Travel invariably involves human physical interaction; electronic communication does not. So here we have two highly developed elements of everyday life, one creating a global problem while the other seeks to help mitigation.
The solution for many is to isolate within their household and use electronic means of communication wherever possible. An exception to this is in the farming world, where families can enjoy their own work and rural space, speak to their neighbours over the dyke and largely carry on as before.
However, sustainable food production is now under the spotlight, though it is sad that it takes a pandemic to highlight the shoogly peg on which it hangs. Still struggling with the effects of Brexit on much of the farming workforce, along comes Covid-19 to further emphasise the vulnerability of food production as structured in Scotland today.
The last global threat creating an emergency in food production was World War Two in the early 1940s. Eighty years ago, the labour shortage caused by men from the labour-intensive farming industry being called up to the war was filled by the land army. Women from towns and cities harnessed the horses, drove the tractors, milked the cows, mucked the byres, thinned the turnips, picked the tatties and made a huge contribution to feeding the nation. And they loved it, as my mother, mother-in-law and many of their friends did!
Did we learn anything from this in developing trends toward agriculture today? Not a lot, it seems! Scale up simply means scale down. As farms and machinery increase in scale, farming opportunities and the labour force decrease. Labour-intensive areas of farming do still exist, notably in fruit and vegetable production. However, rather than food security increasing, it decreases in direct response to fewer people being permanently engaged in producing such crops.
At a time when fruit and veg are stressed as key constituents of a healthy diet, production of soft fruits and vegetables is now under threat from sheer lack of labour to help grow and harvest the highly valued products – key elements of a sustainable food supply for the nation. This demonstrates nothing short of tragic lack of leadership foresight, when personal interest and ambition seemed to overrule common sense.
Post-war, labour was driven from towns and cities to harvest fruit and vegetables.
There’s an old adage, don’t ask anyone to do what you would not do yourself. How many of those farmers and their families who thrived on such labour would have swapped places with those arriving on a lorry or an old bus to bend their backs for the day, then home in the evening to wherever they came from?
How many of those farmers today would leave their families, travel 1000 miles or more across Europe to spend their working life in temporary accommodation bending their back daily for some enterprising farmer in eastern Europe?
Now with the pandemic rife, there is a call to have such labour flown in to rescue key ingredients of this year’s Scottish food supply. It is simply tragic that no heed was ever paid to the lesson of war that land and people are the essentials of food production. The more of both permanently engaged, the more secure food production shall be.
Progressing ever deeper into the grip of coronavirus, the importance of isolation is becoming clear. As it happens, farming is one of the few production industries which can function while those engaged maintain life in isolation.
Consider the life of the relatively few in farming. Your own house in the country, your workplace around you, your own boss while producing what you like producing. Compare the life of the overwhelming majority. Isolation means no work unless onscreen, little freedom outside your four walls, little chance for children to play outdoors. Cabin fever and then some!
Post-war farming scaled up, but, in so doing, messed up!
If we really want food security and a sustainable society then we must maximise opportunities to enjoy rural Scotland and a farming lifestyle such as we have never allowed before.
This content was originally published here.