Updated: Jun 20
Dear reader, it's great to see you back on my new blog post!
Summer is at its peak and the harvest season is in full swing. This is a very demanding time for growers, both in terms of time and energy. The stressors are overwhelming: unpredictable weather conditions, outbreaks of disease and undesirable organisms in the plants, social isolation, managing an often heavy financial burden, etc.
In fact, a study conducted at the University of Guelph by Professor Andria Jones-Bitton, using data collected from 1100 farmers from all sectors, showed that 45% of those surveyed experienced high levels of stress, 58% had symptoms of anxiety and 35% had depression. A report by the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food on the mental health of farmers in Canada presents similarly damning results.
No one should have to experience burnout. I hope you never have to experience one, dear reader. I'm not going to pretend that we know each other personally, but I know that no matter who you are, it's rarely an easy task to take care of your head. Especially when there is always more to do, but not enough time to do it.
The body is a non-renewable resource that needs to be maintained if you don't want to burn out. It is very common for producers to burn out in the first few years. Here are a few tips, given in part by my vegetable grower friend, to help you stay on track toward a healthy mind in a healthy body.
Fight the weeds
During the first year(s), you don't have to put all your efforts into fighting weeds. One trick that has saved the day for many market gardeners is to invest in landscape fabric. Landscape fabric can last up to 10 years if properly maintained and can also save you hours of weeding. If you have weeds, don't get down on your hands and knees every other day to pull them, or at least you don't have to do it right away.
If environmental impact is a drag, know that the amount of TV oil/plastic is very small in terms of climate change effects when you look at who the biggest polluters actually are. Spoiler alert: it's not a small-scale farm that's going to impact the planet, but rather the fossil fuel companies and the 1%.
In short, when it comes to saving time and energy, this is a great place to start.
Feed yourself well
The work of a market gardener is not without physical effort. It is essential to eat food that is focused on enriching not only the body but also the soul. You have to eat enough, and drink at least one litre of water before working, even if it is winter.
Foods rich in fibre and protein are usually the foods that stay in your stomach the longest. Listen to your body and take breaks: your efficiency will be more compromised by fatigue and hunger than by the desire to take a short break.
Start, start again
Dear Reader, if you are a new producer, it is normal to be unsure at first of what you like and what works for you. You don't have to make a firm asc. Try it, give up if you have to, and start over as many times as necessary.
Doing something that is not "you" will only put mental pressure that is not necessary.
A tip for starting out smoothly would be to grow no more than a quarter acre the first year or two and only do one market a week.
Make a fixed schedule
Working when you feel like it is the fastest way to develop burnout. To avoid this, one idea is to make and stick to a fixed schedule. This can include a hobby (a class, an activity, a workshop, etc.) that is present each week that will force you to not cultivate 100% of your time and allow you to unplug.
For my market gardener friend, it was painting classes: the day of her week that she spends painting acts as a moment of relaxation, almost meditation, and allows her to recharge her batteries.
Making a permanent schedule will not only allow you to better organize your time in terms of work and relaxation but also to better organize the time spent with your friends and family. It also helps to avoid fatigue and demotivation at certain times.
What works for my friend is not to go out and do a lot of farming activities. If she goes out one night to dance and party in a bar, she organizes herself so that she doesn't have to work the next day.
Breaking the isolation
Many producers face isolation issues, which can make it difficult to reach out for help. Mental health is often like swimming: when you feel like you're sinking, trying to get through it alone can be more exhausting than anything else. It's always best to seek help.
Mental health problems are not so different from physical health problems. Because physical and mental health are inevitably connected, it is not uncommon for these problems to have not only a psychological and emotional impact but also a physical one: stomach aches, migraines, loss of appetite, muscle weakness…
Unfortunately, the most common reflex is to ignore the situation in order to "continue to be productive" no matter what, which only aggravates the problem.
There are many social stigmas that make us believe that seeking help makes us weak and unable to manage our problems independently. This stigma is even greater with men: after all, until recently, a man who expressed vulnerability was called a "wimp" or some other degrading slur.
Whether you are male, female, non-binary or otherwise, you need to get out of this archaic and outdated way of thinking. Talking about your issues and seeking help can help you prevent burnout and even long-term illness.
When suffering from a mental health issue, it is essential to find the right context and care to begin your wellness journey. Here are some professional resources that can help you.
Do More Agriculture Foundation - NPO focused on agricultural mental health in Canada
Young Agrarians Resources for Mental Health and Wellness (also in the U.S.A).
Better Help, a mental health platform that provides online mental health services directly to consumers.
Real Farmer Care – Its mission is to address the personal care needs of farmers, particularly Black, Indigenous and farmers of color, and to allocate donated funds directly to farmers.
PLEASE NOTE: The Better Help platform has been the subject of controversy in 2018. Below, dear reader, are 3 articles explaining the events and the Better Help website. I suggest that you consult them to get an overview of the situation before determining if their services would be appropriate for your needs and values.
To you, the precious person reading this blog post, I would like to say thank you. Thank you for your time, thank you for your interest, thank you for your hard work, your motivation and most of all, thank you for being here. Every extra day that passes with your existence on Earth is a blessing, a privilege.
Take care of yourself, rest and above all, do not hesitate to talk to someone if you feel the need.