Where the Land Meets the Sky

There are pre- and post-season games, pre- and post-natal appointments, pre- and post-op X-rays. Our language, and therefore also our culture, is dominated by the beginning and the end of things. What is the word that connotes “during?” There is no good Latin prefix to be found.  

Etienne White

“During” comes from the old Latin durare meaning “to last,” from the Proto-Indo-European language root deru, meaning “to be firm, solid and steadfast.” Which is peculiar because oftentimes the middle of something is a time of great change. In the 13th century it came closer to its current meaning “to last, to endure, to extend.” And then in the late 14th century it came closer still to “in the time of, in the course of, throughout the continuance of.” Which brings us then to today, where “during” now literally means “enduring” something and lasting through it.

We are “mid” growing season in the Driftless, in the “middle” of a very strange and challenging year. One might ask, are we farmers “enduring?” It is not quite as passive as “enduring,” for we are rolling, moving, doing, working and making do. Some farmers have shifted from selling at farmers markets to selling directly to consumers. Some small family farmers, myself included, have nothing to sell this season and must wait, we are told, 10 months before our animals can be butchered. (This is due to the shortage of small processors who are now trying to absorb some of the volume of animals flooding the market due to many large processors not operating, or operating at lower volumes, due to COVID-19.) Instead of selling meat, some of us will be selling livestock as breeding pairs and starter flocks to newly enthused homesteaders, fresh from fleeing their lives in the city. 

How are we doing throughout the continuance of COVID? Are we firm, solid and steadfast? Not really, only in so much as we are passionately committed to change and uncertainty being a norm. We are steadfast in our resolve to be agile, to pivot and to change when needed, creating new opportunities, new markets, new flows, new relationships and new businesses, even. Our farms have become like the milkweed plants in the ditches and hedgerows, currently host to a non-descript yet still alive mess of cells. Cocooning monarchs are caterpillars digesting themselves, dissolving their own tissues and turning from solid to liquid before they become solid once more, yet in an entirely new form. We do not know what the new agricultural model will be that emerges from this period of change. We are in the “during” and we cannot yet see the end point.

Most likely, life post-COVID will not exactly mirror anyone’s pre-COVID days. We do not get to move backward, only forward, but rather than passively endure and survive, we can aim to be agile and thrive. There needs to be a Latin prefix for that.

Etienne White lives where the land meets the sky on a farm in Iowa County where she raises grass-fed, Old English Babydoll sheep, as well as pastured chickens, a happy farm dog, a wily barn cat and her two spirited children. She works at the intersection of marketing and sustainability, leading efforts to create mass consumer behavior change, for the greater good of both people and planet.