by | Dec 20, 2021

New year, new you. When we hang the new calendar — and mine is a kitten calendar courtesy of my daughter, Charlie — it’s considered a time to move on from the old year. You might even want to put those 2021 calendars in the recycling bin, never to be considered again.

I take a different approach. You might think I drive with a pair of rose-colored glasses perched on the end of my nose. But I’m going to look back on those pandemic years with a glass-half-full perspective. Yes, there were terrible times when we couldn’t do the things we wanted. Some of us lost loved ones to COVID-19 or suffered through the illness it causes. That’s the empty part of the glass.

Call me the eternal optimist, but I think there just might be a silver lining to this mess. Those I work with know I cringe every time someone says: “That’s the way we’ve always done it.” I question why that’s the way we’ve always done it. Could be it made sense years ago, but not now.

Sometimes it takes a crisis to force us out of our narrow mindset. For example, we’ve always been able to walk into pretty much any grocery store and buy quality meat. That changed when the pandemic turned the supply chain upside down.

The result was supreme irony. While consumers jostled for the remaining packets of meat, farmers had to destroy millions of hogs and cattle when the processing plants they depended on closed.

It was a tragedy for large-scale agriculture. But it was an opportunity for the little guys. Farmers like my friend, David Borrowman, found demand for the heritage pigs they raise increased as consumers discovered food sources next door.

When schools shut down, parents scrambled to help their kids embrace online learning. I was one of those parents who turned their kitchen table into a classroom. I’ve heard pundits call this “the lost years” for education. But many parents organized home study groups and even recruited retired teachers to help prepare kids for their future.

Electric co-ops helped by opening their Wi-Fi to members and even installing new internet access points for those with poor service. The pandemic made clear just how critical high-speed internet is. In 2021 we saw state and federal sources channel millions into broadband for unserved rural people. These programs will help internet providers, including some electric co-ops, serve rural areas from Big Lake to the Bootheel.

Because of the pandemic, electric co-ops adopted drive-thru annual meetings. They discovered members like this new type of annual meeting and participation increased.

In the future I look for many of these new ideas to continue, providing better service and including more members in the cooperative way. Of course, that’s the way we’ve always done it!

Caleb is the executive vice president and CEO of the Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives and a member of Boone Electric Cooperative.

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