Editorial: Check in with neighbours during COVID winter

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I miss talking to people by accident, running into them somewhere I’d not expect to see them.

With some important steps to reduce risk, most of us, especially in rural Ontario, are back to work.

However, we’re in a constrained new world, which will increasingly wear on people as the year ticks on and the inability for random conversations will affect the level of innovation in the economy.

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There’s significant value from networking. Call it what you want – coffee shop talk, hospitality suite discussions after a couple of rye and Cokes, or talking to people in your community at the hockey rink or the dance studio – but we’re not having random conversations like we used to. I know there are significant businesses in the sector that have their genesis at farmers meetings or Canada’s Outdoor Farm Show.

It drives me nuts in the news business.

I put great value on being out in the agriculture community, attending meetings and conferences and trade shows. I pick up so much in random conversations with farmers and people who work in the industry. It’s where trends show up. When I hear the same thing from several farmers at the same event, I know there’s a story there.

I still make an effort to talk to people in the industry, but it’s not the same as the direction a conversation will go when a third and fourth person are able to randomly join the discussion.

Winter’s a struggle for many people, especially once you get to the grey doldrums of late February and early March. Get outside on sunny days. Do mental health checkups on friends and neighbours and especially seniors living alone in your community.

I don’t mean calling and telling them you’re calling for a mental health checkup (although that’s become remarkably more acceptable in five years), just see how they’re doing, check that they’re getting the food they need and that they are getting outside for some sunshine. Watch for indicators that their actions have changed or are becoming more reclusive.

My wife and I were feeling some sadness about Halloween this year and it has nothing to do with COVID restrictions. Our children are now in high school and they’ve made it clear trick or treating is over. Halloween has been our check in with neighbours we don’t see for other reasons, a socially acceptable chance to meet new people on the sideroad and to have a good chat with others. For some, our children have been their only Halloween visitors.

We’ve wondered about just dressing up ourselves, and seeing what candy we can score, but that might give us an even-more eccentric reputation.

The point is that in these strangely restricted times we need to find Halloween-type excuses to check in on our neighbours. You can’t invite them for dinner very well, but you can call, or text or drop in with some baking or dinner or flowers (although I’m not sure the widower beef farmers on the road would be that excited about the flowers).

Rural communities are strong, but in this coming COVID winter, we need to be more deliberate about caring for others than usual.

Good news for a change

I’ve had farmers say to me over the past few years “I’d just like to see a good and easy crop year again”.

After all the nastiness that 2020 has dished out, this is one of the nicest corn, soybean and wheat crops we’ve seen for years. And prices are rising at harvest – a rarity and a chance for farmers to sell crops at higher-than-expected prices while avoiding storage charges.

Before I get calls, there are always pockets of challenge in this diverse province. The corn wasn’t that great in the area around Brantford and in some parts of Lambton County. Eastern Ontario isn’t seeing the overall bumper year of southern Ontario. The harvest isn’t in the bin yet and we’re into a bit of October piddly rain dreariness. Vegetable and fruit growers had serious labour challenges.

But think about it. Insects stayed home for the most part. Crops were planted in good time into fit soils. That meant rapid establishment. A warm June and July moved the crops along and then August rains filled out soybean pods without bringing vomitoxin infections to corn. The fall has been open, and lower in rainfall. The reward is higher-than-average yields.

In a crazy 2020 we’ll take it.

About the author

Editor

John Greig

John Greig has spent his career in agriculture journalism and communications. He lives on a farm near Ailsa Craig, Ontario. Contact John at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @jgreig

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