Letter from the Editor, Spring 2020

Never before has our work as farmers and stewards been so important. 

In times like these — when uncertainty upsets the daily rhythms of our communities — we agriculturists have the opportunity to tap into timeless rhythms of a new season and deliver on a call to action.  

Whether you farm, homestead or garden, you can grow more food.  We have a history of rallying to grow more food during times of national crisis. During WWII, the U.S. channeled citizens’ energy into practical action by encouraging Victory Gardens. By doubling efforts at home and on the farm, we strengthened our communities and provided hope in a time of stress. Now, we need Resilience Gardens.  

Your farming and even gardening efforts are, by nature, optimistic! Through hard work, you turn sunshine into real food for your community. Ramping up your production efforts is a practical step you can take to feed more of the people around you.  

What else can we in agriculture do now to further support our communities over the next year? Here are a few initial ideas about how you can take care of yourself, the farm, and your local community. 

  • Take care of your farm’s most important asset: you. Wash your hands more frequently and make sure you are getting adequate sleep. We need our strength these days. 
  • Don’t think social distancing means social isolation. We are being asked to practice social distancing to slow the spread of the virus, but we have many ways to keep and grow our connections with each other. Call someone. Stay connected to those around you. Ask for help. Offer help. We are in this together. 
  • Reach out to farmers and community members around you that you know are having challenges. Now is the time to strengthen the fabric of our own communities by increasing our social connections. Pick up the phone and call them. It is that simple. 
  • Release stress. In times of stress, it helps to take a pause and slow down. Do what works for you, such as: 
    • Laugh, pray, dance, meditate, chat with friends. 
    • Practice tactical breathing. Inhale, count to five, and then exhale slowly to help clear your head and steady your hands. 
  • Intensify or expand your production plans, where you can. In the face of possible shifts in our global food system, eating locally will be an important strategy to respond to potential disruptions. 
  • Bring extra farm product to food banks, or work with gleaning organizations. We have always had people in need in our communities, but this pandemic could make things worse for those most vulnerable. As a producer, you have the ability to help ease some of that suffering. 
  • Revisit your farm’s food safety plan, especially the health and personal hygiene plan. Keep yourself and your employees in good health. 
  • Make a plan for running your farm if you, your family or employees get sick. Consider the scenarios of 10, 50 or 75% of farm labor out sick for 2 weeks and try to be realistic. Involve the whole farm team in this conversation. Reach out to neighbors or other farm friends who might be able to help. Here are some questions to consider: 
    • What farm operations must go on? What would be cascades or ripple effects if that activity stopped? Who would be responsible, and what happens if they are not available? 
    • What operations or activities could be put on hold? 
    • How can we cross-train our team now to better cover our bases and be more resilient? 
    • Who is willing to pitch in and help if you are out of commission for two weeks? Anyone off the farm you could call upon?
    • Could you step up to help a neighbor? 
  • Prepare for market changes. We are already seeing impacts of this pandemic on wholesale and direct markets and getting calls from farmers who are concerned. Customers may shy away where there are crowds. What creative solutions could help address these concerns and keep customers connected to our locally-grown food? 

We are continuing to collect ideas and will be sharing more about how we can come together to get through this time of crisis on our website and in our newsletters. You can share your own ideas with us at: https://smallfarms.cornell.edu/resources/small-farms-newsletter/building-farm-resilience-in-this-crisis/ 

Also, you’ll see that in the “News from the Cornell Small Farms Program” we are including some upcoming events we plan to host. We share these with the caveat that some of our plans may need to shift in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. I hope that by the time you read this, things have settled a bit.   

Please make sure you are signed up for our Small Farms Newsletter. Through these emails we will be sharing the most up-to-date information about future events. 

As farmers and gardeners, we have tremendous biological wealth. While we may not always have cash, we have access to soil, plants and animals that are the foundation of life. We can share that wealth and help lead our communities through this time of struggle. 

Reach out to us if you need help. We may not have all the answers, but we can listen with compassion and try to connect you with resources. Please also share your stories of hope! 

We are in this together, 

Anu Rangarajan 

Editor-in-Chief, Small Farms Quarterly 

Director, Cornell Small Farms Program 

Anu Rangarajan

Anu was appointed director the Cornell Small Farms Program in 2004. At the same time, she opened a U-pick strawberry farm in Freeville, NY. The experience of operating a small farm changed her entire approach to research and extension, and deepened her commitment to NY farms and local food systems.