In the post COVID-19 world, many of us may choose to live in the style and form of an early 20th century farm.
The lifestyle of the new farm life will be more independent and self-sufficient than our pre-COVID-19 form of living. Also — and very important — the new farm life will shift the dynamics of family living to be more similar to those experienced by my father.
The biggest change prompting the new way of living will be in how work is done. In the future, more work will be performed remotely. A recent study from Stanford University estimates already 40% of the workforce is engaged in remote working, and this rate is expected to rise. Not all occupations are amenable to remote work, but more will be as technology continues to make advances.
This means an increasing number of people will be staying at home to work and earn income. Some may even choose to have gardens for raising vegetables, an activity that has gained in popularity during the pandemic. The rest of a household’s food can be delivered. Indeed, almost everything we need for daily living can be sent to our doorstep. All of this will be done to avoid personal contact and reduce the chances of being exposed to today’s — or tomorrow’s — virus.
Occasional trips will be made to cities for shopping and purchases of products and services that can’t easily be chosen online and delivered, but such trips will be the exception. In the new farm life, most of our time will revolve around the home.
In fact, the new farm may add a dimension the traditional farm did not have — education. While most children in the 1920s and ‘30s still had to leave the farm for their education, it is possible to provide much of today’s education virtually. Indeed, we are at this very moment experimenting with massive virtual education at both the K-12 and college levels.
Anticipating the development of the new farm — in which the home is the place where work, education, child-rearing and relaxation occurs — architects are already re-thinking home design. “Out” is the open-concept where major rooms flow seamlessly together with no separation. “In” is functional separation, with designated rooms for remotely working parents, virtual learning children, exercise and even for quarantining a family member inflicted with a virus.
The adoption of the new farm-style of living will change where families live. With remote working, virtual learning and online shopping, gone will be the need to live at pricey locations close to work, schools and shops. Without daily commutes, exurban, small town and even rural areas, where housing is noticeably less expensive, will become more popular.
Also, high-speed internet availability won’t be an issue in these more distant locations. Experts say it is only a matter of time before internet connectivity is provided by low-orbiting satellites, like those currently being developed by Elon Musk’s SpaceX program.
Of course, the new farm way of living could all be a figment of my imagination if the changes we’ve adopted during the pandemic ultimately go away once the virus is history. Or maybe not, if we find we like the changes that occurred during the pandemic and want to continue them even when normality arrives.
In a few months, I’ll be 70. I’ve been trying to decide what event during my lifetime has had the greatest impact on our society. Each day that goes by has me move the dial closer to COVID-19, especially when I consider the implications I’ve outlined here.
Mike Walden is a professor and extension economist in North Carolina State University’s Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics. He teaches and writes on personal finance, economic outlook and public policy.