I was chatting on the phone with my friend in the city this week, comparing notes about life in the lockdown.
“There is a shortage of red wine vinegar,” he reported. He lives in an apartment building downtown with a high-end supermarket steps away. The empty vinegar shelf surprised him but, of course, it has become urban myth that vinegar, lemon juice and baking soda kill viruses. Fortunately, no one yet believes that Paul Newman’s Own is effective on COVID-19 so my friend is still able to make a salad. But in these anti-science times, it just takes one post on NaturalNews.com for the salad dressing shelf to empty out.
We’ve had some odd shortages up here in the countryside. My annual trip to find two weaner pigs was complicated by a hiccup in the supply chain. Nothing to do with the virus at first. My pig supplier Bill keeps a half a dozen commercial sows and a Berkshire boar that produce wonderful bacon hogs that eat like an Angus steer. But Bill had switched boars in January and had no litters at all this spring. So I asked around and realized that the ‘fringe dwellers’ have been panicked by meat shortages in the supermarket and are buying up weaner pigs at famine prices. I saw them advertised on “Kajiji” for $150 each which is more than three times the normal price.
My local butcher Scotty says these people are going to get their hearts broken. “They’ll only do this once,” he predicted. When you buy feed in bags that have instructions on how to open the bag, you already know you are paying far too much for the feed. By the time they’ve put 12 bags of that stuff through the pig and paid the cutting and wrapping, it will be the most expensive pork they have ever eaten.
That is, if they can get a date with Scotty. I booked my kill day with him a year ago. (Scotty cautions me not to use the phrase ‘kill day’ with the fringe dwellers. ‘Sleepover’ is a more acceptable term. Or ‘pig outplacement centre’ and ‘exit interview’ also works.) Scotty says people from the city assume he can feed Toronto with one kill day a week and three on staff.
His phone rang three times while we stood and visited. I asked him how he was coping with the pressure. “I’m feeding my neighbours first because they’ll still be here long after the virus has moved on.”
My jungle telegraph is a lot more reliable than “Kajiji” and it soon produced a phone number for a Mennonite not far away. A Mennonite with a cell phone it turned out.
“Oh . . . I don’t know, Dan,” he said doubtfully. “How soon do you want them?” he asked. I love the way they call me Dan, as if we have been visiting on the phone every week for 30 years.
“Any time,” I said.
“And how many would you need?”
“Well . . . I don’t have any today. But maybe Monday.”
I assured him Monday would work fine. Now came the kicker. Had he been on “Kajiji” lately?
“How much do you need for them?” I asked.
“As much as I can get!” he laughed.
“Like a thousand dollars each?”
He laughed. “I like to get 40 if I can.” My world suddenly returned to normal because this has been the price of a 25-pound pig for half a century now.
On the way home from the pig deal, I swung by Hamilton Bros. farm supply to pick up seed potatoes. The shelf was empty. Mike behind the counter said he was sorry but he has been sold out for two weeks now and the supplier couldn’t fill any more orders. A few calls confirmed there was indeed a national shortage of seed potatoes. Back at the farm, I ran the cultivators over the garden and pondered the looming potato famine. But then, I noticed a little potato sitting up on the freshly turned dirt, a leftover from last year’s crop. Closer examination revealed a little sprout. Over the next hour I gathered up about 30 more like him, enough to plant three rows. Potato famine narrowly averted.
But it felt so Irish and desperate, searching through the dirt like Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind, grubbing up a tiny carrot, shaking her fist at the evening sky and vowing never to go hungry again. But not to worry. Pigs and potatoes settled this country so I should be OK.
I wonder if the hatchery will have any chicks this year?
Dan Needles is a writer and the author of the Wingfield Farm stage plays. He lives on a small farm near Collingwood, Ont. His website is www.danneedles.ca.