FLEMINGTON, W.Va. — For two months in the winter, Amy Summers rises from a desk and makes motions at West Virginia’s House of Delegates.
The rest of the year, she is more likely to put on boots, walk through a muddy field and offer up feed to hungry cattle.
Summers, majority leader in the House, lives on a 24-acre farm in Taylor County. She is an advocate for rural life.
“We can raise our own beef, our own garden, raise a lot of our own food,” Summers, R-Taylor, said during a recent visit to the farm.
The Summers family farm is fairly typical for West Virginia.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture says there are about 23,000 farms in the state. West Virginia leads the nation in percentage of family-owned farms, about 95 percent. The average number of acres is 154. West Virginia’s beef cattle inventory is 198,000.
Amy Summers’ story of establishing roots in West Virginia, leaving and wanting to return is a familiar one, too.
Summers, 56, has experienced both farm life and what it’s like in the suburbs outside Washington, D.C. She grew up in Fairfax County, Virginia, until her family moved back to West Virginia when she was in the eighth grade.
The transition was difficult, Summers recalled, because of her age and because she was accustomed to the activities available to students in the more heavily populated suburbs. But she adjusted and grew attached to the Grafton community.
She wound up marrying one of her classmates from Grafton County High School, Rod Summers. They went together to West Virginia University together, where Amy Summers got her nursing degree.
And together they moved back to Northern Virginia for work. There, they bought a home on a third of an acre, “and that was big.” Rod crept an hour each day to work through stop-and-go traffic.
His federal job allowed him to transfer, though, so the Summers family moved back to West Virginia again 24 years ago. Amy remains an emergency room nurse with United Health Systems.
“We really just wanted to raise our children near our families so they would have a relationship with their grandparents and their cousins,” she said. “That was why we wanted to come here.”
They also found that their income stretched farther, allowing for a bigger house on acres of rolling farmland. Rod, who grew up on a farm, wanted cattle.
“I was willing to try it,” Amy said,” but he just loved it and I ended up loving it.”
They have 20 or so Angus cattle on their own property, and Rod’s extended family has an additional 50 cattle on a shared 400-acre property.
The Summers farm used to have pigs and lambs, and a few chickens still roam around. Calves are born each August or September.
“My husband is the big farmer,” Amy said. “I have duties as assigned.”
She successfully evades most of those duties during the coldest months because she is at the state Capitol instead.
Summers was first elected to the Legislature in 2014, the year both chambers flipped from longtime Democratic control to Republican majorities. She defeated Democratic incumbent Mike Manypenny that year by about 400 votes.
In 2018, she became West Virginia’s first female majority leader. That role means she helps determine legislative priorities while also serving as traffic cop during floor sessions.
The legislative duties means she helps shape public policy in a state where parents frequently lament that their children have had to move elsewhere for work.
As someone who has experienced life in the suburbs and life on the farm, Summers says believes in venturing out into the world. But, she said, she is grateful for anyone’s opportunity to return home to West Virginia.
“You need to experience the way other places in the United States operate and what the lifestyle is like,” Summers said.
“That was what was so favorable to us is, we could earn the same living as we did in Virginia with our jobs here. And that’s what you want. You want people to be able to make a good living. The cost of living is less so you end up faring better for your family.”