We Have an Issue: From the Ground Up

How we accidentally ended up with an Earth Day issue

I've never liked the performative aspect of Earth Day themed issues or special sections; after all, we should be talking about the environment a lot more than one crummy day in April once a year. So it was something of a startlement to realize we'd planned a whole cover package about farming without connecting the dots back to a calendar. That's what you call backing into a special issue.

And special it is, this particular Earth Day, in which for perhaps the first time in history every corner of the planet is united in a common cause – beating back the COVID-19 pandemic. With so many of us sheltering in place, pollution is reducing and air quality is improving. Wildlife is making inroads in urban areas. And we're all thinking about food an awful lot: how to get it, where to get it, how to make sure it's getting to vulnerable populations.

With the autopilot easiness of popping into the grocery store now complicated by long queues to maintain safe social distancing inside stores, and long waits online for home delivery or curbside pickup, by necessity we're becoming more mindful consumers. For some people, that's meant they're more careful to reduce waste and to not be so precious about a slightly wilted veg. Others are making a new habit of visiting farmers' markets and farm stands, or signing up for a CSA box, developing a one-to-one, sustaining relationship with local farmers. And enough folks are planting their own backyard plots to inspire "victory garden" comparisons to another deeply challenging time in history. In a rare instance of forethought, I got my own spring garden started just a couple weeks before the city shut down, and it's become an essential part of my quarantine routine – caring for it, feeding off of it, watching new growth with the anticipation and emotional investment I usually save for TV dramas, and inventing new swear words when a fruitworm decimated my tomato plant.

Eventually, we'll get through this moment in time, back to the old normal we're all craving. But I hope some of our new ways stick.

Online This Week

Austin Under Quarantine: Austin Chronicle staff photographers John Anderson, Jana Birchum, and David Brendan Hall have been on the ground covering COVID-19 and a city under quarantine since the virus first touched down in Austin. Anderson explains why he felt compelled to edit their photographs and his own original video footage into a cinematic snapshot of a unique time in Austin's history:

"From a photographer's perspective the COVID-19 pandemic, as horrible as it is, has been an event rich with imagery that also begs for historical documentation. That combination has created the opportunity for a very unique visual journal. So equipped with masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, and plenty of social distancing, we've done our part to show the city what is happening to all of us, both in real time and for the sake of history.

"From a personal perspective it's been difficult. The need for masks and social distance makes taking photographs of people uniquely challenging. There's barriers that don't normally exist. And seeing the already visible signs of economic decimation has been heartbreaking.

Watch John Anderson's video online at austinchronicle.com/av.

"Time Doesn't Exist..." But you're going to want to hit play promptly at 8pm if you want to participate in Screens Editor Richard Whittaker's regular Thursday night livetweet watch of an Austin classic. This week: Richard Linklater's enduring Slacker. Follow @YorkshireTX and use the hashtag #NowStreaminginAustin to join the conversation.

Outside the Lines: The Chronicle seeks submissions from artists and illustrators for The Austin Chronicle Coloring Book. The Chronicle will split proceeds with the illustrators who have material inside. Submissions due April 17; find out more at austinchronicle.com/coloring-book.

More Farm Fodder: The Food section will be posting more farm-focused coverage – including recipes, a roundup of restaurants now offering markets, and a profile of a seed bank – throughout the week at austinchronicle.com/daily/food.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

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More We Have an Issue
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