I imagine that one day 2020 will be what my future grandchildren will ask me about. “Wow! You were alive during the pandemic?”, “What was it like?”, “Was there really no toilet paper left in stores?!?”, just as I, once a young girl looked up at my own grandparents wide eyed in wonder, asking all about what it was like for them living through The Great Depression. My grandmother who grew up on a farm told me she was one of the lucky ones. Their farm produced enough food, so they never went hungry. Her mother secretly packed baskets each night of their produce and meats sending her children into town to sneak them on the steps of the homes of families who were struggling. Tears would always well up in her eyes when she got to that part of the story. They were not tears of joy from being able to help others, but true tears of sorrow from seeing so many struggling so hard. It was as if she felt tremendous guilt for having a full stomach and clothes on her back. I could never quite understand that feeling until this year, the year of 2020.
Our farm did not shut down. We were fortunate to be deemed “critical” on the list of essential employees allowed to work. Most people we knew were suddenly having to work from home, got furloughed or completely laid off. We had just survived two rough years on the farm between weather and wildlife damages. We feared we couldn’t withstand another big blow. To say we were relieved to continue farming would be an understatement.
We got busy in the greenhouses, in the fields, with the animals and spent all our down time planning how we could open for the season and keep things safe for both our customers and our family. The weight of that was immense. We worried about our parents, our children’s education, and staying safe ourselves. We had many elderly customers we worried about, as well as customers who were just generally high risk for Covid-19. If we didn’t see one of our regulars, we were often on the phone at the end of the day calling them to check in. We started a delivery service, we created a website, even hands-free pick up. We never stopped.
Ultimately, we were blessed. The farm had a great year, none of our farm staff got Covid-19 and we were able to grow and flourish. We won 2020 Best of SJ Farm Market in SJ magazine. I won Fruit & Vegetable Growers Top 40 under 40 award, and our daughter Cheyenne was the 2020 NJ Miss Teen Agriculture USA. It was amazing to start the year deemed critical workers (to us farmers that was incredible recognition alone), then to win “the best farm market in SJ” and for me to be named one of the top 40 farmers in the entire country (seriously little ole’ me!?!), with the icing on the cake of my daughter being the 2020 NJ Agriculture Queen PLUS she won 1st place in the photogenic category… seriously WOW, it was all so incredible.
There was however, no celebration. At the end of the day it just didn’t seem right. Covid-19 wasn’t just this thing in the world or country. It was here in New Jersey now, it was in our hometown, and people were dying. The stress never stopped, the worries never let up, and slowly people we knew became affected by Covid-19. We watched some of our favorite restaurants and businesses have to close permanently. When that happened people started to worry about us, and asked how our farm was. I found myself saying “Lucky”, just as my grandmother did. I couldn’t help but to feel humbled. I was blessed when so many were not. We never took that for granted.
We always had the drive here to help others, do good by our earth and give back to our community. The pandemic just forced us to focus where we were needed most. Local artisans were struggling to sell their products with festivals, fairs and outdoor events being cancelled (plus store closures), so we opened our doors to help them sell their products like bbq sauces, soaps, lotions, teas, and syrup.
We worked with other farmers and beekeepers, from helping them in their fields, to selling their products. We donated hundreds of pounds of meat to a local soup kitchen, while hundreds of our apples went to church pantries. We spent countless hours helping non-profits get funds to food banks and families across New Jersey. Our family even mailed off care packages to help people needing it outside our state.
Things were looking up. A cure was promised to arrive soon. We figured out how to be an essential business during a pandemic, created a website all by ourselves, on top of that we ran a CSA program safely with 150 families, we even pulled off a successful pumpkin picking events with social distancing. Then my phone rang. It was my best friend. Her parents had Covid-19. It was bad. Her father was being hospitalized. I did what any good friend would do: sent her off to go take care of them, while I took care of her house, her kids, her dogs -plus my house, my kids, my dogs -plus the farm which was still open 7 days a week. Looking back, it was crazy, but organized chaos. I kept to a strict schedule and YES, I couldn’t have of pulled it off without the great support and help of my husband, Farmer Craig. NO, I don’t think I slept much at all then. Thank God her parents got better. Thank God she didn’t get sick. It was quite the scare and my greatest fear from the beginning was for our parents. It was a moment where we all had no choice but to be strong.The season ended with me back at home just in the nick of time for our annual tradition of donating Christmas trees to families in need, then spending much needed quality time with my husband and our daughters. To say we were exhausted is putting it mildly, but we rested with big smiles on our face. Now, as I look back upon 2020, I just feel grateful. That is exactly what I plan to tell my future grandchildren when they ask about 2020 “I was grateful”.
Written in loving memory of my grandmother, Jean Carey, whom I miss every day.