On March 11 2020, the World Health Organisation declared COVID-19 a pandemic. One year later, what have we learned?
The early stages of the pandemic saw empty supermarket shelves and the rationing of basic items. Local farm shops were flooded and for many small businesses it was a case of thrive or pray to god you survive.
The closure of schools and loss of free school meals left many disadvantaged children facing food insecurity, while the closure of restaurants and cafes led to a surplus of unwanted food, being donated, or worse - wasted and dumped.
Our country’s food supply is fragile at the best of times, importing much of its fresh fruit, relying on a just-in-time supply chain - with very little give for any shocks to the system.
Add a pandemic into the mix, and the UK farming industry was once again on the frontline, along with the NHS and key workers - farmers were vital to the public’s survival.
This pandemic has reminded people just how valuable our farmers are. But what legacy will it leave? And what, if anything, will we have learned?
A fear of entering crowded supermarkets, a restriction on unnecessary journeys and a desire to look after our own has prompted more people to buy local.
Over the last year we have welcomed thousands of new customers to our farm shop; growing our own food and sourcing produce locally, our supply chain was short, and we could guarantee to meet demand.
Shopping with us has encouraged people to reconnect with where their food comes from, they’ve enjoyed cooking from scratch and making a meal from raw ingredients, and I hope that this legacy continues, that it will become the norm. Because we will rely on that norm to build resilience to any emergency situations in the future - as the pandemic has revealed the fragility of long-distance supply chains.
Diversified farming businesses were undoubtedly hit the hardest, and as a festival organiser we had to cancel an entire year of events, but we were also able to make the most of a bad situation - creating the largest outdoor socially distanced pub garden outside of London. Providing a safe space for groups of six to meet outdoors, we proved our resilience, and we continue to do so - with constantly changing rules leading to even more creative thinking. Our legacy here? We continue to work, evolve, we continue to diversify.
And with that comes the advancement of technology. A year ago, we had no online shop, now it’s half of our business, we’ve gone from sending food parcels five miles down the road to sending them to Wales - other countries!
Improved connectivity has also opened up opportunities for farmers, we are now not just farmers but mechanics, biologists, chemists, web developers and social media influencers, and above anything, the pandemic has used technology to bring farmers together. Farming can be a lonely way of life, but in some cases lockdown has introduced isolated rural workers to a new way of connecting with other people through WhatsApp or Zoom.
For me however, the biggest and most important, lasting legacy of coronavirus is the connection we have as farmers to our surrounding communities. It’s given the nation a greater appreciation of what we do, and I’d like to think there’s no longer anyone getting angry behind that slow moving tractor on the road, but instead having more understanding that the slow moving tractor is putting food on the table, and is a vital part of the essential work that we do.
Flower Farm is 150 acres owned by the Deeley family since 1974 with pick your own seasons, turkeys and chickens. With a farm shop, tea room, microbrewery and pub garden, Flower Farm is home to Godstoneberry festival, Oktoberryfest, Jingleberry and a number of other events throughout the year.
Flower Farm’s online food delivery and collection service was established in response to COVID-19 on 16th March 2020: www.flower-farm.co.uk.
In 2020 Farmer Patrick Deeley was named British Farming Awards’ Diversification Innovator Large (silver winner), BBC Surrey and Sussex Key Worker in the Make a Difference Heroes Awards, Surrey Life Food and Drink Awards’ Pride of Surrey and House of Commons East Surrey Community Champion.