In the absence of cruise ships, wildlife has re-inhabited the canals of Venice.
In Totnes, in the absence of something I can’t quite put a name to, the local food systems are re-inhabiting the food supply chain, growing and reforming networks day by day, like mycelium growing through the soil.
As the supermarkets empty, people are confined to their homes and the fear of illness pervades everything, people are turning back to local, resilient healthy food systems everywhere. And not just in Totnes.
As the restaurants and pubs empty, local food is re-directed into vegetable boxes and delivered to people's homes; as the local brewery closes the beer goes on the delivery round; the local bakery sales drop, so the bread goes on to the delivery round; the local catering service has her events and weddings cancelled, so she starts making stews for home delivery and those go on the delivery round. Local milk, local cheese, and even honey: it all goes on the round.
In the first two weeks of the Covid-19 outbreak in the UK, our small business, The Apricot Centre geared up from 60 vegetable boxes per week to over 200, with all of the other deliveries included. Shillingford Organic farm in Exeter geared up from 200 to 700 in the same time period. I am sure this is replicated all over the UK.
Sales of seeds, seedlings, and chickens have also gone through the roof as people create their own food security. Whether these changes in shopping and eating habits remain after the outbreak remains to be seen, and perhaps is unlikely.
But what we are learning is that, like the fish and birds reappearing in Venice, the local resilient food system is there just below the surface and it can flourish quickly in the absence of something I cannot yet put a name to.
In south Devon, these local food systems and networks have been building for some years, with the influence of places like Schumacher College, Sharpham House, and the Transition Town movement, and the many people who just like to eat local, organic food.
Local growers have formed groups to support and learn from each other and meet for the occasional pint. It is these already established networks that have allowed such a fast reaction to the rapidly changing conditions: as the restaurants closed, delivery schemes inundated with orders allowed for fast switches from one market to another to happen.
Now we’re at the beginning of spring, we’re having rapid discussions about changing cropping plans to adapt what is being grown this season for the local food markets, rather that the restaurant trade.
All of this means that all the growers can stay in business, and even flourish, and local people get fed healthy local food, helping them to stay well.
The changes that are happening during the Covid-19 outbreak are also what’s needed to help address climate change. Food systems need to re-localise, de-carbonise and become more seasonal. Food sovereignty in this sense is vital for secure food supply chains.
I had personally become convinced that in the current political climate, (well that of two weeks ago), that these changes were very unlikely to happen, that they had been pushed way down the agenda and would only be implemented way too late to be effective.
How wrong could I be? It just shows that with the right political will, these changes can be made very quickly indeed.