Harvesting romaine lettuce near Soledad, Calif., May 3, 2017 (Michael Fiala/Reuters)
I tried an experiment yesterday. I went to four large supermarkets in Fresno County, the nation’s largest and most diverse food-producing county, and looked at both checkouts and shelf space. The two big sellers seemed to be cleansers of all sorts (bleach wipes were all sold out, for example) and staples such as canned soup, pasta, and canned fish and preserved meat.
Then I drove in about a 50-mile circumference to look at local farms — vineyards, orchards, row crops, dairy, etc. — and packinghouses and processors. There seemed absolutely no interruption at all. Farmers and workers were on tractors, packing houses were bringing in late citrus for cold storage, and lots of people were harvesting winter vegetables in the field. Machines were fertilizing, spraying, and cultivating.
The point is that in our age of necessary shutdowns and staying home, one thing we must do is eat — and eat well to stay healthy. And that means lots of people have to go to work and produce food and transport it to the major cities, and not always in isolation on the south 40.
Farmers do a lot more than just drop a seed in the ground and then by rote watch it sprout into a corn stalk, as one of our nation’s richest and most influential figures lectured us not all that long ago. For millions to subsist at home, to force the virus to sputter out, they must eat, as well as have power, running water, law enforcement, and sanitation. And that means millions of Americans must go to work as usual and sustain the elementals and existential forces of American life for 330 million, usually out of sight and out of mind, as we concentrate on the required quarantining of universities, offices, bureaus, sporting events, etc.
Another lesson of this ongoing crisis — in addition to the need for U.S. domestic production of some key medical supplies and pharmaceuticals, even greater skepticism about the veracity, competence, and agendas of media, and reexamination of the gospel of globalization and open borders — is greater appreciation of muscular labor and those who feed us, protect us, give us energy, and clean up after us, and who cannot afford to stay home, and whom America cannot afford that they might.