One Degree of Separation

With our lives in a new state of constant flux, Mac offers a look at what’s happening at Elmwood Stock Farm through a journal of sorts. We plan to offer this journal over the next few weeks, as we all experience life in the new normal together.

Friday, March 13; 6 a.m.: One Degree of Separation

School systems are shuttering for two-three-four weeks. Any gathering of people over 250 are disallowed, over 100 frowned upon. Air travel must be pretty dang important, restaurants wondering what they did wrong since they do know how to wash their hands. Big Blue Nation silenced. People working from home, to limit transmission lines, even no church for Christ’s sake. This is real. 

I have several iterations of “What if” scenarios buried in this laptop, not wanting to go there. “What if” is now “what is.” Let’s look at feeding ourselves during the lockdown, and the months, even years, that lay ahead for that matter. 

First, the biology of what we are dealing with. A double helix genetic code sequence, not before recognized by humans on this planet, mutated and is now living among us, in the form of a virus. No human alive today has any resistance to this contagion. The human race is beginning its resistance-building capability to a nasty little creature that wreaks havoc on our respiratory system. Those of us with a robust  microbiome (thousands upon thousands of species of bacteria-fungi-viruses-yeasts-etc.) will fight it tooth and nail where it will die off without being able to gain a foothold. Kind of like the good kids running a bully off the playground. Those of us in compromised physical health will have more trouble fighting it off. Over time, the collective will win out.

To keep the little bugger from running rampant while we all get inoculated, close quarters with strangers is not indicated. It makes sense to lay low, simply to slow down the rate of transmission. Since we are dealing with something never seen before, we have no idea how long this lifestyle change will be in effect. I don’t see flipping a switch in two weeks for things to magically go back to normal. 

Saturday, March 14, 4 a.m.: We all have to eat

While we all hunker down for a while (not gonna catch me making some naively short time frame), we all need to eat. The fragile underbelly of our food supply is being exposed. More pressure will be imposed on big box supermarkets as we stay home more. Sounds like people are buying two weeks’ worth of stuff, metal shelving laid bare. 

Sure, they have warehouses for restocking sanitizers, foods, and hopefully TP. The thing is, the industry runs on just-in-time delivery into the warehouse. When the cheese sells, the processing plant gets an order for more, they and turn around and order more milk. If everybody starts eating more than normal, there will not be enough, so people will have to alter their normal eating habits. 

At his point, the trucking industry seems to be on track—keep your fingers crossed. Produce can be diverted from food service to retail, if they can get the bags and cartons the restaurants are not planning on needing. We will see in a few days how all the hoarding plays out.

The Lexington Farmers Market  is open this morning. As people flow through over the course of the morning this time of year, sadly never could it be called crowded. My wife noticed that farmers markets are still active in Italy, since open air venues greatly reduce the risk of transmission. We’re grateful to be seeing many of our customers this morning. 

Sunday, March 15; 10 a.m.: Markets, Deliveries and Farm Visitors

On Friday, we had several walk-ins to the farm store picking up a variety of meats and produce: some regulars who bought more than normal, others who found us online. We were hearing of more grocery hoarding, then at Lexington Farmers Market yesterday, Kevin said Wal-Mart in Danville ran out of t-sacks and is using plain white ones from Sam’s Club. Reading the tea leaves, we stocked up the freezers in the market trailer on Friday thinking some of our customers would avoid the urge to splurge at the grocery and source their provisions for the next few weeks at home from us. We thought there would either zero customers, or an uptick from weeks past—it could go either way. 

It was fascinating to witness human behavior at its finest. All the winter regulars came. The look of relief in their eyes as they approached said it all. Their confidence restored a bit, that they could get the food they so desperately depend on, still. The conversations subdued as we all worry about our fellow man. Not being able to hug one another in this time of need was difficult. Respectably, we all kept our distance, letting eye contact say all that needed to be said. 

Lots of other “pretty regulars” and “fairly regulars” also showed up to lend their emotional support, affording them the ability to relax a little hearing our assurance that we are OK and the healthful, nutrient-dense foods we offer will be available in the coming weeks, months, hopefully years. All in all, we had a big day in terms of market sales, boosting consumer confidence, and the kind words and praise from so many customers, who we consider friends, in this together. 

The farmers market folks seemed to have a sense of calm about it all. Smart social distancing, work from home, enjoy good food while spending quality time with loved ones. Everyone understands the need to flatten the curve of the outbreak so hospitals can handle the cases that do come in. We also need to come out the other side of the curve in time to make room in those same hospitals for all the newborns arriving for Christmas.

Behind the scenes on Saturday, we were making plans to home-deliver CSA shares into Cincinnati, since the winter Hyde Park Farmers Market normally held on Sundays closed because the Montessori school cafeteria we use was made unavailable. The HPFM managers notified their followers that farms like us are offering home delivery. We had several regulars put in good sized orders for Jenna to add to her run, improving the profitability of her drive north. 

Our hearts go out to those in the restaurant and tourism business. We have seen our wholesale orders drop precipitously last week, with the word on the streets that many will close temporarily, others permanently. 

The only known is that none of us know where this “thing” is taking us. My thinking is it will sink in, in a few days, that a two-three-fourweek hiatus from school and work and play and restauranting, and basketball, and shopping will change our collective perspective on what is important, with food security topping the list. 

We are seeing new Facebook and Instagram likes coming in today, apparently more people thinking about their long-term food security situation. 

Monday, March 16, 5:15 a.m.: The Season Ahead

Walked out from the house as I like to do about 5 this morning, the blackness dulling my sight yet enhancing my other senses. The first thing I noticed was the quiet surrounding me. The house is set back from Hwy 460, the main thoroughfare from Georgetown (I-75) and Paris, and points to the east. This morning, there were random passing vehicles, not the normal cacophony of engines roaring, tires whining, and occasional flap-flap of plastic tarps rattling in the wind. Even the whirling collective sound of I-75  to the west was a light hum. Every Christmas morning for the past 25 years, I have been out on the farm in the dark to hear the farm waking up without any background noise. This was similar.

It is reassuring that so many are at home where they should be. Respective social distancing. People stocked up supplies like prepping for snow, but there’s no snow, but also no place to go. We spent the weekend strategizing Elmwood Stock Farm’s own staffing/social distancing plans to grow and prepare food for “our people,” customers looking for food security. There are eggs to wash, trays to be seeded, cattle and sheep to rotate, baby chicks in the brooder. We are keeping our foot on the production gas pedal, even though none of us know where this alien being is taking us. 

As farmers, we make countless decisions about the weather and how we decide what to do when. The thing is, every rain could be the last, or the first of many for months to come, and it’s the same decision. This feels like that. We try to protect and plan a few weeks out but not set ourselves up for failure, whatever happens.

With that in mind, we are full-speed-ahead planting and planning. With the Hyde Park Farmers Market closed for the foreseeable future, and Lexington Farmers Market week by week at best, we are also evaluating our respectful social distancing distribution system. We are coming up with the best way to communicate with our customers, knowing they are not sure how things are going to work, either. Just call or email, and we can fix you up with an order to pick up at the farm or for home delivery.

Tuesday, March 17; 7 a.m.: Farmers Mitigate Risk

As certified organic farmers, we appreciate, understand, and follow regulatory principles. Having achieved our third-party food-safety certification, our production and handling capabilities consider every potential risk factor, from animal intrusion to product placement. We take this very seriously, as many of our foods are eaten raw and want to be a grand experience, every bite. 

A major component to mitigate risk is employee hygiene. Staff are trained on hand-washing guidelines, illness and injury policy, and produce-washing procedures. Today, we are having a COVID-19 staff training to reiterate personal hygiene, staff social distancing, maybe work from home, eat lunch in shifts. 

This kind of logic is exactly what we have done before, when we see a fungal outbreak in the greenhouse or a respiratory something in the turkey poults from excessive rainy spells. In the greenhouse, the problematic plants are rouged out, the ones nearby, yet less impacted, spaced out to breathe better and air out. Poultry are watched closely, taken to the drier air and wood shavings in brooder room to convalesce. The cattle are a closed herd, meaning all the living-breathing bovines out here were born here, no fear of somebody bringing something in. Having thought about this kind of thing as part of farming philosophy, we are doing our part to ensure you will receive thoughtfully produced wholesome foods from us. —Mac Stone

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