It has been a full month. In just a few short weeks it would seem the whole world has done a spin on its end, we’re fighting over fruit and vegetables, the entire population has taken up running and toilet roll has become rarer than gold dust! I jest, of course, but what a time to be alive.
Never in my life did I think I’d have to answer the question, “What’s it like, farming in a pandemic?”. In fact, ask me 4 weeks ago and I probably wouldn’t have been able to properly define ‘a pandemic’. In all honesty, life for most farmers (and in a total disparity to the rest of the population), hasn’t really changed all that much. Our cows have apparently never heard of ‘furlough’ and they still gather at the gates of the parlour, every morning, and every evening, waiting patiently to clock in for their milking shift.
Our ewes decided they’d like to continue to #WFH (Work From Home) and would be requiring one bag of ewe nuts everyday (along with a big field of lush grass) so that they can continue to care for their little lambs – it’s a hard life!
And Kate (our Red Collie) and number one ‘Key Worker’ on the farm hasn’t quite grasped the concept of social distancing, taking her role of ‘quadbike co-pilot’ extremely seriously, sitting tight behind on the seat and never lifting her foot off the driver’s thigh.
Humour as a Coping Mechanism During the Pandemic
I’ve found humour a great coping mechanism in what has truly become one of the strangest times in my memory. Whilst the whole world seems to grind to a halt, it has suddenly become the responsibility of workers who were previously overlooked, to get us to our feet again. Nurses, cleaners, delivery drivers, shop assistants and indeed farmers (amongst others) have all been defined as key workers in society, each playing an important role in maintaining some sort of normality in a very abnormal time.
Having to classify our life into essential and non-essential has been a strange one too. Ultimately though, I think the pandemic has helped to give folk a greater perspective on the things that really matter. Our family around us, the value of our friendships, the food on our tables and the great outdoors have become some of our main focuses over the past few weeks. These are the sort of values that have carried the farming community for centuries, and I feel very fortunate that I’ll still be surrounded by these same values long after the pandemic has passed.
Challenges of the Pandemic for Farmers
I’d be lying, however, if I told you I found the whole thing easy. In the past I've discovered I am very much the type of person who depends on interactions with others. Farming can take a hit on your social life as it is. Early nights and weekend working often mean you have to skip out on social events. However, it was still something I liked to make time for every now and then.
Whilst I’m used to not seeing folk outside of my own family or farm during the day, I was definitely one to make best use of my evenings. Skipping off to Young Farmers and seeing friends had become my escapism from my job, allowing me to switch off from thinking about cows for a few hours! It’s been difficult to adjust, but I’ve been encouraged by folk who have found new ways of maintaining contact (and craic) throughout what could have become, a very quiet few weeks.
Some Positive Aspects of the Pandemic
So with that, (and all the negativity surrounding the pandemic), I thought instead I’d throw together a bit of a list of the positives! Recently-released figures have suggested that air quality in a number of regions around the globe has seen an improvement since the beginning of the pandemic. With flights grounded and less traffic bustling around busy cities, (but the same number of cows and scale of farming activities) maybe the cows aren’t to blame after all…
We’re buying local produce
With ques of eager shoppers snaking around supermarket car parks, more and more people have begun to venture towards local butchers, farm shops and greengrocers for their produce. This is great for local economies, as we pull together to make sure everyone has what they need whilst supporting those closest to us in our communities. I hope that these habits continue after the pandemic is over, we’re proud of what we produce, and we like to see our locals enjoy it too!
Community spirit has strengthened
It's been encouraging to see people ‘pull together’, even whilst apart. With food donations, handmade scrubs for NHS workers and online campaigns aimed to boost morale – we’re really starting to see the true value of the communities we’re part of. My Young Farmers club has been running an online social media campaign, highlighting the work that its members have been doing on their farms throughout lockdown. It’s brought us closer as a club as we recognise that we’re truly all in this together!
We’re seeing the real value in our key workers
Not too long ago, it was announced that those in our workforce earning under £26k (and with jobs such as care workers, nurses, hospital porters and agricultural labourers) were to be deemed “low-skilled”. Now, we’re seeing the real value of having a multifaceted workforce of people, all doing what they can to try and hang on to normality for those who are currently unable to work. Farmers are doing what they can to continue to keep our shelves and fridges full and we’ve all got a massive gratitude to pay to those who are putting themselves on the frontline. We will forever be indebted to the sacrifice of those in our NHS.
Appreciating the great outdoors
Maybe I'm a little bit biased here, but since we haven’t been able to go to restaurants, concerts, bars and do other indoor activities, we have all started to appreciate the natural world more. We have come to learn that the parks, outdoor spaces, and countryside are safe spaces during a pandemic and many of us now spend a great deal of time in the countryside.
I hope you have found this post hopeful in the midst of the pandemic. Remember,
“Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise”, French Poet, Victor Hugo.
Stay safe, stay home, and we’ll be together again soon!