...And within 24 hours we went from a sunny, warm fall to winter here in southern Ontario. The wind was whipping something fierce today as I loaded the last of my field equipment into my van to stow it in the barn. I had forgotten how punishing the winds could be in those open fields. I came home--satisfied to have everything done before the snow flew, but a bit mopey (and very wind burned).
I actually could have shut up shop sooner, but I was strangely reluctant to let go of this tumultuous year. Never in my life had I spent more time outdoors in a single year and I think all that fresh air got into my blood and bones. I may have turned feral in my freedom and coming back to domesticity and all of my indoor concerns--business and life--seemed bland and confining.
I do not think nature speaks to us, but we can derive a message from it nevertheless. Today, if I was to interpret, I was literally being blown off. Go home. Get to work. Quit lollygagging. Winters used to seem long, now I know the time they afford to us farmers is short to get caught up on paper work and planning--not to mention sleep and the rest of life.
The thing I have always appreciated about winter is that my mind does settle a bit. Something in the austerity--the silence, the white washed landscape, the darkness--does get me to slow down and think a while. This post is one I have been formulating for a while now. It seems right to share it now.
A great challenge of this season was caring for myself while caring for the farm. My one business resolution of 2016 was to take better care of the most important tool I had: myself--my body and my mind. While I am usually pretty good at getting enough sleep, food, and even squeezing in a massage, I struggle with stress and mental health.
I think many farmers can relate. We supposedly live the ideal life--full of pastoral romance, yada yada. But the truth is, I believe for all of its rewards, farming is one of the toughest occupations out there. Financial instability, physically punishing, multi-tasking to the extreme, and captive to a chaotic environment that is getting all the more challenging with climate change. Early this summer I was so anxious over the condition of my fields, I had trouble sleeping, eating, and working. Where my summer turned around somewhere around July, a lot of other farmers continued to suffer until late August with terrible drought and heat. To be honest, I'd call this season so-so in terms of production (particularly compared to my Everest high expectations in the beginning), but I call it a resounding success because I survived it and didn't come out in debt.
This spring, one of my best friends came to visit and work with me for a few days. We are both entrepreneurs and have shared many struggles and triumphs over the last few years. After a few days on the farm with me, driving home after a long, hot day of transplanting, my friend turned to me and told me how she will never look at food the same way again. She knew then how hard farmers work. And I know the struggle with my business is not half as hard as other farming operations. I am lucky. I don't have everything riding on the success of this operation. If I wanted to, I could walk away and do something else. A lot of farmers don't have those choices. The stakes are very very high.
And we don't talk about it. Not really. Farmer mental health is not really a hot topic. But it should be. With uncertain times ahead, we need our farmers to be healthy, strong, and happy. I grow flowers. You could live without them. But we cannot survive without food. In Canada, I feel blessed because compared to my American farming counter parts, at least I have health care, no matter my wages. But even that comes up short. When I needed mental health support this summer, I paid out-of-pocket. I could afford it and access it easily, being nearer urban centres. Others can't. This is not about farmers accessing a luxury service. Its an urgent food security issue.
In the end, with the help of my loving therapist and a whole lot of personal work and surrender, I am a much healthier and happier person than ever before. I chose to tell people, however, that I was struggling, which was not easy, but I felt necessary. I had so much support and enthusiasm. But a lot of other farmers out there may not be ready to share. It has taken me a long long time. What can we do for the farmers who cannot speak out yet?
Ask them how they are doing. Don't just tell them how wonderful their life is. What do they need for support? Do not waste the fruits of their labors. The local movement is more than a trend. Its a relationship that goes beyond consumerism. Honor and love your farmers. They feed you and your families. Even we flower farmers are trying to feed your souls in our own small and colorful way.
I will end things there. One change you will see soon on this journal and on my Instagram account is a little more focus on farming and flowers and a little less of nature and wanderings. Don't worry, that part isn't going away. I just decided it was time to put that writing elsewhere.