Preserving Virginia’s Piedmont Region Means Working in the District 

You know you’re in Virginia as soon as the Blue Ridge Mountains begin to peek over the horizon. Whether it’s a day trip to Upperville or a weekend getaway to Charlottesville to escape the city hustle, the Virginia countryside is a serene home-away-from-home. What you may not know is that most of the surrounding farms and lush arboriculture has been tirelessly maintained and conserved by the Piedmont Environmental Council (PEC) for the last fifty years. 

The PEC was founded in 1972 with a mission of “promoting and protecting the natural resources, rural economy, history, and beauty of the Virginia Piedmont.” The organization is headquartered in Warrenton, Virginia but works in the District to help shape public policy to conserve land in the surrounding metropolitan area amidst rapid development. PEC has a strong community foundation and works year-round to protect the environment through reforestation, land conservation, wildlife habitat maintenance, farm-to-table initiatives, and clean energy and water programs. 

The Georgetowner sat down with Chris Miller, president of PEC, and Advancement Officer Gertraud Hechl, to discuss pertinent issues and top goals for the organization this year.

Up to this point, PEC has officially conserved almost 25 percent of the 2 million acres of land in the Piedmont region encompassing the foothills and river valleys between Virginia’s Coastal Plain and the Blue Ridge Mountains. This has been made possible by the collaboration between family farm owners and PEC land conservationists who have the same goal in mind: to protect Virginia’s most historic and beautiful land. 

However, Big Data has arrived. A large commercial development known as Data Center Alley – comprised of the world’s largest concentration of data centers in Ashburn, Virginia — threatens the PEC’s conservation efforts. These data centers are used to power our speedy smartphones and 10K-resolution televisions but have harmed wildlife habitats and substantially decreased fertile farmlands. “We are the place where the global cloud operates,” Miller tells The Georgetowner, as he warns that this concentration of data centers could have severe impact on electrical demand in Virginia over the next 15-20 years.  

PEC also empowers communities to embrace the “buy fresh, buy local” lifestyle by supporting farms directly. The clean eating process is cyclical and starts with the consumer. When purchasing produce from a grocery store, farmers receive a minute percentage of the profit. However, when bought directly, farmers earn the entire profit. Additionally, the consumer is purchasing a sustainable, reliable food source. With a higher profit margin from direct sales, farmers can continue to engage in sustainable farming practices which are more costly yet protective of the environment. 

With Earth Day approaching on April 22, many wonder how they can participate. One of the largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions is transportation. Walking or biking instead of driving is always a good choice. Throughout the year, PEC hosts many different events from tree-planting and nature walks to river clean up days. Miller and Hechl agree that the most important initiative is inspiring the next generation to maintain the progress that’s been made. Playing outside, visits to the farmers market, and gardening are all small ways to have a long-lasting impact.  

Visit for more information and a full calendar of events.  

 Interested in visiting the Piedmont region? Click here for a list of our favorite things to do.


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