Whoever thought a whole year after COVID-19 arrived into the UK that we would still be in a state of lockdown?
Don’t worry – this isn’t another article dragging us back through all the struggles and anxieties the last several months has brought to us individually and as a national.
There is a national COVID reflection day today and as I reflect back, I wanted to spend a bit of time shining a light on some of the huge shifts in societal behaviours and values that we have seen and that I sincerely hope remain once normality resumes.
Sustainability seemed to be the buzz word of the last year, which isn’t surprising as we are literally witnessing the change in front of our eyes.
All of a sudden we are being hit with the true reality of what we are doing to our planet and we have had to take responsibility and accountability for our actions.
Since our country shut down, the environment and nature has began to bloom. In the first lockdown alone, there was between a 42 per cent and 48 per cent decrease in surface nitrous oxide levels across the whole of the UK.
Our rivers are cleaner, noise pollution is greatly reduced and even single use plastic has dropped significantly. Our native wildlife is also reaping the benefits and is thriving.
Mother Nature is bouncing back! As people’s lives have been restricted with lockdown, they have started to reconnect more with nature.
COVID has given people time to discover and enjoy the simpler things in life and time for reflection.
For us farmers, there has been a dramatic increase in sales throughout local farm shops across the country, with many members of the public making a conscious effort to not only buy local, but to eat produce which is in season and has been grown and sourced to ethical and sustainable standards.
We had more than a 50 per cent increase in our lamb box sales this year compared to the year before, and if we had enough lambs available we could have easily increased this figure.
It’s not only meat and fresh produce that have seen a dramatic increase of support over the last year.
Lockdown has also highlighted the importance of small businesses in general. Lockdown has truly made us appreciate our family, friends and loved ones.
We are suddenly seeing past the price tag and the instant next day delivery. Instead people are starting to connect not just with the beautiful products small businesses are providing, but with the people providing them.
As we buy from small businesses, we are not adding to a massive bottom line of a faceless corporation but we are we are making a genuine difference to the lives of individuals, we are supporting someone’s dream and when you look at a more granular level we are even helping to pay for their children’s swimming lessons.
Secondly, farm shops and small business are ahead of the game. It’s hard to compete with the big boys when it comes to price.
I certainly can’t sell a leg of lamb for the price you can pick an imported one up for in your local supermarket.
So how do we differentiate our products if not on price? The answer is simple, quality and sustainability.
I try and tell the story of the lambs I produce to help customers make an emotional connection, driving home the message that my lambs are grass fed and not pumped with concentrates.
I have lost count of the number of messages that I have had telling me how different my lamb tastes from normal supermarket lamb. ‘It doesn’t have the sour taste I often get with supermarket lamb and its tender’ said the last message.
Small businesses also have a massive impact on environmental sustainability, drastically reducing food miles.
But the big success in terms of sustainability has to go to the small businesses that kept the shelves stocked, kept food on peoples table, who went above and beyond to make sure people never did without, who delivered good to those who were vulnerable and who treated customers as individuals.
Personally I believe small businesses and sustainability are a winning combination for businesses and consumers. The rise of the small business has to be one of the most positive things to come out of COVID.
As we begin to head out of lockdown now, we must work and make a conscious effort to maintain what we have achieved to date and ensure we don’t fall back into old habits.
This action belongs to each and every one of us and is as simple as carrying on visiting your farm shop, planning a bit ahead when buying birthday presents instead of having a last minute panic order off Amazon for next day delivery.
On National Reflection Day there will be a lot of sadness as we think about the people and the things we lost in the last 12 months.
But please take a little time to also reflect on what we have gained and of the positives we have seen, and make a personal commitment to maintain those things.
One of the greatest things that we can do is ensure that as many positive things remain, from what has been one of the world’s most challenging times.