April 5, 2020
Dr. Jonathan Lundgren
Like many, I am thinking about social isolation right now. And asking the question: What does society look like when the COVID19 virus has run its course?
After we move past this short-term strategy of social isolation, the solutions to the COVID19 virus are unavoidably tied to the land. And the legacy of it will be a society with a high sense of worth for each other and a respect for the natural world that sustains us.
As usual, we can learn a lot from farmers.
The farming community began a process of social isolation in the 1940s. A slow attrition where we allowed technology to replace our connection with the natural world. Whenever we use technology to supplant biology, we lose the roots of who we are, both as a society and as a species.
Rural communities were once vibrant, with neighbors helping neighbors, and families working together to be a part of the land. Success was measured in little things. Bringing a new lamb into the world. Teaching a little one how to start the seeds in the garden or collect the chicken eggs. Or helping an elderly neighbor put up his hay (or vice versa).
But society didn’t measure progress and success in the currency paid on a farm. Success began to be measured in money, efficiency, and industry. And as the next generation moved to the cities, farming larger, simpler commodities with fewer people became the trajectory that has ruled ever since.
Arguably, social isolation within our farming communities has resulted in farmers being one of the most economically and psychologically depressed communities with the highest suicide rates of any profession in the U.S. The parallels with what we are experiencing in the rest of society right now are palpable.
The exciting and hopeful message from watching the evolution of farming is that we can see the other side of the tunnel. It was hard to get here, and we have a bit farther to travel, but the future of food production and rural communities looks really good.
By focusing on soil health and promoting life on a farm, regenerative farmers are growing healthier food for their local communities and are making more money. And stacking diverse enterprises (growing multiple crops and livestock) into a small farm is the key to these farms’ resilience and profitability.
Consumers are recognizing the importance of food in their lives. We have time and need to cook again, and pay attention to what food we are consuming. Producing food for local communities rather than world commodities is quickly gaining steam across the country.
Profitability and knowing your farmer are the foundations of vibrant communities. Regenerative agriculture keeps healthy food close to its community, and provides opportunities for the next generation of farmers to thrive on.
But to get to this style of farming, we had to experience what social isolation of our rural communities felt like. We had to see it and feel its consequences.
I am NOT saying that we should not practice social distancing right now. We should. And we have painfully been practicing this ourselves at Ecdysis Foundation. It will allow our medical workers to cope with an onslaught of seriously ill people. Those militant people who feel that their rights are infringed upon are going to feel the sting when their loved ones succumb to a virus whose full effects they could have prevented.
But still, we also need to realize that there needs to be a clear and logical goal to our social distancing; we aren’t going to stop COVID-19 and that shouldn’t be the goal. Because overinvesting in social distancing has a cost that may be greater than any virus, and that is really hard to see right now because we are justifiably afraid. Family and friends, faith, and connection to our food and the land are powerful allies.
The history and future hope of our rural communities are showing us some pretty exciting answers to this crisis, and now is the time to reflect and listen.
Dr. Jonathan Lundgren is director of the Ecdysis Foundation that uses science and education to fuel the regenerative agriculture movement. He also runs the regenerative Blue Dasher Farm in Estelline, SD. www.ecdysis.bio and www.bluedasher.farm