On Sunday, March 15, 2020, the Governor of the State of Illinois imposed a moratorium on ON-SITE CONSUMPTION of food & drink for all Illinois food businesses—grocery stores, restaurants, cafes, bakeries, bars, etc. The moratorium is currently scheduled to continue through March 30. Of course, the situation around COVID 19 is completely fluid no matter what time frame we’re talking about—fortnight, week, day, even hour. But the two-week timeframe is a chance for us in Illinois to catch our breath, raise all antennas, and make our own decisions about staying safe, being economically solvent, and, perhaps, more politically active. Also, of course, it gives local and state governments time to make near-term decisions and make plans for the unknowable, long-term future.
I have spent 24 hours (March 16-17) documenting the responses of food businesses in my hometown. Here, in Evanston, IL, food is a big economic driver. We are the “Dining Capital of the North Shore” (Chicago’s north suburbs) and our proximity to mass transit and the City of Chicago supports numerous food stores, supermarket and specialty. In a way, we are a retail food hub for northern Cook County, home to the most Farm Bureau members in a U.S. county. (But that’s another story.)
Through Facebook, Twitter, websites, etc., grocery stores and restaurants, cafes and bakeries are posting reduced hours. But most are trying to stay open so they are offering expanded delivery options (in addition to carryout and “curbside” pick-up). Restaurants are quickly working up abbreviated menus, presumably to use what food stocks are on hand and make staffing decisions, as well as making educated guesses on what the supply chain will continue to deliver in the next two weeks—and beyond.
In an effort to keep my community informed about food options, I have posted my list of Evanston food businesses on my blog, along with their temporary hours and operations. I plan to update it through March 30, although it might not be necessary or it might get too time-consuming. I’ll see how it goes.
In the process of documenting various parts of the food chain over the last 24 hours, while also monitoring local, state, national, and world news, I’ve had some random observations. Perhaps they might resonate with others on the food & farm listservs.
1. GROWING SEASON IN UPPER MIDWEST
In my own professional gardening life of 25 years, March 17—St. Patrick’s Day—marked the beginning of my growing season (in the Chicago area). Such a date was useful in drawing up maintenance contracts with clients.
Today—March 17, 2020—seems a typical start, even though I’m now retired from gardening. Snowdrops and winter aconite have been blooming for a week or two, worm castings are showing up in the lawn, robins, cardinals, even a few crows (survivors of the West Nile virus scourge), and other birds are noisy and busy. We had snow flurries two days ago, but the last snow on the ground melted 10 days ago. The sun is exactly where it should be on March 17—nearing the equinox and getting high in the sky.
2. EARLY SPRING: Seasonal low for local foods
But, here we are in 2020, scrambling around for food at the traditionally lowest availability of local foods. Winter farmers markets are closed or closing. Summer markets don’t start until May. Even though the Coronavirus has been around since November 2019, I was struck by the synchronicity of its Midwestern impact and our season of lowest local food availability.
One question on the Evanston Food Policy Council’s Urban Farm & Food Survey keeps bouncing around in my head:
“7. If our food supply was cut off today indefinitely, where do you think your food would come from?”
At the time (2006), trying to gauge and inspire community support for an urban farm, one of our members thought that question was too scary, too serious. Now, at the beginning of the COVID-19 siege simultaneous to our lowest availability of local foods, I’m wishing we’d been more scary. The responses in 2006 were mostly embarrassing and funny and exposed the ignorance of most Americans about food, farming, and climate. I think that we might get some better responses today, in March 2020.
3. HOMESCHOOLING & FARM-TO-SCHOOL CURRICULA
Another synchronicity is the sudden jump in homeschooled U.S. children, caused by the closing of schools and daycare centers. Parents are going crazy trying to figure out how to keep their children busy and learning while trying to do their own work, etc.
Here’s a Tweet that I sent out to the hashtag #Homeschooling, listing three food & farm resources off the top of my head:
—National Farm to School Network
—Answering (or creating) a simple food system survey
I am sure that people on these listservs have other ideas for “hands-on learning” and “living skills” activities that can re-connect children (and parents) with the weather, with soil, insects, plants, etc., in any neighborhood.
4. ELECTION DAY in Illinois (Arizona, Florida, Ohio)
And, did I mention that today, St. Patrick’s Day, is also our Illinois primary? While there were calls to postpone primaries, it looks as if Illinois is going ahead. I always wait to vote on election day, so I plan to walk across the street to the junior high school to vote for Bernie Sanders. (I’d endorsed Elizabeth Warren, so at least my vote won’t be wasted, had I voted early.)
UPDATE: I voted for Sanders, but split my delegates (4 for Sanders, 4 for Warren). Judges predict turnout in our precinct will be 50% (already 40%). No lines (I always vote early afternoon). It looks like Joe Biden will be the Democratic nominee. I wonder what he knows about food and farming? (We know what he knows about democracy and justice.)
5. SMALL FOOD BUSINESSES
So, back to the question of how do small food businesses survive a few weeks with greatly reduced income?Here’s my blogpost about what my hometown food businesses are doing at the BEGINNING of this two-week shutdown. EVANSTON, IL: Food Businesses, March 17-30, 2020
Everyone’s hopeful that customers will continue to patronize the restaurants (through carry-out & delivery), but as most of us in the food & farm world know, the margins are small for small food businesses. Just before the official shutdown, local restaurants were already experiencing a big drop-off of customers—while the grocery stores were being over-shopped. (Yes, hoarding.)
And what about the perishability of foodstuffs? There’s a difference between being in the food business and being in the shoe business (no offense to shoe stores). Shelves of neatly stacked boxes of shoes can sit at room temperature indefinitely without deteriorating (except, perhaps, fashion-wise). But food—the raw commodity of a food business? For people who have the money, I’m currently promoting food purchases from restaurants and cafes (instead of grocery stores) as an early best practice during this pandemic.
Large institutions are being asked to donate their excess food, but food banks are not likely to take small donations from small businesses—2 gallon jugs of milk here, 11 dozen eggs there, 1.5 boxes of head lettuce? etc.? It’s even less likely that those small business will be able to SELL their excess food, even at a discount.
I have asked my city government if they can figure out a viable legal method for small food businesses to either:—sell unused raw commodities—donate excess food & get a tax credit (I haven’t heard back yet.)
6. PROPHECY for North America ?
I’ll be 69 years old in a couple weeks. I’m grateful to have lived long enough to get clear on a few things. Specifically, I’m glad that I
a. Got cheated by numerous food & farm colleagues (2007-2010) because that led me to some big structural learning about
—our manipulated money & banking system
The numbers will never add up for most of us until we straighten it out.
Especially the Haudenosaunee League’s Great Law of Peace, grown on this very land
b. Got to see and experience the 2017 Women’s Marches and the 2018 elections, because now I know that women’s public authority is real and more women are waking up to it. As suffragist Matilda Joslyn Gage wrote in 1893, under the Haudenosaunee women, “the science of government reached the highest form known to the world.” (Women, Church, and State). Women are not inferior to or better than men, but we are the center. Structurally (metaphysically if you will), we hold everything together, for the good of everyone, in dynamic communication and collectivity.
c. Got to read this Indigenous North American prophecy, which seems to describe the moment we are living in:
Re-matriation of the Truth (2011)
by Prof. Barbara Alice Mann, Univ. of Toledo
“…the Iroquoian and woodlands prophecies of how our Fourth Epoch begins:
After the White Panther, the Fire Dragon of Discord has pushed the children’s faces into the dust, after heads have rolled west, then the great Turtle, on whose back we ride, will begin to rock her carapace. To and fro, she will rock until she rolls in the water, as she did once before, a long time ago, brushing the irritants off her shell. When she rights herself again, only the Real People will be left on her back, and time will begin again.
At the turn of the nineteenth century, Saganyadaiyoh, the Seneca seer, Handsome Lake, said that the pitching and rolling would begin in 2010.
Not only will the greatest Grandmother of them all, Mother Earth, take a hand Herself in righting the situation, but Her daughters on the ground also have a duty. It is to begin telling the truth, disregarding fear.
This is the most revolutionary act of matriarchy: Telling the absolute truth and demanding the absolute truth from everyone else.
This is the Rematriation of the Truth.”
7. SHAMANIC DISMEMBERMENT and COMPOST
Whether or not this prophecy is coming true, this time certainly feels like a shamanic dismemberment of our collective institutions, blind beliefs, unbalanced relationships, etc. I believe this is different than the end-times of The Rapture, which I believe is a death cult, the end result of patriarchal control. (I’d be interested in others’ thoughts.) Shamanic dismemberment is ultimately a re-organization, a re-alignment, a healing.
The good news is that we are making one giant compost pile from thousands of years of old, rotten human energies, mostly the desire to control, enslave, torture, punish, and extract. Once that compost ripens and mellows, it will be great stuff. We will no longer be using people as *manure* in which to grow money (a Ukrainian oligarchs’ saying, per Andrea Chalupa on a recent Gaslit Nation podcast). Nor will we be cannibalizing the Earth out from under our feet. Our new compost will grow our collective vitality, beauty, and renewability — that core aspect of Earth’s growing cycles that enables true freedom. We do not have to control everything in order to be free.
A few months ago I came across an interview with a Siberian shaman, Alya. I was struck by this quote near the end. It seems to address our U.S. threefold paradox: rugged individuallsm vs. democracy (group decision-making) vs. listening to the land:
“The majority of people that come visit me, I tell them: Your trouble is that you do not live your own life. If you lived your own life then why would you get into someone else’s life? To allow yourself to diagnose things, to give advices when you were not asked for them. That’s when you cease living for yourself and start living someone else’s life. To begin to interfere with others. And conflicts begin. You have to learn to live first, and become such so that you can give yourself to the world. To become a gift. It’s the state when you give yourself as a blessing.”
A related book, about becoming one’s authentic self — a “small never-before-seen-thing” — by understanding (and not interfering with) Earth’s fresh water cycle, is rich with story, language, and learning:
The Disobedience of the Daughter of the Sun: Ecstasy and Time
by Martin Prechtel
Yellow Moon Press, 2001
A retelling of a Guatemalan Mayan folktale.