There are a lot of factors that have contributed to the death of the family farm—most of them financial—but I believe a lack of social sustainability played a role too. By “social sustainability” I mean working conditions that can be sustained in the long term for a farmer. It’s common knowledge that farm work is hard on the mind and body, and the conventional wisdom is that farmers can’t get away from the farm. But everyone needs a break sometimes, to shake up their perspective, to allow their stress levels to abate, to rest their bodies. Farmers are no exception.
Running a farm is the most stressful thing I’ve ever done, aside from parenting. Doing both simultaneously is especially brutal. There is no break, mental or physical, 365 days a year. Like a child, the farm requires constant attention, sometimes even in the wee hours of the night.
I love farming, but… I need a break. Humans are more productive and creative when they are allowed periodic down time. But how to get away during the insanely busy growing season? There are too many things that could go wrong, and it’s nearly impossible to find someone able and willing to take on a farmer’s workload, and even harder to find someone the farmer can trust to tend to all the minute details of animal and crop care.
To be clear, most farmers do get some sort of break in the Winter, which lasts an unreasonably long time here. Livestock farmers still have daily chores, and all farmers have repairs and maintenance to do as well as all the planning for the coming season. But the workload is definitely lighter and less pressing. Several times we have managed to get away from the farm in the Winter, and have returned feeling greatly replenished.
A Summer vacation is a whole other animal. My husband and I have been planning and working for 9 years to get to the point where we could take our kids camping while it’s warm outside, and this year we were finally able to do it!
This was only possible because of the excellent help we had this Summer, and because we started making plans for this trip back in January. We are incredibly lucky to have our friend Jonathan involved in our farm. He moves our sheep and cows every day, so he knows all the details about our fences and watering systems, and signs of trouble to look for in the flerd. This Summer we also have a student from Sterling College living on the farm, and she cared for our poultry, dogs, cats, and rams while we were away. Together, these two helpers made it possible for us to go canoe camping in the Adirondacks for an entire blissful week.
Now we’re addicted to the notion of Summer vacation! In the dead of Winter when we’re chipping frozen water out of buckets and trudging through deep snow to feed our animals every day, the vision of paddling across a mirror-calm lake in the wooded mountains will sustain me to the next Summer trip.