If 2020 Has Taught Us Anything...
For many reasons, we have been largely absent from social media and outward communication since Coronavirus came crashing into the US. An obvious reason is that we got slammed with orders as folks who were sheltering in place turned to gardening as a safe and useful way to occupy their time. But there were other reasons, too. Now that we're nearing the twilight of this challenging year, we're able to look back on some of the lessons learned.
If 2020 has taught us anything, it's these 3 main takeaways:
1. Fear is a potent motivator, but fear isn't sustainable.
In March, many of us saw empty grocery store shelves for the first time in our lives, and it was terrifying. The fear and desperation people felt were real. It was a natural impulse for droves of people to decide to take a portion of their food security into their own hands by growing a garden. And while we of course want to support anyone's efforts to expand their gardening skills, anything we could say on social media felt trite. We did not want to market to people's fear, especially while we were navigating our own.
Fast forward to the May 25th killing of George Floyd when Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes. People of all races took to the streets to affirm that Black Lives Matter. The fear that Black people have felt about the safety of their bodies in a racist country amplified and the ensuing counter-protests, national guard troops, and armed white supremacists stoked these fears.
As I write this, COVID cases are skyrocketing again. Now there is food on the shelves, but millions of people have lost their jobs and their homes, food insecurity is rising, and parents are bearing an overwhelming burden. Our fear is turning into fatigue.
The Black Lives Matter movement shows the way here. They have galvanized their fear and fatigue into concrete strategies and actions in the streets and in the ballot box. They are organizing and demanding police reform, campaigning to get folks into office who will champion specific policies to protect their lives like the BREATHE Act. And municipalities around the country are responding, funneling resources from law enforcement to mental health and social services to better respond to community members' 911 requests for help.
Which brings us to the second thing 2020 has taught us:
2. Rugged individualism is a dangerous and persistent myth. We need to culturally own the fact that we all rely on each other.
So much of the lore of the West centers on the idea that intrepid individuals built this place. This is at best a half-truth. Yes, the history of this place is full of stories of hard-working individuals, but to pretend that these individuals accomplished their work in a structural vacuum is a lie.
Westerners may cringe to hear it, but the "settling" of the West is steeped in government handouts. After driving Native Americans off of it, the Homestead Act of 1862 gave over 270 million acres of land all across the West to people--white people specifically--to own free and clear in exchange for clearing and working the land for five years (1).
And anti-government Idaho was one of the largest beneficiaries of the Works Project Administration (WPA) New Deal programs, which among many other things built the dams that now provide water for irrigation to much of southern Idaho, making agriculture possible. So much of the infrastructure of our modern society has been built and paid for by the "government"--that is, the pooling of individual contributions and entrusting democratically elected citizens to dole it out efficiently. Everything from our roads and bridges to our schools and fire stations are a result of our pooling of individual resources.
COVID has shown us again that we as individuals are only as healthy as the health of the collective. What we do with that information determines our survival as individuals and as a society. Which brings us to #3...
3. Once we own that we're all in this together, we are capable of building a culture of collective care.
At a time that is arguably the most isolating in recent US history where the very things that make us human--gatherings, shared meals, concerts and performances, schools--have become too dangerous to do, we've been told to shelter in place, to social distance. And especially in the beginning, before our leaders began sowing doubts about our collective response for personal gain, we listened. We stayed home, canceled plans, and stopped hugging our loved ones so that we could do our part to protect each other.
And amid the sadness and fear, we used our creativity to scheme up ways we could still support each other and remain connected. Mutual aid networks popped up all over the country, with neighbors coming together to get each other essential goods and services, to sew masks for essential workers, to educate our children as schools had to shut down. Many found a sense of purpose and a greater connection to their community in "isolation" than they had during their previously jam-packed lives.
The Movement for Black Lives surged with new waves of support when people of all races had time to actually slow down and land listen as they explained again about the injustices perpetuated by systems that continually rob their children of their lives and opportunities. Collectively, we are beginning to understand that all lives cannot matter until Black lives matter.
We just hired a new community outreach coordinator, Melissa Dittrich, and she remarked that one of the reason she was so excited to work here is because seeds intersect with so many other important things. Working with seeds has the potential to combat multiple interlocking systemic inequities by empowering communities to feed themselves. Seeds can play a crucial role in combating climate change by facilitating resilient grassroots agricultural systems. They shine a light into historical and present land access issues, yet their exponential abundance offers the potential to create better alternatives. They allow us to care for each other through their generosity.
While 2020 has been a difficult year, to say the least, these lessons hold kernels of wisdom for moving forward in ways that benefit all. It hasn't been easy, and it won't be easy. But together with the seeds, we can do this.
 Bradsher, Greg. (2012). How the West was Settled: The 150-year-old Homestead Act Lured Americans Looking for New Life and Opportunities. US National Archives. https://www.archives.gov/files/publications/prologue/2012/winter/homestead.pdf