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What's going right when it's all upside downWhat's going right when it's all upside down

Whiskey to hand sanitizer? Chemicals having a moment? Convenient farm kid labor? Yes, to all of the above. Look for the good, and you're bound to find it.

March 19, 2020

4 Min Read
shadow of windmill on side of red barn
ISOLATED: Farmers are good at this quarantine business, like another farmer friend pointed out recently. He’d interacted with six people that day. He lives with four of them, the fifth was his farm employee and the sixth was his father-in-law.

As I write this, we’re well into the coronavirus quarantine. And while it’s mostly unchartered waters, there are parts that feel strangely familiar.

Like at our house, for example. I work from home. My husband is a farmer. We live in the middle of nowhere, and we’ve spent the past 22 years learning how to stay out of each other’s way all day. We already don’t see many other people.  

Basically, we’ve been quarantining before quarantining was cool. Kids home from school feels like summer but with more homework and less cow shows.

Of course, that’s easy to say now because nobody’s sick. There’s a slow-percolating worry that threatens to boil over at about any minute, peppered with questions like whether we’re overreacting or underreacting, whether the president’s right or wrong, and whether anybody gets to graduate or not.

What will happen to auctions — land, equipment, livestock — that all have to be held online? What happens if we can’t get diesel fuel in the next few weeks? What will happen to our supply chains for spring planting? Would prevented planting insurance cover supply chain disruptions or just weather? If it feels like circumstances change on the hour, it’s because they have.

Everything’s a little bit upside down, which also feels like the right time to look at what’s going right. So in the spirit of looking on the bright side, a list:

Make lemonade from lemons. Or hand sanitizer from alcohol. Whatever. Jamie Walter tells me he had this crazy idea, just before all the quarantines dropped, to stop distilling whiskey at their on-farm distillery, Whiskey Acres, and instead use that alcohol to produce the hottest ticket in town: hand sanitizer. It’d be great if he could somehow make toilet paper too, but for now, hand sanitizer works.

Walter and a lot of other small craft distilleries have watched their business dry up in the quarantine, so to keep employees busy, they’ve received permission from the Feds and have retooled to make an 80% alcohol solution. They’ll add glycerin and hydrogen peroxide, bottle it in small spray bottles, and donate them to local health-care providers.

“It’s partly to try to help those that need it and partly to help give our employees a sense of purpose,” Walter says. “And we need to not get sick!”

Hey, free labor. I’d be lying if I said my husband wasn’t a little excited when school shut down for the coronavirus. I could see the twinkle in his eye. “You know what would be really nice? If it was in April,” he mused. “Then Nathan could plant beans.”

To that, all I can say is, be careful what you wish for. And be really grateful that all across U.S. farms, the combine will get waxed, painting will get done, fence will get built, calving will have more help, etc., etc.


Food supply is having a moment. People have noticed how important it is to have food on the shelves. Looking at empty shelves will do that to you. Then they get refilled. Spoiler alert: That’s a combination of “Big Ag” efficiently producing and distributing food, and local farms making it happen in their areas. In California, Fresno County has listed agricultural employees as “essential workforce” who don’t have to shelter in place.

“God bless the farmers!” one friend said. “They are just as important right now as the nurses and the doctors.”

Turns out, food security is a thing, and not just within the confines of a farm bill.

Chemicals are having a moment, too. Remember all those memes showing farm workers suited up in masks to supposedly spray Roundup? Folks asked why it was OK to spray that on their food when the workers had to wear hazmat gear.

Now? Those same people are spraying Lysol and bleach and whatever else they can all over everything, including their kids. My fave was a friend tossing aside the Mrs. Meyer’s “natural organic cleaners” from Target she’d used in the past. “Gimme all the antibiotic chemicals!”

And that’s how you know it’s a crisis.

Teachers are solving all the problems. With virtually no notice, teachers and local administrators all over the countryside rebuilt curriculum, soothed students, came up with a plan to educate and feed kids at home, all in the midst of a global crisis. No state agency did that. Just teachers, loving their kids. Coming up with ingenious ways to teach from afar. Teachers and rural schools, man. They’re the real MVPs.

Schools are still feeding kids. It’s easy to forget that for a lot of kids in rural school districts, home is hard, and school is where they find love and stability and food. Districts are working hard, running rural bus routes even, to deliver food. Fast food restaurants and grocery chains are offering free sack lunches to school kids during the quarantine. And the world is remembering that school is where the food is — and when there’s no school, the rest of us have to help.

There’s a whole lot going on in the world right now, but here’s what I know: There’s good happening, too. Look around. You’re bound to find it.

Comments? Email [email protected].

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