When we look back at where we were a year ago, it would be difficult to find a person who would have accurately predicted where we would be today. After the first wave of disbelief that many of us felt in March as our kids came home from locked classrooms, and as meetings, churches, sports, and all forms of social gatherings were shut down, we have found ways to adapt to our “new normal”.
I am proud of how we have come together as a community to protect each other by following changing guidelines, as scientists around the world scramble to learn about this novel Corona virus that has us in its grip. We move from fear, to depression, to exhaustion, to acceptance, as we try to understand where we are and where we are going. We have adapted faster than we could’ve imagined to a world where getting groceries is risky business and hugs are a forbidden luxury. We have all had to come to grips with it in our own way.
As farmers, we are perhaps better equipped than some of our non-farming neighbours to understand this pandemic. We are used to dealing with the sometimes harsh realities of nature. We are used to having limited control of our finances and our livelihoods. We are used to changing plans and staying home. We are used to dealing with viruses and bacteria, all part of nature, and know they can act in devastating and deadly ways. We are used to changing rules and regulations on an international scale that require compliance if we are to stay in the game.
Nature is the theme running through all of this. The virus came from nature, it changed and adapted and was able to not only jump from one species to another but to also develop the ability to jump from human to human.
This should not have been a surprise. More than a decade ago we were strongly encouraging our pig barn employees, on our veterinarian’s recommendation, to be vaccinated annually against the flu. This was not only to protect them, but also to try and prevent the virus from jumping from human to swine, mutating, and causing much bigger problems. “High-density poultry farms in Southeast Asia enabled the highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) H5N1 to jump from wild birds into domesticated fowl, where it then became more virulent; swine flu (H1N1) emerged in 2009 from industrial hog farms in the southern United States and Mexico because multiple strains mixed to create a new combination,” writes Dr. Shannon Bennett, https://www. biographic.com/pandemics-of-our-own-making/.
Scientists around the world are linking the causes of this pandemic, as well as possible future outbreaks, to our relationship with nature. This includes loss of habitat, and our resultant exposure to animals and pathogens that might otherwise have been kept at a safe distance. “Evidence for this connection between nature’s destruction and pandemics is so compelling that the World Health Organization recently identified protecting ‘the source of human health: nature’ as the number one priority for Covid-19 recovery strategies,” https://cpaws.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/CPAWS-Parks-Report-2020-ENG.pdf.
We also look to nature for solutions. Not only for a cure for our immediate issue, but also to help us as individuals deal with it. Parks are overflowing, trails across the country have gone to reservation systems because of the massive inflow of people, and places that were once where you went to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life are now themselves bustling with humans. Good luck finding a bike if you didn’t have one already.
People are realizing that nature provides solace and comfort and maybe even some stability when our “normal” way of life doesn’t feel quite so normal anymore. Getting out in nature is touted as a way to protect mental health. This is one more area where farmers have an advantage. We measure our back yards in acres – not in square feet, if you’re lucky enough to have a back yard at all. We may bristle at the tourists flocking to our natural areas – but I have to feel for people who are cooped up in tiny lots, or worse, apartments, with no green space available for months on end. And people who never get to experience the beauty and wonder of nature can hardly be expected to understand or care for it.
This pandemic is giving us all the opportunity to see our world differently – to appreciate nature – the raw force of it, as well as the delicacy that has been overlooked for so long. “In January 2020, a World Economic Forum (WEF) report concluded that half of the global GDP depends on nature and its services. The WEF’s Global Risk Report also identified biodiversity loss as one of the top five global risks facing the world,” https://cpaws.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/CPAWS-Parks-Report-2020-ENG.pdf. Our future depends on taking another look at nature, seeing it not just as what it can give to us in the short term, but also how we can protect and preserve the health of the earth in a more long-term way.
For anyone wanting to contribute to protecting and enhancing nature in our own back yard, the Maitland Conservation Foundation (MCF) has been raising funds for significant local projects since its incorporation in 1975. Projects funded through the Restoring the Maitland Campaign include the Middle Maitland Headwaters Restoration Project, the Garvey-Glenn Restoration Project, and improvements to local Conservation Areas. ◊