Winter time represents an opportunity for a farm reset. Our unusually warm weather has made the tasks of mowing, removing irrigation, livestock pen cleaning, and general organizing pleasant. Cleaning creates the space for seasonal reflection, opening a wider view to personally reflect on the previous growing season. This wider lense is very different from the number punching spreadsheet crop planning coming up.
Thoughts come and go as to how much of a certain crop we planted, and how much will be planted next year, what if we did this or that? I keep my mind open and not get bogged down in the details. More reminiscing on the feelings rather than specifics. It's time to set the farm’s bed and clean the edges. This work clears the space and allows dreaming creative spirits a place to enter. I usually hate the work of unpacking and cleaning, but this year I find myself enjoying simpler tasks.
We have let go of our seasonal employees meaning I no longer have to be awake at a certain time. The ability to choose a daily schedule has provided my body with rest. My mornings now consist of exercising, writing, and two cups of coffee. Mentally I am taking advantage of this time. I started seeing a therapist on a weekly basis a month ago.
Burnout can look a lot of ways. For me 2021 was characterized by intermittent sadness, anger, frustration, manic happiness, and exhaustion. My mental health suffered, my body suffered, my business suffered, my personal relationships suffered. I was faced with an ultimatum. Either take on the extra burden and deal with my mental health, or remain in a loop of unhealthy seasonal ebbs and flows.
My situation as a farmer is extremely unique. Folks Farm was started on family land, however, this land was never farmed by my family and had not been irrigated since the 60s. Since then we have found land access in an urban rental setting. This is strikingly different from the more typical rural, multi-generational farm. Studies show farmers in these settings have heightened rates of mental health issues, substance abuse, and increased rates of suicide. This is a trend we see across the world from Australia to India. Covid-19 has further exacerbated the impacts of mental health on farmers across the country, resulting in more anxiety and isolation. I feel extremely fortunate to have access to mental health care and a community of friendly support. I realize this access is a great privilege not available to many people, farmers or not.
The process of coming to this realization and finding a professional to work with took months. I knew I didn’t want to meet over the internet, for me face to face interaction is crucial. I wasn’t sure if I needed a specialist, someone focused on ag workers, or if someone general would work. Maybe a life coach? I settled on a general licensed therapist who lives in town and operates out of their house.
We have been working together creating a personal values system. A way of integrating with the heart. I do not necessarily look forward to our meetings every week, but the effort is paying off. My hope is that putting in the effort now will reinforce the habit of listening to my heart, so come August I will have the capability to resource, avoid burnout, and keep track of my mental health.
I am not writing this for any reason other than transparency. Writing has shown itself to be a tool I intend to use in clearing mental space. This practice strives to integrate my daily life so come next season I can keep my head above water and stay out of the weeds. Sharing my writing creates an engine that motivates me to continue the practice. I hope whoever reads this finds it beneficial.
A. Gregoire, The mental health of farmers, Occupational Medicine, Volume 52, Issue 8, December 2002, Pages 471–476, https://doi.org/10.1093/occmed/52.8.471
Sengupta, Rajit, “Every day, 28 people dependant on farming die by suicide in India, Down to Earth, 03 Sept. 2020
Tomko, Mike, e al. “National Poll shows Covid-19 Taking Heavy Toll on Farmer’s Mental Health”, American Farm Bureau Federation, 6 Jan. 2021, https://www.fb.org/newsroom/national-poll-shows-covid-19-taking-heavy-toll-on-farmers-mental-health
Yazd, Sahar Daghagh, et al. “Understanding the Impacts of Water Scarcity and Socio-Economic Demographics on Farmer Mental Health in the Murray-Darling Basin.” Ecological Economics, Elsevier, 26 Nov. 2019, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0921800919302368.