Survival in 2020



A couple of weeks ago, one of Putnam’s World War II veterans turned 102. The Fire Department, EMS crews and friends and drove by to wave, shout and say Hi. Car after car after car, homemade signs at the ready. And Joe Etta took it all in, calm and happy, from his front porch in Cold Spring. Think of it: He was born in 1918. He survived one pandemic, the Spanish flu of 1918, and now he is living through another one.

I’ll just say this: I hope to hell I don’t have the opportunity to live through a second pandemic. One is plenty.

His one query: When are the county Senior Centers going to reopen?

This is one of the perhaps unremarked, or, at least, not noticed enough, aspects of this grim time. Friends and relatives, with the Fire Department’s help, arranging a proper greeting for things like birthdays. This has gone on all across Putnam County. Probably, when you get down to it, it’s even more attention than a birthday party. Anyway, a good thing.


Food insecurity is increasing markedly as a result of the pandemic and the economic dislocation it has wrought. Many, many more people are turning to our local food banks for sustenance — I’m talking double the usual numbers, approaching triple the usual numbers in some of our communities right here in Putnam. Unemployment is rampant. If you can help out your local food bank, please do. An encouraging sign came Saturday (May 16). The county, the United Way and local food banks organized a county-wide food drive Saturday. Boxes and boxes and bags of food were collected at the locale where I stopped (Cold Spring). But the drive saw incredible generosity in other places, too, in every town and village of Putnam. In Putnam Valley, they collected enough food to shortly reopen their food bank, which had been completely wiped out.

Some of us are complaining if the store doesn’t have the brand or variety of the item we want. It could be worse, a lot worse. Help out the food banks; they are doing a vital service right now.

While we are on food: I do not see the situation improving relative to our meat supplies and the meatpacking plants. Not in the near term. Decisions that farmers and ranchers make now to cut back production — so they won’t be stuck with animals they can’t sell — will play out months from now. The gestation time for a pregnant sow and a litter of pigs is 115 days. For cattle, it’s 283 days. It will take a year before the meat market is back in some kind of balance.

And this: We haven’t even begun to see the worst in terms of other food products. I believe there simply will not be sufficient labor to harvest crops this summer and fall. This will have broad and deep impacts in a host of crops, from asparagus to berries to apples to lettuce and tomatoes. Absent a significant and massive effort, like billion-dollar programs, some of this food will just rot in the fields or be disked under. This has already begun to happen. This mess is unfortunate on so many levels: The sheer waste. In the face of so many hungry. And so many who do not or are not able to access and eat healthy foods. And this debacle, like that in our meat supply, will take a year, maybe two, to balance out. Fresh produce will cost more this fall, maybe a lot more. Potentially, some of this increase will be permanent.

Two lessons: 1, it’s a good time to support your local food bank. 2, it’s a good time to support your local farmers’ market. If you are fortunate enough to be able to buy directly from an area farmer, someone within 25 or 50 miles of here, do it. In the case of animals, they will have been raised humanely and in good conditions, and probably be of higher quality (there really is a difference in the pork chop from a heritage hog vs. an ordinary hog, for instance).


What I’m listening to:

Masters of Scale with Reid Hoffman, has had some excellent episodes. The series — which has some tremendous business case studies anyway — put together a quick response program on pivots and issues tied to the pandemic. “A crisis leadership session with General Stanley McChrystal.” And, “Inside Panera’s pandemic pivot, with CEO Niren Chaudhary.” And, “Crisis lessons from inside the ER, with Dr. Bon Ku.” Each was exceptional, and there are still others, also good. Chaudhary, in particular, described how to pivot quickly and with empathy. I commend them to your attention for insight about how to think about doing business now, making decisions now, and caring about your family, your employees and your customers right now.

Another suggestion: The Coronavirus Daily, from NPR. A once-a-day roundup of key topics tied to the pandemic and our response. Usually about 15 minutes. Quite thorough.

What I’m reading: David Brooks wrote a striking piece for The Atlantic, A Commencement Address Too Honest to Deliver in Person. Targeted toward college grads, but suitable for anyone. Challenging. For those of you wondering, not political.

Until next week.

Douglas Cunningham is editor of the Putnam County Courier and the Putnam County News & Recorder, in Cold Spring. Reach him at, or just call, 845.265.2468. We’re a small place, he may even pick up the phone himself.

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