Local Food: The Solace and Necessity of Belonging
By Mike Schut, Senior Program Director, Farm Table Foundation – www.farmtablefoundation.org
The world has shifted under our feet. It is impossible to know what things will look like by the time you read this piece. Though tomorrow is never a given, life’s relative predictability has very suddenly disappeared. Unless you lived through World War II, it is likely fair to say that these are unprecedented times.
When I glance out my window, or take a walk on my rural county road, I am comforted by what has not changed in the rhythms of the natural world. While the COVID-19 pandemic hums through the human world with looming chaos, the chickadees and juncos know that it is spring, the maple’s sap is beginning to flow, and the sandhill crane has returned to our fields. Just like last year.
The farms and farmers in my neighborhood continue on like last year as well. Starts are seeded in the greenhouses, dairy cows are milked, livestock are fed and watered, and cheese is crafted at the on-farm creamery.
In “Wild Geese,” one of her most beloved poems, Mary Oliver writes:
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, The world offers itself to your imagination… Over and over announcing your place In the family of things.
No matter how lonely you are, or chaotic the world may be, Oliver believes that solace is available in that very same world, if we only look for it. Solace is found in knowing that all of us have a place “in the family of things.”
This coronavirus starkly reveals our dependency on each other, especially those “things” close by: the grocer, the doctor, our families, the neighbor we greet from a safe six feet…and, lest we forget, the farmers and the food they grow.
Among the “things” that Farm Table, where I work, supports are the twenty-some area farms and farmers from whom we purchase the majority of our restaurant’s food. The “things” we serve are local. The things we ingest were, not too long ago, members of the family of things around us, raised by farmers we know, using methods we trust.
I suppose one of the other things about this coronavirus, and why it scares us, is it reveals our vulnerability. And we are vulnerable partly because we rely on a global food system, one that is vulnerable to a virus able to shutdown economies across the globe. Strong regional food economies, rooted in equity and mutuality, offer a more stable and resilient alternative.
Perhaps what we are experiencing now is good practice. Practice for the kinds of challenges that climate change will surely bring our way. Though essential at the moment, it’s not the specific practices–social distancing, hand washing–that we really need to work on. The crucial lessons we need to learn from this are:
• Sacrificing for the common good is actually good and enriches our humanity. • We are more dependent on each other (and the family of things) than independent. • All of us will be better off if we do more to create a world where more and more people have enough and can experience the solace of belonging to that family of things.