cold winter rain.”

“Rural, proud of it and trying to stay that way” was how the magazine summarized the county, about a 45-minute commute from Washington, on its Web site (www.progressivefarmer.com).

“Appealing landscape without the crowds, culture, amenities and some luxury, too. We’re a little undiscovered gem in the rural landscape. That’s why we all live here,” Karen Henderson, president of the Fauquier County Chamber of Commerce in Warrenton, said yesterday.

Two other Virginia counties — Hanover and Gloucester — placed in the top 20. Also, three more Virginia counties — Augusta, Botetourt and King William — and three Maryland counties — Washington, Cecil and Talbot — landed in the top 100.

Magazine staffers journeyed to the dells and hallows of Wisconsin, New Hampshire, Indiana, Oklahoma and other states.

The information is “somewhat under the radar,” Mr. Odle said. “We hope our list will reward these areas, while serving as a guide to those who may be thinking about leaving stress and other hazards of urban life behind.”

City refugees seek 40-acre “farmettes,” or even spots with as few as five acres, often within an hour or so of a major city. They raise children, plant grapevines, keep goats, tend chickens — though most don’t classify themselves as farmers. Thanks to the Internet and other technologies, many work at home, though some resolutely commute to a job elsewhere.

“People just want a small-town, rural feel,” U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) demographer Calvin Beale told the magazine.

Americans hold country values dear to their hearts, in fact.

A survey of our perceptions of rural life from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation — a Michigan-based philanthropic group — found that Americans associate country living with a strong sense of family, hard work, commitment to community, pronounced religious beliefs, self-sufficiency, patriotism and resilience.

Still, poll respondents also fretted that rural life was in jeopardy because of development, unemployment or the decline of family farms.

The USDA reports that rural America is made up of 2,305 counties and about 56 million people. Its draw is pronounced: The agency now tracks such numbers as “retirement migration” — particularly in the western Rocky Mountains, the southern Appalachians and the upper Great Lakes.

“Rural America is home to one-fifth of the nation’s people, keeper of natural amenities and natural treasures, and safeguard of a unique part of American culture, tradition and history,” the USDA noted in its most recent Agriculture Fact Book.

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