Editorial: Food system resilience should be priority

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We only had a small amount of COVID-19 coverage in our last issue of Farmtario. What a difference in a couple of weeks, as our world has been turned upside down.

Who knows what the news will be by the time you get our latest newspaper. The situation is changing so quickly, but it looks like we are in for a long haul.

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Many of us are at home bereft of the activities, pleasures and travels and in many cases, work, that have given our lives meaning.

Many of us are able to do other things that we haven’t had time for, and we are able to spend time with our closest family. We’re finding new meaning and I hope everyone can make that happen.

I feel immensely blessed that we live on a farm. We have animals to tend, projects to do, plantings to plan and my children have places to run and create adventures. Plus, we’re naturally socially isolated. I can’t imagine knocking around in a small apartment next to hundreds of other people.

We have decent high speed internet (but fibre someday please) and my wife and I both can work from home with minimal interruption.

Other farmers are going about their work, most of it from home as usual. One of the great things about rural life — and indeed part of what might draw certain people to farming — is the ease of social distancing.

Many farmers’ social lives are based around the acquiring of inputs and intelligence for their farm — the coffee shop, the run for parts, the visit of the milk truck driver or feed truck driver, a visit to the elevator or crop input centre.

That’s going to have to stop for now. But all of those activities, integral to the farm, can be accomplished within the bounds of social distancing. Wave to the milk truck driver. Text the feed supplier with detailed instructions. Let the driver delivering seed know where to go before she arrives.

Many agricultural businesses no longer have their doors open, but they’re still there to provide service. You have to call or knock to receive your product. This is prudent and effective given the situation we are in.

There’s no reason crops can’t be planted and fertilized and sprayed. It may be a lonely season, but be thankful to be out on the land instead of stuck inside. Reach out to others if you’re feeling too much stress. Call people as you’re cultivating or planting.

Livestock farmers will have greater anxiety as they are reliant on less flexible systems. Auction barns continue to operate, but have created policies to keep people numbers down. Meat processing plants rely on significant volumes of workers who have to come together to get the product finished. They need to stay open.

The government needs to prioritize the food system, as I believe it has. It’s the key to maintaining societal health, cohesion and stability. There have been some temporary shortages on grocery shelves. But the beauty is that they are temporary.

Our food system in Canada may be the strongest and most resilient in human history. There are pillars, however, that must not fall, including open grocery stores, the integrity of the transportation chain, import and export of food and the ability of farmers to get food produced efficiently and effectively.

The several days of confusion around the ability of seasonal and temporary foreign workers to arrive in Canada are a good example of the government needing to put every decision through a food and agriculture lens. The right decision was eventually made, but the days of confusion had a cost.

I am willing to give the government some leeway. There are decisions being made each day with immense impact.

There’s significant content we’ve created on COVID-19 that you’re not seeing in this newspaper, as it is, or could be, out of date by the time the paper arrives.

For the most-recent information visit our website, or even better, have it delivered to you each morning with our daily email newsletter. You can subscribe for free on our website.

Our most breaking news is on our Twitter feed @farmtario. We’ve been reporting immediately there on Prime Minister Trudeau’s daily updates.

Humanity shows its best in crises. There are examples of this across the rural Ontario landscape with volunteer fire departments delivering groceries to those who shouldn’t go out, neighbours checking in on neighbours and local stores finding unique ways to make sure people get the goods they need. This may be a long crisis, and we’ve certainly seen nothing like it in almost 100 years.

Take your responsibilities seriously. Isolate if not to look after yourself, but to save others. And above all, be kind.

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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