Between the Rows: The Perfect Time to Panic

Published online: Apr 28, 2020 Between the Rows Tyrell Marchant, Editor
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This column appears in the May 2020 issue of Potato Grower.

It’s an iconic scene, from a historically, inarguably great film that really did break all sorts of glass ceilings—a movie very much ingrained in my generation’s collective nostalgia:

Two toys stand marooned under a gas station awning, hiding behind the tires of a parked 18-wheeler. The first, a gangly, floppy pull-string cowboy doll, is visibly panicky. The second, a brand-new space ranger action figure with all the bells and whistles, is utterly unfazed by the dilemma at hand; indeed, he wholeheartedly believes he is in complete control of the situation, in spite of his delayed rendezvous with Star Command.

“Sheriff,” Buzz Lightyear says calmly yet firmly to Woody, “this is no time to panic.”

Throwing his string bean arms in the air and mustering all the exasperation a plastic face can muster, Woody shoots back, “This is the perfect time to panic!”

Of course, Woody is right: There really isn’t any feasible way for two tiny toys on a severe time crunch to survive a trip across town. And, despite Buzz’s ardent faith in Star Command, no one is coming to their rescue.

Of course, Buzz is right, too: This, or any other, is no time to panic. Screaming and hollering and raising one’s blood pressure to alarming levels has not and will never improve the odds of escaping a sticky situation.

Buzz may be delusional, but his calmness serves the unlikely duo well as they embark on their trek home to Andy. Likewise, though Woody is anything but cool under pressure, the story would not have had a happy ending without the sledgehammer that was his steadfast (albeit desperate) devotion to his kid.

The past couple months have seen the world in what could fairly be termed a rough situation. Whether you believe the brouhaha was whipped up by a media machine intent on diabolical political sabotage, a valiant effort to prevent an I Am Legend-level calamity, or something in between, everyone seems to agree on two things: this is no time to panic, and this is the perfect time to panic.

Couple all this pandemic-propelled pandemonium with the trying (to put it very mildly) 2019 growing season growers in many parts of the U.S. just got themselves through, and it’s easy to feel as if you narrowly escaped a sinking ship, only to realize your lifeboat has sprung a leak. They say when it rains it pours, but we appear to be reaching biblical-level precipitation here.

There are, of course, several possible courses of action to take. You can choose to believe your ship is still unsinkable and assure your shipmates all is well. You can lighten the lifeboat’s load by tossing the least helpful-looking people overboard. You can nobly sacrifice yourself as dead weight and dive into the icy, electric-eel infested water. You can start praying your guts out. You can just sit there and cry. You can plug the hole with your jacket and start bailing water. You can attempt any combination of those. Each choice has its merits, and each has its downsides—some obviously further down than others.

Dwight D. Eisenhower famously said, “Plans are worthless, but planning is everything. There is a very great distinction because when you are planning for an emergency, you must start with this one thing: The very definition of ‘emergency’ is that it is unexpected; therefore, it is not going to happen the way you are planning.”

I can’t think of a better description of the mindset of a successful American farmer, who has become a trusted icon thanks to an innate ability to know when the occasion calls for split-second, gut-based decision-making and when a more measured, wait-and-see approach is more appropriate. There is always something or someone throwing a wrench in the best of intentions, but those best-laid plans are the compass that helps a guy navigate stormy waters.

Whether you’re dealing with a tough harvest, a global pandemic, or a smart but stubborn 16-year-old’s C- in AP history, any crisis needs a healthy dose of both Woody and Buzz: If something is a big deal, it’s unhealthy to sequester yourself in a fantasyland and pretend everything is just fine. But if we find ourselves in a barroom brawl in Aisle 4 at Albertsons over a six-pack of toilet paper…Well, that’s not exactly indicative of an advanced, robust society, now, is it?

Come on, everybody; let’s play nice.