Anyone who has tried to grow vegetables knows how difficult it can be. You can water during a dry spell, but too much rain at the wrong time can ruin a garden for the rest of the season. That is very disappointing for a hobby gardener; no fresh tomatoes, beans, or squash. You can replace these vegetables and more at the grocery store, but there is absolutely nothing like a tomato picked minutes before.

In New England up until the Civil War many people practiced “subsistence farming”; the family grew just about everything they ate, and had just enough left over to buy things they couldn’t grow themselves. Far from being some idyllic golden age, this manner of farming called for back-breaking work all year round. Crops were at the mercy of the weather. Too little or too much rain at the wrong time could result in hunger and poverty for the next year. Some families gave up and moved. Other families lost their farms to debt or taxes. A crop failure meant disaster.

These families had a guiding principle called “Improving the Time.” This meant that they constantly did things to help their situation. They were always looking for ways to improve their lives. Maybe they would dig a trench to drain a swampy field so it could grow more grass. Or, in the evenings they would read articles on the latest research. They would knit scarves and sweaters to sell. They always kept their eyes open for ways to improve their lives.

I am not idealizing that era. Families moved beyond it as quickly as they could. New Englanders who stay in farming avail themselves of every modern improvement and labor saving device they can so they do more than merely subsist; they try to prosper. God bless them, may they succeed! Everyone who enjoys eating ought to be grateful to farmers.

During this lockdown most people have more free time than they have had in years. What would it look like if we took that principle to heart? What might we do so that we come out of the lockdown better people than we were when it started? I don’t need to answer that question. You already know the answer. There is some project you have been wondering about, some knowledge; some spiritual practice, a craft or skill, people to get back in touch with. You all have your own list. What is on your list?