Burnout

As we slide toward November, the farm to-do list still threatens to drown us. While I can’t speak for all farmers, I believe this is a common feeling in Fall. We are all operating on an uncertain, though certainly short, timeline before the freeze sets in. Before equipment disappears under a blanket of snow, or irrigation pipes freeze solid, there is a mountain of things to do in preparation. On our farm this means: hay delivered and positioned where we can feed it in Winter, honey pulled from hives and extracted, large hoophouse stripped of plants and irrigation, small hoophouse fenced and prepared to house poultry. It’s Springtime in reverse! Thousands of feet of net fence to fold up, reels of polywire to roll up, hoses to coil, fence posts and buckets to pick up all over 35 acres. All equipment needs to be winterized, the apiary needs a wall of hay around it, and we need to get the snowplow on the tractor. Oh, and we have an apartment to finish by Nov. 1! And all of this happens right as the busy season launches at my off-farm job.

Fall on the FarmThis frenzy coincides with a decrease in my energy. As the mornings and early evenings get darker, I find it harder to keep up the frenetic pace we’ve been moving at all Summer. Burnout sets in. I struggle to get going for morning chores, feeling devoid of motivation. Some days I succumb to cynicism. “What is the point of all this work? Will we ever be able to farm full-time?” I fantasize about quitting. “If we sold all the animals, we could get off the farm, spend more time having fun as a family!” I worry that I’m being a bad mom, not giving my children all the attention they need, as I run out in the evening to pack up an order, or disappear to do morning chores without seeing them off to school.

But then we are bolstered by customer feedback. Hearing how much people love our lamb, honey, ginger, chicken, or duck eggs is an instant reminder of why we do this. The simple pleasure of producing food that brings nourishment to others is as old as farming itself.

As the farm season lets up and chores decrease from 2 hours a day to less than half that, I also take a complete mental break from the farm between Thanksgiving and Christmas. I start learning to play upright bass again, doing craft projects, and playing with my kids.

And over the Winter I have more time to listen to the radio. I hear fear-mongering, prejudice, harrowing tales of refugees, violence, climate instability, and political swagger. In this grander context, dealing with a sick ewe, dry pastures, or a broken fence doesn’t seem so bad. When most of what’s happening in the world doesn’t make any sense to me, the biology of my soil and the living things in my care keep me grounded and focused. It is real and life-affirming.

And I know I’ll do it all again next year.


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