The line at our Trader Joe’s a week ago was a half a block long. Neighbors from my community were out in the rain at 7 a.m. trying to hunt down some eggs, maybe some milk, and if they were really lucky, a few rolls of toilet paper. I wanted to memorialize this so that we could all look back and remember when most of us were not prepared, many of us had no way of providing for ourselves, and more of us were at the mercy of the government or the corporate food supply chain.
Two days later, I watched my neighbors slink under the awning over the walkway of our shopping center trying to avoid eye contact with one another and trying to stay within their “six foot safe space”. I drove on. I wasn't going to wait in the line, I didn’t have to.
Why? Because we have realized for a long time at my home that the world is becoming less and less able to fend for itself. Most people never think about tomorrow, or believe that something out of the blue just might whack them off their feet.
Well, something just whacked us off of our feet… the coronavirus!
Just a few weeks earlier, I had been getting ready to head to Seattle for the Northwest Flower and Garden Festival, when the news first hit that there was a deadly epidemic in Wuhan, China. They had locked down the Province. I had made the decision not to fly to Seattle because the virus was spreading. We already had cases in Europe, but no-one seemed that worried… yet. I usually fly to Seattle every year to do the event. My daughter and son-in-law live in Washington, and it is always one of the highlights of the year to be up there and to get to see them. Norma and I discussed the trip. We decided that I should go, but that I shouldn’t fly.
I had already been discussing this with her, pre-coronavirus, because of how many people had been sick with the flu the last time I had flown up and down to our farm in Oregon. I made a plan to drive to the show from California and make stops along the way at our farms and do some work.
It was going to be a long trip, 12 days on the road. 12 Days on the Road is actually the title of one of my favorite books. It’s a great book by Noel Monk. He was the road manager for the Sex Pistols. Noel had journaled the the Sex Pistols one and only tour to America in 1977! But I digress, so I packed up the rental jeep, kissed Norma goodbye multiple times and headed out on the road. It was February 22, 2020, one day after the first case of coronavirus had been verified in Kirkland, Washington. I was going to be staying in Bellevue, where I always stay when I travel to Seattle. Bellevue is just one town down from Kirkland.
By the time, I reached my first stop, our farm in California, there were still a couple of hours of daylight left. I checked all of the windrows of compost. Added some notes into the compost log and then headed north to get a jump on sunset. I booked a room in Redding, CA. By the time I reached Redding, the virus had reached Seattle in a fairly significant way. The first ripples of fear were already out. The news on the radio was reporting that now there were several confirmed cases of the coronavirus at a senior home in Kirkland. The news and the story were spreading!
On day two, I landed on our farm in Oregon for two days of work on the tractor and to check out and register the new dump truck. I usually shop at the New Seasons Market in Tualitan, Oregon. New Seasons Market is one of our great Oregon customers and we’re in 17 of their stores.
The news was already spreading that people in Seattle were sick, really sick. It was Sunday, February 23rd. It was literally one month to the day that I had watched news reports about the city of Wuhan, China being put under lockdown. I never dreamed that the virus that was making people sick there would ever reach our shores. But, now, that was the conversation at the checkouts in the markets as I stopped in for supplies. Other than a lot of, “Can you believe its…” the shelves were still full and everything seemed status quo.
Back at home, we have bottled waters, plus a bunch of other important necessities should an epidemic, war, riots or a pandemic break out. It is something that allows us to comfortably navigate through life knowing that we are as prepared as we can be. We do one other thing at our house that is maybe the best thing that we do of all… we grow food.
Mike and I set up our booth on Tuesday, February 25th. There was a lot of talk with everyone on the floor about the coronavirus, but everyone seemed to think it was a sickness that only affected the elderly. No-one seemed like they thought that it was going to be a big deal.
Mike and I did the Flower and Garden Festival. It was packed. It seemed like it’s own little world for the first several days. We were a big hit at the show as usual. The only tip that I really got during the show that the coronavirus was spreading was on day one of the show, when a friend called to tell me that the mayor of San Francisco had declared the city in a state of emergency. I thought wow, San Francisco? If the coronavirus has San Francisco in an emergency, why isn’t Seattle?
Seattle had to be next. The first cases of the virus in the U.S were there. I was sure they are going to shut the show down. They didn’t, and by Sunday night when I went to Whole Foods in Bellevue after we packed up our booth, the shelves were just about bare. I found some hummus, one stick of organic string cheese, an organic orange juice and two wellness shots from Kor. The wellness shots were definitely the highlight of my meal!
Sunday was the day that they reported the first death in the U.S. of coronavirus. The death occurred in Kirkland, WA, literally fifteen minutes from where I was. I was staying the night in Bellevue and then heading out in the morning for the farm in Oregon. The news of the first confirmed death from coronavirus was all over the Seattle news when I got to my hotel room. That explained Whole Foods and the fact that while I was at the Washington Convention Center finishing the show and then packing up, the entire world as I knew it was changing on the outside.
I called Norma to tell her to get ready. It was coming. I had a two day run to get back to Southern California, and I knew I’d better get home as quickly and safely as possible. The next morning the news had changed from the day before regarding the first death from the coronavirus in Kirkland. Apparently, two people had died earlier in the week on Wednesday the 26th and now people were getting pretty freaked out in Seattle and Portland. I hit the road and didn’t look back. It was 4:30am when I left Bellevue.
The local news on the radio was going crazy. I was a mixed bag leaving there. I had to get home to my family, but I was leaving two members of my family in Washington.
A few hours later I was pulling into our farm. Todd was pulling the box scraper behind the tractor trying to clear some water from the rain the night before. We chatted briefly and then I ran to the DMV to pay for the registration on our new dump truck. The DMV was a scary place to be at, knowing that there was a deadly virus in my country. Who knew if it had spread to Portland? I was fifteen minutes down the road at the DMV in Wilsonville. You could feel the nervous energy. I stayed by the door and away from everyone. I had just left ground zero for the coronavirus in America.
I got out of the DMV and the vehicle inspection of our new dump truck and drove that dump truck as quickly as possible back to the farm. I ran through the workload with Todd for the next few weeks and bolted south for California. If I didn't stop until dinner at the Co-Op in Ashland, I could make Redding that night. I did it. I made it to Ashland in time to grab some supper from the Co-Op.
Ashland, Oregon is a cool place. It’s a great town nestled in the mountains at the very southern end of Oregon, just before the California border. It’s the home of a world famous Shakespeare festival. But, it’s a small, small town.
I was kind of shocked to see a bunch of the shoppers at the Co-Op wearing masks and running around like a volcano was about to erupt. I found some food. Got a great organic coffee, jumped in the Jeep and headed to Redding. I couldn’t shake the panic, the fear, the same fear I saw on my neighbors at Trader Joe’s today. It was the same fear on the faces of so many of the shoppers in Ashland who were shopping as if their lives depended on it.
Well, obviously I made it home to tell this tale. My point in such a long intro is that we are unprepared, and it makes us human beings feel out of control . That made me stop and think about why and what is the most important thing that we could do to remain in control in situations like this, and the answer was clear.
Why? Because mankind does not do well with lack. We never have. But in times past, we could hunt, fish, farm, build, craft, and do things that kept us self sufficient. In the modern urban world that many of us live in now, that is not the case. We can’t go out into the neighborhood and hunt birds, or forage for wild food in our neighborhood landscape, but what we can do is grow food.
We can turn our yards, front and back into a space that will help sustain and support us, our families and possibly our friends by growing food in-ground, in raised beds and in containers. We do all of the above. We have raised beds for our lettuces, chard, kale carrots, beets and other goodies growing in raised beds, and then we have a container orchard of fruit trees growing in pots. We also have berries and herbs growing all over the place in clay pots. And, lastly, we have things like artichokes growing in the landscape of our yard out front.
We grow year round, and we are always preparing for what’s coming next in the garden. It’s a great way for our family to figure out meals, which relates to our health and for us to all have a part in our own sustenance. We grow strictly organically and don't use anything that we don’t know where it was sourced from, which is important to keep toxins out of our diets, especially in situations like the coronavirus which attacks people with weakened immune systems.
I can’t emphasize this enough… DO NOT USE CONVENTIONAL AG BYPRODUCTS OR FAUX ORGANIC SOILS OR FERTILIZER with conventional AG waste in them. They contain residue from pesticides and herbicides that are harmful to your health and the health of your family, as well as this planet. We need to stop doing and buying and acting as we have as a society of sheep once and for all. THINK! BE AWARE. Make informed choices and decisions. It could save your life!
The pandemic is growing every day. My thought for all of you not growing a food garden or who haven't recharged those beds and planted or sown seed, is to get away from the tv and get out there and start your own supply chain of food in your own yard, or a neighbors yard. It will make you feel better. It will give you and your family a purpose and it will help through some tough times. In my heart and in my mind I know that this is the one thing that absolutely all of us should be doing… gardening… now, more than ever.
Since the week that changed the world began, there are now 26,867 coronavirus cases in America, with 348 deaths. Globally, there are 308,257 cases and 13,068 deaths according to www.worldometers.info.
Godspeed to every single person who is ill or who has a loved one who is ill, and may God bless us all.
© Randy Ritchie 2020