By William Barden, Phase II Fellow
“However you think this year is going to go….it isn’t.”
When my Phase II manager told our farm crew this nugget of wisdom at the beginning of this year, he had no idea how true these words would ring. Job changes, staff shortages, a delayed greenhouse project, and now - on top of that - a worldwide pandemic have been just some of the crises we found ourselves facing this year.
At that time, of course, my manager was referring to the unpredictable nature of farming, but that one statement has unknowingly defined 2020 - not only for myself or coworkers, but for literally everyone. And out of that unpredictability, adaptability was forced. And out of adaptability, I found strength.
My Phase II year began as one of change, as I quickly also began working for the farm-based non-profit, Project Grows. With my weekly workload split between two farms, two managers, and two non-profits, I found myself in a time of uncertainty. However, I quickly discovered something about myself - I’m much more adaptable than I give myself credit for. That truth was one of the more empowering sentiments that I have felt in quite some time.
So, when the Coronavirus pandemic hit, not too long after my own personal life-change, I came to an even greater truth- EVERYone is much more adaptable than they might initially think. It may just take some extreme times, however unfortunate, to bring that instinct out.
As things quickly began to change and the pandemic unfolded, I started seeing this everywhere - in my friends, my family, my coworkers, and especially- my community. Times of chaos breed ingenuity and that was almost immediately noticed here in Staunton. With the Newtown Drive-Thru, a project that connects consumers to local farmers, our community found ways to support farmers, helping them move their product and make profits in a time when Farmers Markets were temporarily closed. Staunton City Schools started a meal distribution program to make up for the school lunches that children would have normally eaten in school. It has been amazing to see everyone - from school nutritionists, bus drivers, and cafeteria workers - pitch in to help the kids of Staunton get fed. Even in day to day life, just seeing folks in public wearing masks and gloves, going about their business, and adapting to this new struggle has its own kind of quiet strength.
My more cynical side didn’t quite expect this reaction. It thought there might be more panic, more selfishness. But I couldn’t be happier to be wrong. People can bend, but they don’t break easily and neither do our communities. There’s a strength inside every one of us that may not be apparent at first or on the easiest of days, but it’s certainly there for the hardest. One day things will go back to “normal,” but they don’t have to stay the same. And hopefully, this sense of taking care of each other during uncertainty will stick around even after the uncertainty of the Coronavirus is gone, and our communities and relationships will be all the stronger for it.