What a difference a month makes.
In the space of a few days, after all of my events for the next two months were abruptly cancelled and it became clear we were moving into a state of social distancing, the first thing I did was call the elderly people on my sideroad to see if they were prepared.
“Oh, I’m fine,” said Isobel, who is in her 90s. “You’re about the 10th person to call me, but I’m fine. I’ve had your number beside my phone for 40 years. I know you’re there.”
Each one of them gave pretty much the same answer. They have the same lifelines they’ve been using since the Great Depression: Family, neighbours, the church and the service clubs. I drove into town and saw one of the Men in Kilts delivering groceries to a shut-in. The food banks were scrambling to rearrange their services to protect their volunteers and staff. The churches were moving their services online and doing their best to match the ‘haves’ in the community to the ‘have-nots.’ As one of the ministers said to me, “it’s not what happens inside the church that really matters. It’s what you do outside the church that makes all the difference.”
I looked around the farm to see what I could do to make a difference and realized I had a great surplus of eggs. So many people have dumped their backyard chickens on me this past winter because of divorce and vacations that I am now getting two dozen eggs a day, which is far more than we can use. But a host of pettifogging public health rules against handing out ungraded eggs to a food bank forced me into guerilla action. I am just stashing them in mailboxes down the sideroad. Better to seek forgiveness than ask permission.
The minister says head office has ordered him to close the church and vacate the building, because the church is not listed as an essential service. But a food bank is essential so what is to be done? The virus can live on all sorts of surfaces and, at the time of writing, authorities were warning that groceries could be a possible vector. So common sense would dictate that a church food bank should keep going, but be sure to wipe down the groceries and deliver them to doorsteps. We’ll see what happens.
Social distancing is something farmers and writers have always been pretty good at. Writers have to practice it to get anything done at all. And a farmer’s first instinct is to climb into a big machine by himself and travel in circles for days on end. As we enter the growing season, farmers are going to do what they do best and will produce a whole lot of food without very much encouragement required. No one is shrieking about the possibility of food shortages in Canada just yet. That’s because we already produce and consume 70 % of our own food. The most likely shortages will appear in the fresh produce aisle that has long relied on California, Mexico, Florida and South America to supply it out of season. But give the Holland Marsh farmers a reason to produce more carrots and onions and you will see results in a very short time. This is also a week that we should be thankful for supply-managed dairy and poultry, not an easy pill to swallow for those who believe freedom of markets is more important than national food security.
Here on the sideroad, we are having a lot of conversations from truck windows parked at least six feet away from each other. I’ve actually talked to more people in the last week than I have all winter. Distancing turns out to be merely a matter of geography. The socializing continues at a much more active rate than is normal for us. Even my old guys lunch club is visiting every Wednesday online using “Reply All,” a button we are normally trained to avoid at all costs.
Through it all, my wife has been walking around the house with a smug look on her face saying “I told you so!” She has been prepared for nuclear winter since 1987 and our basement looks like a survivalist mail-order warehouse. She is cooking up a storm for our unemployed children who have returned to the safety of the farm to ride this thing out. By my calculations, we will run out of supplies sometime in early 2024.
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.