Almost on a daily basis I receive an email of a postponed or canceled event or the latest trend, an organization or group hosting a virtual event. As someone who has grown and developed my career for 16 years primarily working from home in rural locations, I understand and support the value of utilizing technology to conduct business and bring people together. Virtual events aren’t new to me, but COVID-19 ramped up virtual events to a new level. I agree with meeting and event planners that it is safest in a global health pandemic to stay home and host virtual events with webinars, audio, video and meeting software.
I also prefer Zoom calls over a phone call when I can visually see and interact with another person or group of people. The AgweekTV team has been conducting more Zoom interviews during COVID-19, accessing different interviewees than we possibly would have interviewed in-person.
As small business owners, my husband and I use Facebook Live to give business tours, connecting people hundreds of miles away from our rural location to our work. Virtual connections bring value and advantages to business and personal relationships.
Earlier this spring, as a family we hosted Zoom calls a few times to connect aunts, uncles, cousins and my grandmother all together. I participated in a Zoom call with high school friends I haven’t seen in years. Virtual meetings can connect and build community like social media groups have done for many years with most personalization and without travel, expense while keeping everyone safely home.
Except, the value of in-person events, meetings and gatherings cannot be forgotten or lost. And maybe you’re like me this summer, in my professional work: I miss the interactions of people attending farm shows and crop tours. In my personal life, I long for the tradition of small festivals, county and state fairs and hosting big family gatherings. I miss the routine of going to church.
I thought of it as I drove Highway 36 in central North Dakota this past Monday to kick off the Agweek Cereal Crops Tour at Wilton. Instead of hosting a virtual event to look at the quality of cereal crops, six Agweek journalists spread out across the upper Midwest region to conduct in-person interviews with cereals experts, agronomists, farmers and researchers.
Since farmers do not have in-person crop tours to learn from or farm shows to interact with area experts this summer, the Agweek team's reporting holds an even greater purpose and need. It is not different than what Agweek has done for the past 35 years in delivering ag news to subscribers and then viewers of AgweekTV. But when the emails say canceled or virtual-only for another crop tour or farm show, I am reminded we need to continue the balance of finding in-person interviews and opportunities. Agriculture news reporting is not replaced with a virtual event.
I felt the same when I attended church for the first time in a church sanctuary recently. We’ve been watching weekly services online for months and attended one service in a park. But in an actual church building, spread out, every other row, with a personal choice to wear masks, I found more peace and comfort by attending in-person church worship than online. Later this week, I am meeting high school friends on an outdoor patio for a socially-distanced lunch. Connecting on Zoom earlier in the spring spurred our decision to meet in-person when we have the opportunity to.
Virtual meetings and events, personal or professional, do not replace the value of an in-person conversation, gathering or look at durum quality with an expert interviewed in the central North Dakota field. We're not going back to "normal" ever again. The future will change.
For now, do what you need to do to stay safe in the COVID-19 world, but do not solely live virtually.
Your choices and way of living may look different than those around you. None of us are working and living in a global health pandemic the same way. It’s a time to grant more grace, support one another, stay safe and keep living, with virtual meetings or in-person, socially distanced gatherings.
And someday, I hope to see many of you attending a farm show, crop tour, county fair, festival or church service. again.
Pinke is the publisher and general manager of Agweek. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or connect with her on Twitter @katpinke.