When a New Yorker is dying every 10 minutes as a result of the Coronavirus epidemic, does the state of life on our farm matter? In a moment of crisis that has upended the lives and routines of hundreds of millions in this country alone, of what relevance is a place in which the rhythm of life insistently plods on uninterrupted, from chore time to planting time to pruning time to chore time, as it has for decades? “What can I possibly say?” has been my dilemma this week, as I struggle to write my self-assigned bulletin and to remain in dialogue with our customers, colleagues and friends
I could point out that even the farm is not safe from the pandemic, that our feeling of being on the periphery is really an illusion. We interact with the world outside and Infections in rural America have begun to take off. But to accentuate our risk would be to fail to acknowledge the particular pain of cities, particularly New York City, which because of its close interface with the rest of the world and the density of living circumstances offers particularly fertile ground for a highly contagious virus to get introduced and be transmitted. Even at the peak of the epidemic weeks down the road, we in Germantown are unlikely to hear the round the clock ring of sirens already being heard right now in our beloved major metropolis. It may be bad here. We are all likely to know someone who is lost as a result of this pandemic. But it won’t be as catastrophic as in New York City. To my friends and neighbors there, particularly those who are fighting the illness, I send a message of love and support.
I could try to address the moral ambiguities and guilt of those of us who live both in the City and the country and have taken refuge in the country. As was true of those who escaped the annual yellow fever epidemics in New Orleans in the 19th century, it is largely people of privilege who can reduce the risk of an epidemic by moving away from it. And with the Coronavirus, there is the very real danger that those who move will bring the virus with them and overload rural health systems unequipped to deal with the volume of cases brought by seasonal visitors.
But I would, in discussing this migration, have to point out that the virus would have arrived through commerce even without that migration, as it has throughout the country. By coming here, these refugees help reduce density and avoid even more intense transmission in the City. As part time residents they are already integral parts of the local community, and they infuse needed dollars into a local economy about to be hit by a pandemic-induced recession. So to those who would attack the pandemic refugees, I send a message to “cool it.”
I could try to use the farm to illustrate the far-reaching economic consequences of this pandemic. Because even for a place with as microscopic a production as ours, we’ve seen a considerable shift in our business. On the one hand, sale of our frozen meats has taken off as supplies in supermarkets have been exhausted. In the past two weeks, we’ve sold close to 60 of the Freedom Ranger chickens we raised and froze last summer, way more than we sold in the previous three months. We’ve sold so much so that we’ve stopped offering them on the Farm2Tables wholesale app and are holding the remaining stash for our regular individual customers.
On the other hand, our egg sales have gone down. With me sheltering in place here, we are no longer delivering to our weekly egg customers in and around my New York home. Even more significantly, the restaurants which were taking the overwhelming portion of our production through the Farm2Tables app have now closed. There has been some uptick in individuals’ purchase of eggs from the farm, something my sister advised is part of a national trend for “stress baking” that has egg consumption up about 44% from a year ago (https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2020/03/26/shortages-eggs-stress-baking/). But the chief beneficiary of our sales drop off has been our contribution of eggs to a local food bank.
Such adjustments in the stream of commerce are, however, to be expected at times of social, political or natural cataclysms. It is assumed that humans adjust to new circumstances, and such behavior does not require much commentary. From this farm’s perspective, what is more deserving of commentary is the emergence of an unlikely set of heroes who are essential but usually unappreciated actors in the food distribution system once the food leaves the farm — those who sell face to face to customers, stocking store shelves, operating cash registers, and making deliveries.
Our farm model has long been one of minimal close up contact with customers. We pack orders, leave them on a table or in a cooler chest on the porch, and the customers pick up the order, leaving a check or cash in the plastic pineapple put out for that purpose. They make their own change. But that model is only feasible when you have a small number of customers who you can know and trust. For any larger scale distribution system, you need people who come face to face with customers, touch the products they’ve touched, exchange bills or receipts, or hand deliveries to them.
I was struck by what it means to provide this service when I went to our local Germantown Package Store, Lawlor’s, to stock up yesterday. The proprietor, Jim Lawlor, clad in disposable gloves, had undertaken a constant regimen of cleaning door handles and surfaces. He policed the premises to allow only two customers at a time in the small space. He nonetheless served all comers with a welcoming grace, even while recognizing that by doing so he put himself at risk. He has now determined that it is feasible for him, as a small store, to transition to an exclusively phone order and pick-up system, which he will do starting Monday, to better protect both customers and himself. But that does not diminish the risk he has borne up to now to keep his customers supplied with what in my view is a most essential commodity, a risk which larger stores like his will have to continue to bear.
Like public transit operators, first responders and medical professionals, those engaged in direct food distribution roles cannot be selective about who they deal with. Though not as close up as nurses or dentists, they still bear a significant degree of risk, one that is not offset by high pay or benefits. We rely on them. Their willingness to continue doing their job is in some ways quite remarkable. I was pleased when the New York City-wide clap of appreciation for essential providers included those engaged in food distribution. To those generally unsung heroes I join the applause and send a message of gratitude
WHAT’S NEW THIS WEEK:
Sorrel has appeared and we should be able to sell small bunches by next week. In the meantime, we have eggs for the stress bakers and egg lovers among you. Our small fresh frozen hams are delicious and easy, between 1.5 and 2.5 lbs. And our large freedom ranger chickens are now exclusively sold here.
WHAT’S AVAILABLE THIS WEEK
Tiny hot matchbox peppers, $5.00 a string, dried and quite decorative.
Fresh dug horseradish root, $3/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, a few smaller), $6/lb.
LAMB: Riblets $8/lb, small and larger leg roasts $14/lb, small loin chops, $14/lb.
PORK: Loin pork chops, $12/lb (2 to a pack, btwn 1 and 1.5 lbs),
fresh ham roasts (2 to 3 lbs), $12/lb
smoked bacon, $12/lb
Email us your order at email@example.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.