Farmers live by the seasons. When summer fades into fall, we roll right into the flow of harvest time, ebbing and flowing through long summer days. When fall brings a crisp, cool air, we welcome the shift after working so hard through the growing season.
This time of year, as winter becomes spring, we feel it all the way down to our cores.
As spring arrives, bringing bird songs, fresh shoots and greening grass, farmers can feel a lot of anxiety. Winter is our time for rest, for innovating, for catching up on sleep, and for dreaming and scheming up ideas for a successful growing season.
And as late winter approaches, it’s suddenly time to dive back in: to start seeds, to prep beds, to fix equipment and machinery. To implement.
It’s an exciting time, but it’s also one that can generate a lot of anxiety for a farmer.
This isn’t something we farmers are good at talking about, either!
Farming takes a whole lot of heart, because the ups and downs are extreme. It’s unbelievably rewarding, a job that pleases the soul deeply, in countless little ways; and, it presents incredible challenges, ones that feel both bigger than life and infinitely personal.
It’s a lot easier to share the beauty of farming than it is to open up about the hard realities of it.
But as growing food becomes a task largely taken up by giant industrial corporations, it’s more important than ever that we farmers tell our stories about what it means to grow food – to dedicate our livelihoods to sustenance.
And on a more serious note, talking about the darker sides of farming might help us, as a society, move toward supporting farmers more deeply.
In her article, Debbie Weingarten sheds light on the disproportionate number of farmers who commit suicide.
“A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggested that male farmers in 17 states took their lives at a rate two times higher than the general population in 2012 and 1.5 times higher in 2015.
This, however, could be an underestimate, as the data collected skipped several major agricultural states, including Iowa. Rosmann and other experts add that the farmer suicide rate might be higher, because an unknown number of farmers disguise their suicides as farm accidents.
The US farmer suicide crisis echoes a much larger farmer suicide crisis happening globally: an Australian farmer dies by suicide every four days; in the UK, one farmer a week takes his or her own life; in France, one farmer dies by suicide every two days; in India, more than 270,000 farmers have died by suicide since 1995.”
In another article, Dr. Mike Rosmann talks about how depression is a real issue for many farmers, and he offers an interesting insight:
“The personality traits of successful farmers may contribute to proneness for depression.
These traits include: willingness to take risks, very high conscientiousness about work, great capacity to persevere in the face of adversity and self-reliance. When stress occurs, most farmers work harder and keep their problems to themselves instead of reaching out for support.”
With the gravity of this issue in mind, I want to tell you about my own early spring experience.
I call them Farmer Blues.
Late winter and early spring mark the beginning of a new cycle. Before the harvests and the growth that we all look forward to comes the preparation. This time of year, farmers are juggling the long list of tasks that must be done in order to be ready for planting time, for growing time, for harvest time.
We’re thinking about how to organize our time, how to finance our operations with little to no money coming in this time of year, how to find seasonal help, how to maintain sanity and grace while enjoying the work we love so dearly.
And so much of this experience, we face alone.
I’m sharing this with you now not to bring you down. I’ve dedicated my life to farming because it’s what I love! It’s my passion. I believe in practicing and promoting sustainable farming methods, in growing food for local consumption, in spreading the love of lavender and other perennial herbs as far and wide as I can.
Like every farmer, I’m in this because it brings me joy and purpose.
I’m sharing with you the side unseen, the struggle and the intimate challenge – the Farmer Blues – because it’s time we all get real about farming. It’s time farmers tell our stories, so that others can understand the difference between a person and a machine, between a thousand-acre cornfield and a biodiverse family farm, between a tomato that traveled from Mexico and one that was started from seed, nurtured and plucked from a vine just down the road.
What about you?
There’s so much you can do, as a consumer and a community member, to help farmers overcome their blues.
Our farms wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for those who came to visit us or buy our peaches or subscribe to our CSA’s or choose the “local” option at the grocery store. During the growing season, your support is invaluable, and we couldn’t do without it.
Beyond supporting your local farmers during harvest time, here are a few ways you can help us get through the Farmer Blues:
- Say hello. Many of us small farmers have social media platforms. Some of us even have hours when we’re open to the public during the winter. Saying hello to a farmer reminds us of our precious connection to the community. After all, farming can be a lonely job! Your greetings mean the world.
- Look out for pre-season events like plant sales, educational events, tastings. Stay in touch with local farmers and attend winter and springtime events.
- Support diversification. More and more farmers today are diversifying their operations by selling products year-round. At our farm, we sell organic cherry jam, dried lavender bouquets and specialty body products. Items like these help us maintain our operation year-round, rather than relying on the few months out of the year when we can sell fresh produce.
- Listen. It’s difficult for farmers to talk about the hard realities of farming. Ask questions.
- Support Farm Aid, an organization that supports farmers through emergency assistance and their hotline.
Always remember your role in sustainable farming and a thriving local economy. Always remember your ability to positively affect another person.
Thank you for being an invaluable part of our community, for supporting our farm, for enjoying our products, for planting our hardy plants, and for hearing our stories. We appreciate you!
What did you think about this post?
How do you feel as a consumer, hearing about all sides of farming? I’d love to know.
And if you’re also a farmer, tell us: What are your greatest challenges this time of year? What are some things that make you feel supported?
Share your reaction in the comments below.