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COLUMN — Looking to the future amid the pandemic

What Farmville will be going through the next several months can be compared to a forest fire.

Forest fires are scary acts of nature if you are near them, but after they race through an area, burning away dead trees, leaves and other vegetation from the forest floor, new things sprout up. The overall health of the forest improves. Some tree species such as the giant sequoia in the Sierra Nevada region of California and the pygmy pitch pine in New Jersey need the heat of a forest fire to reproduce.

In the coming months, our community will likely see many changes due to the combination of the pandemic and resulting financial crisis. One restaurant has already closed. More will likely follow. Some small businesses will thrive in this time. There will also be those that do not make it.

Even as we mourn and reflect on all that is and will be lost, The Farmville Herald is launching a multi-week project to look forward to post-pandemic and envision how we can make our community a better place.

The 10-week project we are calling Imagine Farmville will tackle a new topic each week. Some examples of topics we will focus on are health care, transportation, affordable housing and education. More topics will come to the forefront as we begin our journey and dialogue in this process.

A pandemic may seem like an odd time to launch such an endeavor, but actually it is the perfect time. Change is going to come quickly to Farmville as a result of the pandemic. The effects of the financial crisis will be far-reaching. It is beginning to look like hope of a quick “V-shaped” recovery from the downturn is more optimism than reality and a much slower recovery with some ups and downs is what we should prepare to endure.

Even without the effects of the pandemic, Farmville and Prince Edward County are uniquely set up for change. Farmville has a new town manager and a new chamber director has yet to be chosen. Prince Edward County will soon have a new county administrator on board. Our leadership is changing and will need to meet the new challenges presented by this new reality.

As a community, we need to have input around these changes. One way to do that is to start conversations about what we want our town to become. We won’t all agree and there is always the propensity to want to keep things just as they are.

One of my friends who has been a newspaper editor in Virginia much longer than me tells a joke he said explains how change happens in Virginia. The joke starts with the question, how many Virginians does it take to change a light bulb? The answer is six, one to change the bulb and five to talk about how right fine the old light bulb was.

We want to begin a conversation about how we get better as a community. We want to use this time of trial to imagine how things can be better and discover things that should be improved.

Since we cannot safely meet at the Merk’s Place or the North Street Press Club to discuss these issues, we will use Facebook and other social media channels to have these discussions with readers.

To make all this happen, we welcome back an old friend to write and help orchestrate this project for us. Emily Hollingsworth, who worked at The Herald as a reporter, has graciously agreed to help us. This will allow our regular staff to continue reporting on the forest fire while Emily looks beyond the smoke and flames to a better tomorrow.

I hope you will join us in imagining what Farmville can become. Our first topic will publish next Friday both in print and online.