In this week’s column David Zirnhelt shares some thoughts about the impact of COVID-19, from an agricultural perspective. (Monica Lamb-Yorski photo - Williams Lake Tribune)

In this week’s column David Zirnhelt shares some thoughts about the impact of COVID-19, from an agricultural perspective. (Monica Lamb-Yorski photo - Williams Lake Tribune)

COLUMN: What is happening with small farms and ranches?

What are the repercussions of this poverty on our more comfortable lives on the land?

Like many people in our situation, significantly isolated, I feel good about the amount of time I have to declutter, do on-farm renovations, and keep up with the world developments online.

Recently, National Geographic magazine tracked the huge impact of COVID-19 on poverty in the world. What are the repercussions of this poverty on our more comfortable lives on the land conducting food growing as an essential service?

When someone close to you contracts COVID, then you face the reality that is faced by those on the front lines of health care and those who have loved ones isolated to various degrees.

Would you or I risk our own lives to hold that loved one one last time if they were being taken from us in an ICU, or wasting away emotionally and physically in a senior’s care facility?

What this crisis has impressed on me is that we have to get back to what is important in life: preparing for an after-life (if you are a believer), doing so mindfully respecting the here and now, taking care of this beautiful place — earth, and trying to make a difference by keeping it healthy and restoring degraded spots.

There is one more important (critical) matter: trying to help those isolated without the means to take care of themselves either physically or emotionally.

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Part of our entitlement in a free society is the freedom to travel and explore our potential to become and refine who we are as an individual. However, we need to remember that we are not islands onto ourselves but part of a larger society and a global economy.

What we want for ourselves, we should want for others provided that wanting does not take away from others’ needs.

Freedom from hunger and a meaningful role in our body politic might be two of those things.

I will use two examples of things our western society does that should give us pause for concern.

The first, according to a recent article I have read, most of the soya that is produced in the world is done on recently deforested land which faces a huge loss of soil. This soya is used in large part for raising animal proteins for human food.

Our efforts to “feed the world” are undermining our future food supply. In my view a world dependent on more and more technology alone without paying attention to the natural capacity to grow food in and on soil, will increasingly deplete our ability to sustain an already over populated world.

The second example is that recently the UN Food and Agriculture Organization has published an extensive analysis of the gaps in knowledge about biodiversity in our soils. They say by forty years from today we will have degraded the skin of the earth (thin layer of soil) such that we will, as food producers, never catch up to our current needs, never mind the needs of a growing population.

What awaits the increasingly dislocated (think emigration and immigration) societies in terms of human misery, I can only barely imagine.

In face of this prospect of worldwide instability, oppression will be used by more tyrannical regimes. What can we do?

The answer might just come from one of the architects of western civilization (Voltaire) who when faced with confronting the issues caused by European colonization of the “second and third” worlds, famously wrote “il faut cultiver son jardin” which is to say that one must cultivate one’s own garden, first.

In other words, first take care of yourself and those around you. This is how we keep ourselves strong enough to have time, energy and money to work with others around us (consumers) to build sustainable practices, not the least of which is the food system- local and global.

I remember that the birth of agriculture happened because societies were struggling to overcome the feast and famine cycle by growing and storing food for when we need it.

Our humanity will be judged by the impacts we have locally and more globally in trying to be food secure.

Farmers and ranchers can take this challenge staring us in the face, if we care to look.

Many are taking up the challenge including very large players in the food system.

Read more: B.C. struggles with local food production in COVID-19 pandemic

David Zirnhelt is a rancher and member of the Cariboo Cattlemen’s Association. He is also chair of the Advisory Committee for the Applied Sustainable Ranching Program at TRU.


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