Pandemic of Local Food

Alternate Titles: 20 Something Else, 2020 Vision

If you study nature, or at least study those who study nature, a pandemic of far-reaching proportions was not only predictable, it was predicted. Was I surprised by the depth and scope of the COVID crisis? Yes, I was. I myself had not separated out this prediction from the background noise of so many other predictions. 

Was I surprised that so many people did not and do not take it seriously? Not at all. It is human nature to underestimate the potential of an invisible enemy. For many people, even those close to someone who died or became seriously ill, a virus is intangible. Put a grizzly bear in a grocery store and watch panic ensue, but something so tiny it can only be seen with an electron microscope? Not that scary. Heck, how many people have ever even seen an electron microscope? You can add to that the virus’s curious tendency to spare some people who ought not be young enough or healthy enough to survive it, not naming any particular presidents, and it’s a recipe for a pandemic of denial. COVID is kind of like the tornado that destroys a city block, but leaves the dishes in one cupboard of a roofless kitchen neatly stacked on their shelves. 

Old folks say that every cloud has its silver lining. If you were in the toilet paper business in March, not only did you not close up shop, you probably earned a bonus. Such an odd association: pandemic and toilet paper. I could see Kleenex or cough syrup or thermometers. Then it was not common knowledge that COVID sometimes presents with diarrhea. I guess people thought a lockdown would be like a flood or hurricane. Might be stuck in our houses for weeks. Better hoard toilet paper. And bread. And bleach.  

Another positive, hopefully long-lasting, outcome.. The huge increased demand for locally-sourced food. Every CSA farmer we know sold out fast. Our cattle-raising neighbors can hardly keep beef in stock and their family’s sweet corn sales were off the charts. We haven’t even marketed our first batch of pigs–they have several months to go–and already we have had many inquiries to buy bulk pork. We raised nearly 200 broiler chickens, and except for the handful butchered on-farm for personal consumption, they sold out before the holidays withl little to no marketing. 

Did anyone predict that? I still don’t fully understand the phenomenon. I guess there is a perception that local food is healthy food–an opinion we share–and maybe people were hedging their bets.  It would not be right to celebrate a global calamity even if it props up the local food market, but if there has to be a dark cloud, there are worse silver linings than an awareness of the link between real food and good health.

Before the pandemic and its various lockdown versions, Kelly spent almost all of her time on farm and I split my time between the hospital and the farm. During the pandemic Kelly spent almost all of her time on farm and I split my time between the hospital and the farm. The main difference is that there wasn’t as much to miss out on. That’s not a complaint. A 38-acre farm is not a bad venue to shelter in place and socially distance.   

I mentioned pigs. Yes, we finally took the next step in farming: mammals. We considered sheep because we wanted a traditional pasture animal, but predator considerations loomed. We quickly realized that sheep does not represent a singular species. There are sheep and there are the livestock guardian dogs who protect them. We have a rule: One new species at a time.  Chickens–the gateway animal, just as we were told–emboldened us to make the leap. We did plenty of study on pigs, drawing on those with most experience–friends, neighbors and our pig breeder at Dorothy’s Range. We studied up on pigs, but we knew from raising birds that we would learn much of what we needed to know from the animals themselves.  Thank you Kevin, Keely, Dayna, April and YouTube.

Our five pigs are Gloucestershire (pronounced GLOSS-ter-sher or GLOSS-ter-shire) Old Spots (pronounced Old Spots), a heritage breed. Since they will someday be food, we made a rule that we would not name our pigs. Their names are Spots, ShoulderHeart, HAMlet, Patch and Bullseye. So much for rules.

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