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2021 Family section: A pandemic year in review

While I didn’t cover hard news surrounding the pandemic in 2021, it couldn’t help but weave its way into the tapestry of the family section throughout the year. Every family has been affected in one way or another.

January 2021

Looking back to my January 2021 family column, I wrote, “New Year’s Day 2020 seems like a lifetime ago. We were all so young then, with our parties and our uncovered faces. We had no idea what was about to happen. Thinking about that time now is like watching a movie when you know something awful is coming, but the characters have no clue.” I said that instead of setting lofty goals for 2021, my plan was simply to survive. (I’m happy to report I achieved that goal.)

February 2021

In the February issue, columnist Heather Barnes talked about how sad her family was when her son, who has autism, had to miss the Livestock Special Awards Show at the North Carolina State Fair. “This show is special because for those two hours, the participants can just be themselves. There are no judgments, no snide comments, no side looks or other forms of disapproval that so often happen where our exceptional children don’t fit into the ‘normal’ box,” she wrote.

Special Livestock Show

March 2021

In March, I wrote about the trend of weddings held in barns, and talked with Karri Rose, who owns such a venue near Des Moines, Iowa. The event space at Rose Farm is just the right size for a scaled-back gathering. “Not every couple wants a giant venue for their wedding, especially in the middle of a pandemic,” Rose said.

April 2021

Farm safety is a popular topic as planters begin to roll in the spring, and it was April’s cover story in the family section. In addition to the standard precautions and warnings about operating equipment, this year my article included COVID-19 mitigation measures. 

May 2021

In my May column, I wrote about my family’s experience having one son, Jake, graduate from high school in 2020 and another, Luke, in 2021. After seeing all the senior year traditions his older brother missed when everything shut down in the spring of 2020, Luke was thankful to be able to enjoy the little things that make small-town schools so special. 

He showed pigs at the county fair; rode on the back of a convertible in the homecoming parade as a king candidate; nailed the lead in the school musical; earned his FFA Iowa Degree; had complete seasons of football, basketball, and track; and got to have a graduation ceremony that was very close to normal. 

I wrote, “Considering how many people have died from COVID-19 and the economic and emotional impact it’s had around the world, these things may seem unimportant or even silly, but to this Iowa farm kid, they mean everything.”

Luke Prater in a cornfield wearing an FFA jacket

June 2021

Iowa hemp farmer Alissa Gardner was the topic of the June family section article. She said growing the crop in Iowa’s first legal season since the end of World War II was difficult enough, but the registration process was made worse by COVID-19. “You needed an FBI background check with fingerprints, but there were only two places in the state to do that because of the pandemic,” she said. “You had to really want to grow hemp to go through that.”

Alissa Gardner in hemp field

July 2021

While the July family section didn’t mention COVID-19 by name, it still bears evidence of the pandemic. In her column, Heather Barnes shared a photo of herself visiting a hydroponic lettuce grower in North Carolina, and since she was indoors and around other people and food, she is wearing a mask in the picture.

leafy greens

August 2021

In August, I shared the story of Ammie McGraw, who turned her father-in-law’s former swine facilities into a trendy market. She talked about how she had planned to get her business started with wreath-making classes on the farm, but the pandemic put her plans on hold.

September 2021

The September family article discussed the hazards pregnant women face on the farm, and while I didn’t include any COVID-19 mitigation information, I did talk about personal protective equipment and realized that PPE has become part of our pandemic vernacular.

pregnant mom and kids on farm
Photo: Getty Images/CavanImages

October 2021

Mental health was the focus in October, and I shared information on several online therapy sites and apps. “Virtual therapy, whether via text, phone calls, videoconferencing, or email, has been around for decades, but really took off after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic,” I wrote.

A survey from the American Psychological Association found that 64% of its members had no telehealth cases in May 2020, but once the pandemic took hold, 85% of members said they were seeing more than three-fourths of their caseload through teletherapy.

This shift in practice methodology resulted in unexpected benefits for farmers and the rural population in general. They may be less likely than their urban counterparts to seek in-person treatment, and chances are it’s not available nearby anyway. Meeting with a counselor online can be done from the comfort of their home, with no stigma attached. It’s a win-win.

telemedicine appointment

November 2021

The pandemic wasn’t mentioned in the final two family sections of 2021, but my November column was about writing a gratitude journal. By this time, COVID-19 had hit my family, and I was grateful everyone came out of it unscathed.

December 2021

In December, I wrote about leaving the stressful parts of the holidays behind and focusing on things that bring comfort and joy. Pandemic fatigue had set in, and I really just wanted to focus on the season and put COVID-19 out of my mind.



As 2021 fades away and we peer ahead into 2022, it doesn’t look like COVID-19 is going away anytime soon. We’re heading into new variants, more politicization of mitigation methods like masking and vaccinations, continuing polarization between people of differing opinions, and another uptick in infection rates and hospitalizations. 

I really don’t want to have to write about this pandemic any more. I want it to be over, like we all do. But as long as this is an issue that affects farm families, it will no doubt remain threaded throughout the fabric of the Successful Farming family section.

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