What a difference a few weeks makes.

In early January I set out to do something positive for the industry I love so much. I wanted to do something to promote farming and food in my own little way. I set about #trimilk (training with milk) and promoting some positive messages around farming. Simply I was going to use milk post-training (triathlon) for rehydration electrolytes energy protein, etc then learn and talk about the benefits in a fortnightly blog.

Tonight I went to get milk for the kid’s breakfast with a view to just getting it!

Farming has been the epicenter of a pretty sustained campaign about its negative impacts on (well everything) particularly livestock farming over the last 6-12 months. I never said we can’t do better, but I felt people were beginning to lose a connection with the very food systems that sustain them. Why? Because we potentially had taken them for granted.

I have been following the coronavirus outbreak with some interest. At an epidemiological and global level, I was beginning to get concerned about how we can cope. Initially, at a personal level, I was wondering how it will affect my new business. Most importantly as a father and a son how this pandemic will affect the lives and health of my loved ones.

While for many the concern will be the direct effects of infection, my fears are around how our essential systems and economy will cope under what is most likely to be unprecedented challenges in my living memory. These indirect effects will be far-reaching, not just economic but indirectly the biggest worry is our health care system becoming overwhelmed.

There are many systems that will prove integral to this global struggle. None more so, than the very food systems we have now begun to take for granted.

We are a global community where food travels around the world to meet the demands and needs of its people. In developed countries, this has been the system my generation has grown up with. It has been there because of things like our common agriculture policies at the European level, in their essence set up to ensure the supply of safe, healthy and affordable food to all Europeans.

The recent debates around food had rightly began to focus on increasing demands and the new challenges of climate change. I am confident of course farming can rise to that challenge. However, we now are in a time where everything must be put aside to ensure the most basic services continue to work. That is the supply of safe and healthy food in Ireland and globally.

Globalization means foods flow around the world. Our Irish farmers, yes produce mostly meat and milk (yogurts cheeses etc). They do this for foreign markets with over 90% being exported. That milk and meat will now be vital for the shelves across Europe and the world.

Some are now getting on the bandwagon questioning our island’s food security. We only produce meat and milk they say, however now is not the time for point-scoring. We are food secure and to say otherwise is reckless. We can have all the ideological arguments in the coming months if you like when this crisis is over. Everyone should be clear this crisis literally threatens the most basic things we take for granted.

While we can hoard pasta and beans, these fresh products (milk and meat) are the lifelines of a healthy diet.

Post this crisis there will be far-reaching effects on society but also to livestock production globally. There will be more focus than ever on #onehealth and there will be many lessons for us all to learn.

For now, I was glad I have 2 liters of milk tonight for my 5 young children, who are housebound for the last 48 hours. We are sticking rigidly to the advice we are given by our national experts, with a walk in the hills planned for tomorrow being a highlight. It is very simple, our actions will determine the faith of others.

Our healthcare and our food systems will work if we do what we have to do. Don’t bloody risk spreading the virus and don’t deprive people of essential supplies by hoarding. Our food systems work and there will be plenty of food on the shelves if we remain calm.

Food systems

Part of what I was trying to do with #trimilk was to generate some well-deserved positivity around what agriculture does. Our food systems feed us, our produce is not just integral to our economies, but our health and in the coming weeks, it may prove to the fabric of our societies.

To those who lament that we should be producing more on our island and be truly diverse. There is a strong argument we can do better but there is also a very strong argument of how well we do it. these global food systems are the bedrock of a modern and developed global landscape.

Its not perfect, capitalism, in fact, has become slightly skewed with the wealth gap growing ever faster. This will be a leveler because pandemics don’t take sex, colour, age or your wallet into account. Capitalism does work, we have just moved away slightly from the ideals of its godfather “Adam Smith”.

Whatever systems may look like in the future we must all pull together now. This is a time for leadership at every level. Sadly for some countries, it will be that lack of leadership that causes the most strive. For me the big “D” has been an embodiment of what’s wrong with capitalism, he will sadly put stock markets ahead of his people.. maybe he will see the error of his ways who knows.

In Ireland, I have been so proud of our politicians. They represent what’s best in us and for us. So well done and continue the brave fight.

From now on

We are here now and we must do everything we can as individuals to help the cause. Our farmers and those around the world must continue to feed us. Food systems are as critical as energy and healthcare.

It is a pity that a pandemic will be the reason people will begin to value food again. While we can debate our systems in time, there will be a wave of emotion during and after this pandemic. I believe that the human spirit will shine bright and people are beginning to do the right thing. To those who wish to use it to further the climate debate right now, stop. You will in time have an unprecedented opportunity to have a collective and attentive audience to the plight of the planet.

For now, we stick together we make our systems work and we support the services and people that are most essential. While many will rightly thank the healthcare workers, I will take this opportunity to thank the farmers and everyone working at all levels of our food supply chains. Mind yourselves and know that the work you do over the coming months is critical.

A dark hour or two

Everyone has had a different reaction to this pandemic. I followed it closely for the last month and nothing now surprises me about what’s happening. I have like most realized it will get a lot worse before it gets better. The jokes and memes will wain as the grim reality of what is happening will dawn on those even far removed from it. There is no escaping what’s happening this bug will not recognize borders or bank balances

Last Monday I like many went through the selfish times of what will this do to my wallet. My new business and work schedule up in the air. That passed quickly when I returned home to look at my children playing. What will happen to them? Not in some sensationalist way, but their daily lives now increasingly upside down. We talk about handwashing and making light of our battle with this new bug. They can’t visit their grandparents who are my young children’s world. We try and protect them from fear and anxiety at all costs.

Last Monday night I found myself just a little emotional. A few tears ran down my face as I hugged my wife before bed. I started this year with a blog that said “don’t be defined by fear”. Sometimes it’s hard not to. I went to bed but woke with a renewed sense of purpose. The world is not going to end but we are going to be tested that’s all.

I must maintain by believes that I can play my part in any way I can. Now is not about me, now is about my family and thinking about the months ahead. Now is about us all standing back but stepping up. This will be about the community and the collective.

The glass must be half full

I may be viewed as sensationalist, but we are facing the greatest challenge of our lives. We can only do this and make this work if we stick together. The human spirit is unbreakable, while we will have rocky moments we will prevail. We must focus on the results we will get from doing the right thing.

The Italians singing from their balconies would lift your spirit and believe.

We have the greatest scientists and institutions working to find cures and a vaccine. There was never more people more focused. Not everyone has been on board, to begin with. But a social movement like no other is happening. We know what we must do? We must do this together and we have to believe we can,

The human spirit is amazing so let’s stand apart for now but move together.

The glass is still half full because it has to be, there is no other way. For now, #trimilk is on hold and I’m happy to say tonight we #havemilk.

 

I usually sign off happy safe farming, but tonight I say to the everyone working in our food systems thank you. I know what it takes to do what you do.

 

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