Picture This. All hell is breaking loose in the outside world. The stock market has crashed. You’ve been asked to stay home from work. The Governor has cancelled school for the remainder of the year. NBA is cancelled, NCAA is cancelled. You are being asked to stay 10 feet away from people and to remain home unless leaving is absolutely essential. You’ve spent the last week face-timing with friends and homeschooling your kids, and catching up on writing projects while watching the rest of the world descend deeper and deeper into chaos. Nobody has come to visit you because A. you live deep in the country and B. nobody is supposed to visit anybody.
Right about then is when I got a visit from a sheriff. Generally speaking, I feel comfortable around law enforcement. Some of this has to do with the structural privilege my intersecting identity brings and the rest has to do with working as a mental health clinician and developing a professional relationship through this experience. Despite this general level of comfort, I am never comfortable when law enforcement pays me a visit. I thought he was bringing shelter in place orders from the Governor on account of the Covid thing.
I decided to greet him on the deck, during this national crisis, we don’t want anybody coming into the house that may be a carrier of the virus. I brace for what comes next as the officer gets out of his vehicle and engages me in a conversation respecting the ten foot social distancing norm that has just been established. That’s when he asks me the question.
“What are you growing in your high tunnels? I just got one from NRCS and have tomatoes in mine. I’m looking for new ideas on food production and I’ve been driving by your place for years and always wanted to stop by.”
“Now is when you decide to stop by?” I said to myself in my head. I stood quietly, waiting for more. What followed was a long conversation around growing food. And as this happened I began to notice something in his eyes. This man was yearning for connection. Maybe a little worried about the crumbling of the world outside, maybe increasingly feeling isolated due to the current circumstances. I eased into the conversation.
It turns out the man is, relatively speaking, a neighbor. Joel Salatin has recently written on Covid that during this time of major upheaval our greatest asset is our immunity. The thought has since struck me that I don’t fully agree with him. I mean, in some sense, he’s right. It’s more of an “and/also” than a “but/instead” disagreement. My thought, not profound but simple is, what if our greatest asset is our network? Sure, immunity brings a sense of security in times of pandemic, and so does a strong network.
A couple of decades ago a random visit on a Saturday night by the sheriff would have left me unsettled. These are different times. This one left me feeling more connected to my neighborhood. Maybe that was his goal, or maybe he really is worried about what seems to be a great unraveling in slow-mo.
I tucked the thought into my head and went back into the house to work on a Lego project with my kids. The ride’s gonna be bumpy, but we’ll get through it. And my hope is that on the other side, we will all be more connected.
Some of ya’ll might still be wondering, what are we doing with our high tunnels? That night we made the decision as a family to change how we are putting our high tunnels to use. What happens next in the economy is up for grabs. Meanwhile, for this summer anyway, we are relatively stable. As a result we have made the decision to develop a by-appointment pick your own style vegetable operation for this season - free of charge. Neighbors, family, and friends will soon fill the high tunnels and the gardens one at a time with their own bags and baskets and leave with nourishing food for their tables. Here is my question for you. What are you going to do to strengthen your network?
Daniel Firth Griffith