I am a junior at The Sage School. This year our curriculum has been centered around the American food system. As we shifted into remote learning, we began to study the effects that COVID-19 is having on the food system. A common theme I have traced throughout my research is the web of complex relationships and the interconnectedness of everything in this world. Through the course of the year, I have been constantly reminded of the famous John Muir quote, “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.” What I have gleaned is that diversity, complexity and relationships are the key to everything in our lives, from the foods we eat to the communities we live in, and it even plays a role in the way that we combat COVID-19.
The lower 48 states make up 1.9 billion acres. Monoculture, a single crop being grown in the same field, takes up 442 million of those acres. The main crop we grow here in the U.S. is corn, and it makes up 80 million of those acres. Over the past 200 years, monoculture has taken over the American food system, but now we are seeing some of its shortcomings. Reading articles about onions being buried, seeing piles of potatoes left on the side of the road and watching videos of gallons of milk being dumped out makes this clear. Farmers are realizing that no one makes onion rings at home, that once markets no longer desire the single crop they grow, they have nowhere to turn. This is where small, biodiverse farmers come in. In the era of industrial thinking and prominence of monoculture, diverse farming gives farmers opportunities to not put all of their eggs in one basket, adding a layer of complexity to modern farming. Small farmers also have a diverse market, which is why they are showing more resilience in the face of COVID-19.
Similar to the food system, communities are full of complex relationships. The residents of the Wood River Valley are a tightly knit community, there is no question there. As we have faced the challenges presented by COVID-19, we have continued to demonstrate that. Valley residents have given a lot during this challenging time, whether it be countless hours of volunteer work, financial support to local organizations and business owners, or emotional support to essential workers and neighbors, we are connected and committed to the health of our valley. This is what is making our community resilient during this time. As Sami Grover, author for The Redwoods Group, an insurance provider to youth-serving organizations, said, “It’s not the individual points of the diverse elements, but rather the network of complex interrelationships between those elements that ultimately builds a web that is so hard to break.” This community continues to demonstrate its commitment to building a web that is hard to break.
It’s no surprise that scientists today are examining the word “individual”; they find that everything in the biological world is connected to something else. We are all small, important parts of the whole. As a community, we need to continue to build this web. I’m working to do this by volunteering at local farms, and we all have our own unique way to contribute. Supporting local farmers is also an important way to not only strengthen the web of our community, but of our natural system and environment. We need to remember that during this time we are isolated, but not alone. We have the strength of our community behind us.
Penelope Weekes is a student at The Sage School in Hailey.