It’s ironic that spending a few months indoors should make us rediscover – and appreciate – the natural world. Many people, myself included, are finally taking the time to wistfully observe the seasons changing outside our windows, noticing for the first time the plants and flowers that grow in our unkempt gardens. Watching images of ducks, foxes or deer take to our streets, it’s easy to fall for the idea of the countryside idyll and wish for a nature that’s unspoilt, wild and human-free.
However, our fantasies tend to ignore the fact that the countryside is also a place of agriculture and hard work. If we’re getting bountiful baskets of fruit and vegetables delivered to our doors it’s because there are people who, throughout the pandemic, have kept our food supplies coming. Like nurses, doctors and postmen, they are essential workers. Yet in countries such as my native Italy, they all too often work without a contract, for a paltry hourly wage.
This week the Italian government reached an agreement to regulate the conditions of work for those without a contract. The deal also extends residency permits for undocumented migrants who have laboured on Italian fields and whose work is integral to keeping the system afloat – something that other countries discovered as the influx of seasonal workers nearly ground to a halt during the pandemic. Ensuring these workers’ rights is paramount to recognising the fundamental role that they play in society. If a return to nature and the countryside is what we wish for, we cannot afford to leave the people who work there behind.