[WARNING: This post is not full of sunshine and rainbows. Sorry. If you want that, scroll through our archive or go to our Instagram feed and click on just about anything.]
What a difference a week can make. I ended my last post with a minor reference to COVID-19 and now our world has screeched to a standstill at its feet. What still seemed like a distant possibility last week—that our food system might get disrupted—seems much more likely now as borders and industries of all kinds shut down at the same time as photos on social media show understocked grocery shelves across the country.
I haven’t personally been to a store in a week so I’m not sure what the reality is like day-to-day at this point. I hope things have leveled out as the initial rush to shore up the larders has passed.
I would like to pause here to give a shout out to all the people working to keep shelves stocked and customers checked out. Without them, we’d be feeling this even harder. Also PLEASE, please support your local famers! The markets have all been shut down and they are looking for new ways to connect with customers. Be patient as things unfold, but look for updates from them on their social media feeds and websites.
I recognize the great privilege I, and so many likely reading this, have to be sheltering in place somewhere dry and clean, with beer and wifi. For awhile now I have been cultivating a practice of taking time each day, throughout the day, to give quiet thanks for seemingly small but really miraculous gifts in my life – clean fresh air, sinks with running water, time to think. How much more are we able to notice those things when our daily lived experiences change?
Those of us who grow food have been feeling change for awhile. We have seen our USDA Hardiness Zone in Central Ohio jump from 5 to 6 in the past few years. Despite what the deniers say, temperatures have gotten measurably warmer on average. We have seen more severe weather with drier dry spells and wetter rainy seasons. We’ve been talking about this amongst ourselves and sharing with those who will listen. The government has recognized it in the form of subsidies to farmers who have suffered major crop loses as a result.
But the average American has generally failed to consider changes this might bring to their lives. Here, for example, are a few commonly referenced scenarios: Life without coffee (extinction of many varieties threatened by a combination of diseases and pests combined with warmer weather and the end of the popular Cavendish banana (succumbing to a spread of Fusarium fungus). Environmentalists also warn about decreasing fresh water supplies (already a reality in many parts of the world), a thought that terrifies me more than any other. Apples are suffering from unpredictable spring frosts. And the list goes on…
I’ve been thinking a lot and writing a little about climate change and sustainable small-scale agriculture since the fall when Greta got everyone seriously thinking about it for the Mother Earth News blog. I’ve lost sleep wrestling with guilt over wanting to do more but not knowing how or what to do. I bike or walk rather than drive when I can. I have used cloth shopping bags since the ’90s and I refrain from purchasing some things I or my family might like if they are overly packaged in plastic. I compost. I donate to environmental organizations with a wide range of missions. I keep the thermostat under tight control. I don’t eat a lot of meat and when I do it is locally and regeneratively raised and humanely slaughtered. I buy local and organic dairy and produce as much as I can for things I can’t grow myself. And when I’m feeling really hopeless, I tell myself that these, and so many other little things I’m doing, add up to something.
But then I look around me and see so many other people living differently, with seemly little concern for the things that keep me up at night. A headline last week read, “What would happen if the world reacted to climate change like it’s reacting to the coronavirus?” It’s a thought-provoking read and I encourage you to click through (once you’re finished with my diatribe…). As the author notes, “If the world was responding to climate change like it’s responding to the coronavirus—the level of urgency that the science says is necessary—things would look dramatically different.”
I don’t write this to shame people into caring about the climate or changing your behaviors. Although I hope you will be inspired to do those things. I write it as an invitation; an invitation to use our current crisis as an opportunity to pay more attention to our habits.
As we all limit our trips to the stores, take time to practice more mindful consumption. If this sounds like a fancy term for rationing, that’s because it kind of is. Most of us haven’t experienced that in our lifetimes but you don’t have to go back too far to see examples. So, consider where you might reduce your consumption. For example: What’s been sitting in your pantry for awhile and what creative way might you put it to use? What happens when you use a little less of the jam you love to make it last longer? Do you need that 4th cup of coffee? Does your child need another cheese stick or juice box?
Then consider other small steps you can take to enact change – commit to walking to do an errand when possible, find a way to repurpose your kitchen scraps, take Tupperware to restaurants for leftovers when they reopen, and of course, plant a garden or find a local farmer to grow your food for you.
During World War II, ordinary Americans grew nearly half the produce we consumed. We can do that again. And we should. The Green New Deal includes ideas about reclaiming lawns for food production. A public works program like that could help us dig out of the mess we’re in now. We’re going to have a lot of work to do rebuilding our communities and our economy. Knowing how slowly things get done in Washington these days, we might as well getting started, planting wherever we are.