Farmsteading in the Era of COVID-19
Well, like everyone else in the world, we've been in the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic. We are feeling very lucky, because our "work" can pretty much go on as usual, and we are naturally self-isolating on our mesa. On the other hand, we envy longer-term farmsteaders who already have food production up and running! We have focused more on setting up and building for the last nine months, and our 20/20 hindsight isn't yet feeding us. We remain dependent on groceries.
Like many of you, we didn't realize what we were in for when this whole COVID-19 thing started. We went to Wisconsin at the end of February for a "medical tourism" trip to see our doctors, since our health insurance only covers us in Wisconsin. I got my post-cataract laser cleanup, and we saw our wonderful primary care doc and dentists while we were there. Little did we know how lucky we were to take care of such mundane tasks so easily!
Back home, the COVID news was bubbling, and with family members in Seattle, we were tuned in enough to be relieved when 14 days passed after our flights. Still, we were pretty much "business-as-usual," running back and forth to Albuquerque and Grants to pick up materials while working on the greenhouse, including a load of sawdust to ferment for bokashi composting.
We actually probably saw more folks than usual... in two days Rick the welder came out to look at possibilities for bracing our retaining wall posts, the county master gardener, Roy, visited to check out our site and give us lots of great advice, and the state building inspector, Ernest, came by to sign off on our greenhouse framing. We didn't think anything about it. By Friday the 13th when we went grocery shopping we saw that evidence of the pandemic had come even to our little town, Grants, in the form of empty shelves where we used to find paper products, hand sanitizer, cleaning supplies, rubbing alcohol, and thermometers.
The next day brought seven (count 'em!) people to our remote camp. A Wisconsin friend, Rebecca, who was in Albuquerque for an event drove out to see our land. We did think to check that she was healthy and had no known contacts. While waiting for her arrival, one neighbor family of three came over to drop off a steel drum for us to use as a rain barrel (thank you!!). They mentioned that they had just dropped off medicine for their sick sister-in-law. Then another neighbor family of three who come out on weekends stopped by to say hi, and mentioned that their daughter (in the car at the time) was self-quarantined, which meant they couldn't go to work either. All of this sort of sunk in for us the next day, and we realized that even out here we needed to be a little more proactive about social distancing!
When our master gardener, Roy, came out, he had told us about various folks happy to have us pick up manure. He put us in touch with Araceli and Charles, and we drove out to San Mateo to get a load of sheep manure. It was the first time, I think, that Chip and I talked ahead of time about social distancing and being careful. Araceli and Charles were great -- we had such a good time talking with them about their land, their Spanish land-grant village, family histories, dogs, having kids home from school (schools had closed by this time, and their young son was racing around burning off a ton of great, happy energy). Charles used his Bobcat to load the truck in 10 or 15 minutes (it took hours to unload by hand back home!). Charles is descended from one of the original Spanish settlers, and they showed us their fruit trees and sheep, handed down to them from past generations. We couldn't help it -- we gave them hugs when we said goodbye! That was our last not-each-other touch to date...
[Sheep manure is now one of Ike's favorite nap cushions.]
The next day we went to Albuquerque for a Costco run, and to meet Elaine, who gave us some irrigation tubes for the greenhouse. This time we were all "on it" and careful about social distancing! It felt weird. But I'm sure you already know all too well what that's like! We also submitted our house building permit -- woo hoo! The inner office was closed, but we were able to take care of it speaking through a glass window. Unfortunately we haven't heard anything back, and have heard rumors that things are way backed up. We did call a couple days ago and were told "I'll check on it and call you back in a few minutes." Oh well. We'll try again Monday...
So by mid March we were getting serious about isolating and social distancing. We knew that we would be picking up our greenhouse trees at the UPS store in Gallup within weeks, so we got online and ordered everything we could think of that we needed for finishing our greenhouse and planting, and had them shipped to our local PO box where possible, or to the Gallup UPS store. Most things could be shipped, and items that were too large for shipping (solar batteries, roof caps) could be picked up at the store. We started appreciating online ordering, Home Depot, and even Walmart. We actually ended up having to make several similar trips, since the 15 trees arrived at 4 (or maybe 5) different times (we are still waiting for the last two).
When we picked up our items from the UPS store back in March, we came with face coverings, gloves, and spray (we couldn't buy cleaners so we used Everclear in a spray bottle -- all of our protective gear predated COVID). We unpacked our items, left the boxes in the trash there, and sprayed any plastic packaging inside before loading the car. This was "back in the day" when CDC guidelines were NOT to use face coverings or gloves. I guess we were ahead of our time.
When we went to pick up our solar batteries at Walmart, we were able to use the app to let them know we were coming so they had it all ready for us, and the clerk signed for us so we wouldn't have to touch the pad. He also let us check out another item so we wouldn't have to go through the regular checkout lines: we actually scored TOILET PAPER that Chip was astute enough to spot on our way to the pickup desk!
Each time we stop by our local post office, we drop off a handful of nitrile gloves for the clerks there, who were given no protective gear early on. Now they have a plastic film hanging in the window, and they have masks.
So we have been out on pickups (materials, groceries, gas, propane, trees) about once a week. But for the most part, we're staying at home, just Kimi, Chip, Ike, and our mesa. The lizards have come out of hiding, and seasonal birds are returning. We still get the occasional snow, but days are warming, and the greenhouse is toasty.
Social Distancing? Check!
Here's wishing you all stay healthy, stay safe, and stay at home!