AgriCulture: The Pause That Distresses

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At the Passover Seder we learned again that each generation achieves a new advance in freedom. But somehow I’m not sure that the COVID “resisters” in Michigan are quite what the Haggadah had in mind. Nope, no dictatorial government is going to limit their right to peaceably assemble, and thus interfere with their constitutionally conferred right to infect each other with a potentially deadly virus. Like the pastors who insist on their congregants’ God-given right to share the virus by worshiping together at church, they believe no secular public health official had better interfere.

These resisters believe any limitation on personal autonomy, even to protect defenseless others, is an overreach. Government is an evil institution bent on control for its own sake; individuals and businesses should be left alone to do what’s best for them. Remarkably, our President has egged the Freedom to Infect crowd on. Presidential advisor Steven Miller has likened them to Rosa Parks refusing to sit in the back of a Birmingham bus.

Sure, after a month of confinement all of us are more than a little unhappy. Even here in the relatively less restricted environment of the farm, my narrowed existence makes me occasionally short-fused. That’s why I’ve been tempted to mutter toward these resisters my mother’s worst curse from an earlier epidemic: “Ein Khaleria (or Kholere) af deer.” (Khaleria is Yiddish for shrew or bitch; Kholere is Cholera. My mother pronounced it Khaleria, but she told me it meant “A Cholera on You.”) The sense is: “Go ahead and ‘resist’; you should only get the plague you deserve.” A bout of COVID-19, starting a week after the protest, might teach the resisters a lesson about social responsibility.

But then I think of the innocents who might become sick from interacting with these “resisters” and I think no, don’t go ahead. The government should be able to step in to protect us from a virus just as it should from a shoe bomb. To my mind, America has become the world’s COVID epicenter not because of a government that did too much, but rather a government that did too little. And if the government effectively took over more of what we’ve entrusted to the private sector and the marketplace, we might be in better shape.

Everyone is now aware of the shortage of beds and ventilators that resulted from leaving decisions to individual bottom-line driven hospitals. But other examples abound. Take my experience with the financial stimulus package. The bipartisan CARES Act included a Paycheck Protection Program that funds banks to lend money to small businesses so they keep people on payroll when there is no work. Like my law firm office manager, whom I pay to stay home while my colleague Chris and I work remotely. I turned to my bank, Capital One, which emblazons on its website the slogan “We are here to help our customers impacted by the COVID-19 virus situation” for such a loan.

For about a week into the program, the website advised me to be patient, the bank was running a pilot with some selected customers and would soon be able to take digital applications. “Soon” never came for me. Eventually that notice was replaced by another advising what kind of information would be needed to make the application, but saying they were still not ready to take them. I was instructed to click on a “contact me” link so they would get back to me when ready to process applications. When I first tried the link did not exist. When I tried to phone in for help, the extension to which I was directed was dead. The website instructed not to come into any branch for information. The last phone number I had for my account “relationship manager” was constantly busy. Ultimately, a day or so later the “contact me” link appeared. I signed up. I still have not been contacted.

While Capital One dithered, I called other banks. The first two told me they had been overwhelmed and could serve only their existing customers. I decided not to waste my time looking further. As I waited for Capital One, I and many other patient small businesses learned this week that the money for the program had run out.

Capital One’s website page for this program now claims it has “urged Congress to act quickly to authorize additional funding” and that it will “continue to accept and prepare applications for submission to the SBA.” But in the absence of any sign that the bank has been accepting and preparing my application, or even that it has an available application form, I don’t believe this. And this is the private sector, I wonder, that these resisters and their cheerleader, President Trump, thinks should run things?

I had a similar reaction when I read about all the food big agriculture was destroying last week because it had no capacity to distribute it. “Dumped Milk, Smashed Eggs, Food Waste of the Pandemic” (New York Times, April 11). That’s right, you may not have been able to find milk, onions or eggs at your supermarket last week (“U.S. Food Supply Chain Is Strained as Virus Spreads” New York Times, April 13) but it’s not for lack of production. It’s because big ag could not change its packaging and distribution systems to redirect food from restaurants and institutions to home consumers, where the market had shifted. Reading about farmers on the verge of tears as they were plowing under crops, dumping milk or smashing eggs led me to wonder whether this was the result of a failure of imagination. Why couldn’t big ag have tried to coordinate with major anti-hunger groups to figure out innovative ways of storing production while distribution was reconfigured? For whatever reason, the agricultural enterprises, acting in their own financial self interest, found it more feasible to destroy the food than find a way to get it into hungry stomachs.

Ultimately, according to theweek.com, this Friday the federal government announced a program to, among other things, buy $3 billion in agricultural production and have it repackaged to distribute to those in need. “Government Steps in to Purchase Agricultural Products” (theweek.com, April 16): You can cynically see this as President Trump again throwing money at agriculture to keep rural voters loyal as they suffer the consequences of his policy failures. But there’s a positive aspect to this program, and it seems apparent that it’s the sort of solution than only government really can achieve.

Whatever satisfaction the “resisters” may get from voicing their creed of savage individualism, they too would ultimately benefit from a competent government acting in the collective interest. Even if there’s no competence at the top, there’s plenty in the states and the federal bureaucracy. The “pause” in normal activity will be with us in some form for quite a while and is devastating. But letting COVID-19, the country’s new leading cause of death, run rampant would be far worse.

WHAT’S NEW THIS WEEK

RHUBARB! The first stalks of reasonable size of “the Spring Tonic”, and they survived the snow of last night and this morning, which has now melted away. Limited supply this week, lots more next. $5/lb.

WHAT’S AVAILABLE THIS WEEK
Tiny hot matchbox peppers, $5.00 a string, dried and quite decorative.
Fresh dug horseradish root, $3/lb.
Sorrel, small leaves, small bunches, $1/bunch
Rhubarb $5/lb
EGGS: $5/doz, $3/doz (fun size)

MEATS: We keep some on hand, but it helps to order ahead in case we need to retrieve from our stash in the big commercial freezer. See below.

ROASTING CHICKENS – Nice fat Freedom Rangers, frozen, largish (6 to 7 lbs,), $6/lb.

LAMB: small loin chops, $14/lb., leg of lamb $14/lb, lamb shoulder roast $7/lb.

PORK: Loin pork chops, $12/lb (2 to a pack, btwn 1 and 1.5 lbs),
Spare ribs and country ribs $7/lb
fresh ham roasts (2 to 3 lbs), $12/lb
smoked bacon, $12/lb

FARM PICKUPS:

Email us your order at farm@turkanafarms.com, and let us know when you’d like to pick up your order. It will be put out for you on the side screened porch of the farmhouse (110 Lasher Ave., Germantown) in a bag. You can leave cash or a check in the now famous pineapple on the porch table. Regular pickup times are Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. to 5 p.m., other days by arrangement. If you have questions, don’t hesitate to call at 518-537-3815 or email.



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