(The cover photo is an embarrassingly weedy bed that’s been taunting us for weeks. It got out of hand because we haven’t had the time or energy to get rid of them)
August is right around the corner and most people can’t wait to enjoy the peak of summer. However, for a small-scale farmer, we can’t wait for August to be over.
August to a farmer is one of the most challenging times of the year. We’ve been working what feels like non-stop since May, with very few opportunities to enjoy the summer weather. By the time August hits, which is peak production on the farm and one of the busiest times of the season, we are exhausted, crabby, overwhelmed, overextended and having to cope with the scorching hot temperatures. This is why August to a farmer is also known as Slogust 😅
Farmer burnout is something that is not talked about enough, even amongst other farmers. Farming is like living on an island. Our work hours are the opposite of most peoples and we’re so busy working we rarely spend time off the farm. Working this hard and living in isolation can take its toll on a farmer’s mental health and researchers are starting to uncover the effects this is having on farmers, their families and our food system.
A 2019 Canadian study of more than 1,000 small farms examined the three components of burnout (exhaustion, cynicism, and professional efficacy) among its farmers, and 57% of respondents fell somewhere in the measurable spectrum of burnout.
This graph illustrates what many farmers are going through right now. The conclusion of the research paper states:
“This is concerning not only for the affected individuals and their families, but also given potential associated risks to Canadian agriculture via lowered productivity. These results serve as a call to action for increased farmer supports to decrease work demands and increase resources, particularly through addressing systemic issues related to workload and via positive family, friend, community, and industry support and engagement.”
If we want a more sustainable, ethical and moral food system we need to start giving small-scale farmers the support they need and deserve. Climate change and our dependence on non-renewable fuel sources will continue to make food prices rise. No amount of economic jiggering will stop this. The only way to keep food affordable and sustainable is to build new, localized and regional food systems. We need to start cultivating and encouraging people to get involved in local agriculture. And the only way to do that is to make sustainable small-scale farming easier. We need government support, we need affordable land and we need continued support from our communities.
When a young ambitious famer gets burnt out multiple season in a row, eventually they will give up because the stress becomes too unbearable. When a community loses a farmer it’s a devastating loss. A loss that isn’t felt right away though. It’s a loss that will be felt in the long-term as our weather becomes increasingly extreme and erratic and our food security becomes more and more threatened. To make matters worse, most farmers today are nearing retirement and there simply aren’t enough young farmers to replace them.
Because farmers are often working behind the scene of society I propose that we make August “National Farmer Appreciation Month”. August should be a time where farmers get the most support from their communities for the simple reason that we need it. Our morale is low, our bodies are tired and there’s still a lot of work to be done.
Try and think of one small or large gesture you can do for a local farmer that will help keep them motivated through one of the toughest times of the year. Words of encouragement, a boost in sales, a gift, a hug. Whatever feels right to you.
Local farmers can’t survive without their community. And I believe that a community can’t truly thrive without their local farmers.