Lt. Gov. Winsome Sears turned an invitation to speak into an opportunity to listen, asking farmers at Virginia Farm Bureau Federation’s March 22 board of directors meeting which agricultural issues are most important to them.
A self-described “city girl,” Sears emphasized her commitment to addressing issues related to agriculture, forestry and rural life. Discussion topics included commercial solar facilities, broadband expansion, Chesapeake Bay water quality goals, local food grants, forestry preservation and proper funding for Virginia Cooperative Extension and the state’s soil and water conservation districts.
“The reason I want to hear from you—nobody can sing your song like you do,” Sears said. “When you have skin in the game, you pay attention to what is coming out of your state legislature and ensure your representatives know how you feel about the issues that affect you.
“Where are we heavy-handed, or where do you need a safety net? We don’t know unless we talk to you.”
Farm Bureau board members Robert Mills of Pittsylvania County and Jerry Jenkins of Lunenburg County said solar facilities continue to encroach on productive farmland in their districts. HB 206 recently passed in the Virginia General Assembly; it will require the state to conduct a two-year study analyzing the impact of solar projects on prime agricultural and forest lands. But more farmland and forests could be lost during that time, Mills said.
“I don’t blame farmers and landowners who converted to solar, because it’s very lucrative,” he explained. “There is a lot of unproductive land that would be great for renewable resources like solar energy, that’s not producing food and fiber. It’s a quick dollar that hurts agriculture—the original sustainable industry.”
Sears said she would convey Farm Bureau’s support of HB 206, sponsored by Del. Michael Webert, R-Marshall, to Gov. Glenn Youngkin.
Making history as the state’s first female lieutenant governor and first Black woman elected to statewide office, Sears presides over the Virginia Senate and is a member of several state boards, commissions and councils.
“The doors you have knocked down, the road you have traveled to get to this position—thank you for what you’re doing for women,” said Faye Hundley of Essex County, who chairs the VFBF Women’s Leadership Committee. “Having you in this position speaks loud and clear to women involved in Farm Bureau, and everywhere, that women can do anything.”