The year 2020 is transitioning, as well, into the brand-new year of 2021. This is, as succinctly said in a Disney song, the “Circle of Life.”
“Throughout 2020, we’ve experienced numerous challenges because of COVID,” Farmer Lee says, “and yet Mother Nature continues. The grass was still green in spring, flowers still bloomed in summer—and bees still gathered nectar for honey—and crops are still being planted and harvested seasonally.”
When talking about this past year, Farmer Lee acknowledges the devastation that has hit many families and businesses and grieves for them—and yet he still looks forward to the future with optimism. “I mourn for everyone who has lost a loved one and I am not trying to downplay any of those events and feelings. I am also optimistic that we will gather together again to celebrate. We will shake a hand, hug a friend, eat together at our favorite restaurants, and appreciate life.”
He suggests that we look back in history to see examples of other people rising from the ashes to accomplish and enjoy new things. For example, in the latter part of the 1910s, people in the United States endured World War I, followed up by what’s called the Spanish Flu epidemic (although it probably didn’t start in Spain). This was followed up by the energetic Roaring 20s, represented by the dance called the Charleston.
The economic devastation of the Great Depression was also all too real, and yet families that lost their farms were shown in the film, Grapes of Wrath, as putting on their best clothes, worn and torn yet clean, to come together for a square dance. Financially down and out, yes—and yet they held on to their pride and dignity—and, although it took time, better days were ahead.
“Once these vaccines kick in,” Farmer Lee says, “I truly believe we will come out of it to reincarnate our own version of the Roaring 20s. We’re on the brink of transformation and, just like the crops will in spring, new things will emerge, sprout, and grow.”
Crucial Ingredient: Patience
As we look forward to restaurants to opening more fully again and life to transform into a new kind of normal, it can take patience. “Mother Nature leads the way there, as well,” Farmer Lee says. “Look at Brussels sprouts. It takes eleven months for this vegetable to grow into its peak flavor. By having the patience to let the flavor develop, though, you can enjoy it in its full deliciousness. The same is true with ice wine. You don’t pick the grapes until after they’ve been frozen. In other words, everything to its season.”
Another Crucial Ingredient: Creativity
Chefs and other professionals in the culinary industry continue to find creative ways to deliver and serve food during these challenging times and Farmer Lee believes this will serve them well once businesses can open up more fully. “People are survivors,” he says. “It’s who we are. If there is an obstacle, people find creative ways to work around it and prevail. It’s what we do. We will take what we’ve learned from these challenging times to come back better than ever. That’s creativity. That’s persistence. That’s what people are made of.”
Throughout 2020, at the farm and Culinary Vegetable Institute, we’ve sought out new partnerships and opportunities—and we know that chefs and others have done the same. “So,” Farmer Lee says, “we look forward to what will be birthed and rebirthed in 2021, and we look forward to sharing those adventures with one another as we sit around tables together again.”