It’s amazing, really. How rapidly our normal, day-to-day existence, transformed in a matter of hours. And how the transformation from co-work spaces, community gatherings, and family functions to social distancing and self-isolation, also transformed our ability to have access to some of life’s most basic necessities…FOOD!

From the onset of this pandemic reaching the US, I noticed two extreme reactions in people. Some folks I spoke with saw this coming and started stockpiling food and supplies from the grocery store. Other folks Ive gotten to know saw this coming and planted a few more starter plants from saved seed from the previous years harvest, they set out an extra row of potatoes that had been in their cellar, allowed their hens to set on an extra dozen eggs, and kept an extra piglet or two more than they normally might.

The folks from the first group I’ve heard called ‘panic shoppers’ or ’stock pilers’, either way, their intentions and instincts are probably right in thinking that if we radically change the way we operate our day to day, then the operations we rely on for sustenance will also likely change. Fear of the unknown is frightening to some. And when moved into action out of fear, we often make choices that may seem irrational to others, like ‘panic buying’ food and necessities!

The second camp of folks I spoke with are sometimes referred to as ‘preppers’ or ‘self-provisioners’, but I just know them as farmers and gardeners. Of these folks, none of them seemed to be acting out of fear and the choice to save, plant, and store just a little more than normal, didn’t appear irrational at all. These folks that I spoke with also know that when we radically change the way we operate our day to day, then the operations we rely on for sustenance will also likely change.

The difference in these two extreme camps? When the COVID Crisis struck locally, the day to day for many of these farmers and gardeners didn’t really change a whole lot. The operations they rely on for sustenance remained, despite restaurants closing, grocery stores limiting purchases, and online retailers delaying shipments. This concept is what we call food sovereignty.

When we launched our Grow Wayne Program in January of this year, we had no idea what lay before us. We didn’t anticipate that people would lose their jobs, that thousands would fall ill, that students would be homeschooled, that families would ban together around the things that were really important and that life – life that otherwise kept us too ‘busy’, ‘stressed’, ‘tired’ – would for many, slow down a bit. So, if there is a silver lining to be had, it’s just that. That Mother Nature has forced us to stop and ask what we value, what’s important, and what keeps us so busy, that we can part with.

Momaw Osburn’s garden hadn’t seen a plow in 7 years. She and her grandson started farming again this year.

We launched Grow Wayne in an effort to show people that they too can have the independence to rely on themselves for at least part of (if not all of) the food they procure into their home. That they can save seed, start seed, transplant plants, and raise crops to cook, preserve, share, barter, or sell to family and friends in need. That they can experience food sovereignty to some degree.

With an ambitious goal of getting 20 families to embrace this idea, we’re now beaming that 50 families are currently taking part. To date in Grow Wayne, we’ve held three workshops featuring two expert speakers, we’ve handed out thousands of organic seeds & sets, hundreds of locally grown transplants, dozens of bags of organic fertilizer, we’ve plowed gardens, given out hand tools, helped put up fencing and fielded & facilitated numerous questions and calls.

State Horticulturalist, Zach Perry, leads a discussion on Organic Garden Maintenance via Zoom.

We are comforted by the fact that 50 families in our community are more food secure during this crisis than they may have been otherwise, and the extended families, neighbors, and customers of these 50 families will be as well. We know that movements happen slow and real change takes time, but there’s no denying that our 50 families are among the change agents that will bring the idea of self reliance, self provisioning, prepping, or maybe simply just farming, back into fashion, and we couldn’t be more proud of them for that!