Farmer Health Day at Zócalo Organics: July 10
By Bethany Klapwyk
This is the full version of a Regional Report that appeared in the latest Ecological Farming in Ontario newsletter.
In collaboration with the EFAO, our farm (Zócalo Organics) held a “Farmer Health Day” on Sunday July 10. I want to share with you some musings about why I felt motivated to host this day and some reflections from the day itself.
In the last five years of farming, I have been able to access some incredible supports to help me cope with chronic health issues. The supports I needed were not always easy or quick to find. A therapist friend of mine once asked me the question I have often asked myself, “Farmers deal with so much, why are there no support groups for farmers?”
I get why people quit farming; it can stretch the body and mind in a fast and furious way. A week of missed weeding/planting/harvesting and the effects can reverberate for the rest of the season. A farmer’s body works incredibly hard physically toward a specific goal. When things do not go as planned or when things fail, I have often wondered how to let go of the physical memory of all this hard work and how we envisioned things happening on our farms, when we ask our bodies for so much.
It is also important to consider the role of geography and community in farmer health, and how farmers can feel isolated from one another or from a supportive community.
Despite the many challenges farming might present to a person’s health I maintain that farming, especially ecologically, is the best profession there is. The rewards are so many! So how do we strengthen our farming community so that geographical isolation or other factors that separate us do not get in the way of our individual and community resilience?
What did we do together at our Farmer Health Day?
Throughout the day we offered workshops to farmers that related to both physical and mental health. The day started with gentle yoga and breathing exercises to relax. We then learned some practical tips about how to be flexible farmers; we learned how to move our bodies and improve our physical fitness so that we have more energy for our work and we can farm safely. We had a delicious potluck lunch, filled with discussion and connection. The day continued with a workshop on Homeopathic first aid where we learned about an alternative to Western Medicine and talked about how homeopathic medicines are made. To finish, we discussed stress management on the farm, and were led in a discussion of how we can use our minds to respond, rather than react, to stresses on the farm.
Concurrently with the workshops, we had four local health practitioners offering individual treatments to farmers under a tent outside the barn. There were many different modalities offered including osteopathy, Reiki, Indian head massage, foot reflexology, the body code, and shiatsu massage. The healers were booked back-to-back all day long, generously offering their services at reduced rates.
What were the results of the Farmer Health Day?
Gathering together as farmers and acknowledging the work we do on our farms can be a powerful and comforting experience. It may not be logistically easy to meet up with other farmers, but I personally never regret making the effort. It was also amazing to host health practitioners who were eager to sympathize with and give to our farming community. This day was a reminder that we are part of a community of people who need support from one another. There is a role for everyone — as supporter and supported (and likely a combination of the two!)
Hosting the Farmer Health Day was one of many activities I hope that can happen on this topic and one that I hope can continue. Manorun Organic Farm in Hamilton has volunteered to host a fall Farmer Health Day for the West Region, and I look forward to being a part! Please come on out or plan one at your farm for you and your neighbouring farm friends.
Practical Tips for Farmer Health
We will be including these in future newsletters and/or blog posts, so please be in touch (firstname.lastname@example.org) to share your thoughts and suggestions.
Many of us are amazing communicators and great at telling others the what/how of the farm. Talking about the products you produce, your production practices, and the details that most consumers wish to know about your operation. As you communicate these details, I encourage you to tell others what is happening with your body and mind. “Come-out”, so to speak, about your struggles and successes. Communicate boldly and authentically. Educating consumers by telling them stories from the field AND connecting to people through conversations at a heart level will provide you with tangible support. As far as you can, help non-farmers understand that when we say there is “trouble in the fields”, many times that “trouble” extends beyond the fields to a farmer’s heart/home/relationships/family/body-health. Engage in conversations. Listen, support, and be open to learning from anyone.
And as you engage and communicate with others in your life here are some things I learned from a mentor that I like to keep in mind…
- Be related. find and foster the things that connect
- Be authentically interested while not intrusive in the business of others
- Be intimate with others but not inappropriate
- Be bold with others, but not overbearing
- Be unreasonable, challenge others, while also being sensitive
- Be inspiring while not over-sentimental.
#2 Being a Flexible Farmer
(contributed by Naomi Krucker Farmer Health Day participant from Manorun Farm and EFAO staff)
Tips from Biomechanics graduate Andrew Sweetnam and his session on ‘How to be a flexible farmer’
Dynamic Stretching: Incorporating a few minutes of stretching before your work day can really help prepare your body for a full day of work and lessen the chances of injury. Dynamic stretching is a cardio type of stretching that gets the blood flowing and muscles active and ready for work. Incorporating jumping jacks followed by a couple minutes of stretching into your morning meeting are an easy way to fit stretching into your day.
Helpful body positions while working: Lifting bushel after bushel of vegetables out of the field will take a toll on your back if not done properly. Andrew explained that every time we bend over to pick something off the ground we are exerting 10 X the weight of our upper body onto our lower back. That is a lot of extra stress on the back! This can be eliminated by lifting with your legs. Keeping you back and shoulders nice and straight and then squatting deep to lift things shifts the stress from your back to your legs. While awkward to adjust to at first, your back will thank you later! Hand weeding is also hard on the back, especially when a lot of people tend to do it hunched over on their knees. This can be avoided by switching to the ‘jaguar’ position occasionally to relieve the stress on your back. In this position you are on your knees and bent over at the waist so that your forearms are bearing most of the weight. It works great for straddling carrot and beet rows and frees up both hands for thinning and weeding!
Extending your energy reservoir: Are you repeatedly exhausted after a hard days work? According to Andrew, you can extend your energy reservoir in order to avoid always feeling like you’re running on fumes. By making time for a bit of extra activity in your off hours (biking, 10 minute run, hike, etc.) you are building up your energy reservoir, which will leave you less exhausted at the end of your work day. Helpful tips for the hardworking farmer!