Lead NY alumna Kim Trombly looks for positive changes from the pandemic to carry into the future
Toilet paper shortages, Tiger King, sourdough, murder hornets, and a global pandemic— this has certainly been a wild year! I do not want to downplay the seriousness of this year, but with the emergency use authorization of both the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, I have hope that a return to a semblance of normal may be coming in 2021. With this, I’ve allowed myself the mental space needed to reflect on this year and some of the positives I’d like to continue after we return to “normal.”
There is no doubt that in commodity markets, this year has been a roller-coaster. But for farms able to direct market, it’s been a banner year. While that’s amazing for some of our farmers, this was also great for the entire agricultural community. When grocery store shelves went bare, our non-farm friends and neighbors had to stop and think about their food and how it normally gets to the grocery shelf. People accessing food locally created a more connected farm and non-farm community. The other day on a virtual meeting with a downstate legislator, she commented how food and farming was at the forefront of the minds of her constituents for the first time since she was in office. This presents a real opportunity for us as an upstate farming community to connect with our downstate friends. Agriculture and agritourism were also boosts to people’s mental health this year.
More people than ever before took up gardening – there was not a single cherry tomato plant left in Clinton County.
People also visited agritourism farms to pick berries or to cut down a Christmas tree. Agriculture offered a safe and fun way for people to get out of the house. We should be proud that as an industry we helped people get through this year.
It’s crazy to think that Class 18 was in New York City when the first COVID-19 case was diagnosed in Staten Island. Two short weeks later, the world came to a full stop. As leaders in the agricultural community, we were often running to various meetings, or traveling to cover our large territories. For a few months all travel halted and many of us were able to sit down and have dinner together with our families for the first time in much too long. During our Zoom LEAD sessions, many of our classmates have commented how, while sometimes difficult, it was nice being home more often. This pandemic offered an opportunity to slow down and reevaluate what activities are truly important, so we can continue prioritizing time at home. Since people were home more, hobbies were explored and projects around the house got done! I’m pretty sure Class 18 could start a renovation show on HGTV based on the number of projects completed around our homes and farms. At New York Farm Bureau, we also got around to figuratively “nailing the trim.” We have always had projects on the back burner that we never seem to have time for. Since we were traveling less, this year we had more time to get to them. We updated membership information, organized old files, and streamlined processes. The “when we have time” projects will pay dividends going forward and this year will serve as a reminder to prioritize getting those back-burner projects done. Lastly, Class 18 was given the best time-related gift- an extra year in LEAD-NY. While we are not able to meet in person, we have monthly Zoom meetings covering topics we normally would not be able to cover. We get an extra year as classmates and to grow as leaders. I personally think that’s pretty awesome.
By-far the greatest positive from this pandemic was the forced adoption of technology and acceptance of change. While I will admit this created mass chaos at the beginning of the pandemic, overall, this was a net-win. By mid-March, all non-essential businesses were forced to go 100% remote. Previously my organization’s office staff were unable to work from home- a common refrain from many of my Class 18 classmates that used to work in an office. Now several months into this pandemic, businesses are realizing how effective it is to work from home and what a positive this can bring for work-life balance. Businesses have realized savings in office space too- our organization did not renew a lease on one of our regional offices and downsized the size of our other regional office. It’s already been demonstrated that office space downsizing and office/home hybrid schedules are trends businesses are going to continue. Other institutions were also forced to adopt technology. Schools had to switch to remote learning almost overnight.
While there are still bugs being worked out, I think the broader point was that even institutions that normally abhor change can adapt faster than they would ever expect.
We’ve learned as leaders how important it is to allow your people to get creative to try to solve difficult problems and empower them to make changes. During this pandemic, we were able to see this concept demonstrated in real-time and showed how effective it can be.
This forced technology adoption has also been great for our agricultural community. I adore our members and older farmers, but sometimes they are reluctant to try new things. But with every meeting going virtual, adapting to using Zoom and other technologies was a necessity this year. This also opened a greater platform for education and knowledge. Instead of being limited to seminars at the local extension or crop congress, farmers and agricultural leaders could learn from experts literally around the globe. I was talking to the Executive Director of my local Cornell Cooperative Extension who commented that they used to get about 15-20 people at an in-person class, but now that they were offering remote options they were getting 40-60 people from around the world. While I long for the days of in-person meetings for the networking and social aspects, there are undeniable advantages to virtual options. I think this pandemic has allowed us as a society to reevaluate when a virtual or an in-person meeting is most appropriate. While I hope that we never again have to experience a year like the one we just had, I’m thankful as a society we were able to take a collective breath and reevaluate how we’ve “always done things.” From reconnecting to food and farming, spending quality time at home, and finally bringing some of our stakeholders into the 21st century—this year wasn’t all bad. Right?
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