,By Bethany Klapwyk

I became passionate about Farmer Wellness in my 5th year of farming.  Because of my personal struggles with mental health and an autoimmune disease I often felt challenged when it came to feeling good in my body and mind while working as a farmer.

In the years that followed I was able to heal my anxiety and depression, greatly improve my chronic health issues, and build a joyful life on my farm.  The journey has not been straightforward, and there will be many new iterations- but I uncovered so many things in my journey. 

Learning to tend my nervous system, to stave off burn-out, to take care of my relationships, to find simple pleasures in my daily activities, and to accept my bodily limitations were some of the ways I got here.  By re-defining my purpose I have set myself free from self-imposed limitations of how my life “should” look.  I am now able to do other things on the farm that I never imagined myself finding time for, that align with my personal values and gifts in the world.

I set strong boundaries with the farm; the vegetable operation is no longer is what my life revolves around. 

On a practical level, I farm in the field very little these days.  With Covid-19 I have taken on a big administration role on our farm, and I also parent a toddler.   There is privilege in being able to step away from the manual labour of the farm, but it is so clear to me that right now this is how I am meant to evolve my farm and live my purpose.

Farming can be really hard on the body and mind.  Studies have shown it is one of the most stressful careers.  Most ecological farmers work for low wages, have no benefits or access to good health care, and many farm staff only have access to seasonal employment.  Often farm owners are working to make money in a near-impossible economic reality.  I like to break down farmer stress into these areas: 

Financial: Most farm workers and farmers are not making a good living.  Most farmers or farm staff are not making a living wage.  Therefore the benefits that are derived from the farm and farming activities must have value beyond financial value. Accessing alternative health-care is often done creatively by farmers (ie. trades, or seeking affordable options for care).

Relationships:  The high season on a farm every year reminds me of the intensity of the first year of having a new baby.  It is very hard to tend to intimate relationships on the farm, especially in the high summer.  Friendships and social connections beyond the farm are very important to tend to.  Relationships can struggle because of isolation; when you live rurally you often tend to be less connected to social connections.

Physical Body:  It is not uncommon for farmers to sustain minor or major bodily injuries in their careers, and to struggle with some aspect of their physical body.  Unlike most professions, you are using your body as a tool to accomplish tasks.  Like other tools, if you don’t do proper maintenance, problems tend to occur.  This can be one of the most challenging areas of farmer health. 

Mental Health: a friend once asked me, “Why are there no support groups for farmers”.  Truly, farmers have a unique set of challenges.  A 2005 survey of over 1100 farmers across Canada revealed almost two-thirds of Canadian farmers are feeling stressed on their farms. One in five farmers describe themselves as being “very stressed” while almost half describe themselves as being “somewhat stressed”.

Nervous System: The nervous system relates to both mental and physical health.  I particularly like looking at farmer health from a nervous system lens.  High-stress situations cause us to have physiological or mental responses.  Slowing down, orienting towards pleasure (ie. chewing your food slowly and enjoying the flavours), and tending to trauma recovery in subtle or big ways can support our nervous systems as farmers.

These are some of the topics I intend to include in my upcoming course, The Embodied Earth-Worker.  It is so clear to me that there is more we can do to support farmers and farm-workers in their wellness and I hope that my work in the world can be one of those things. 

  • Mental Health
  • Farmer-appropriate health-care
  • Trauma recovery
  • Nervous System Health
  • Orienting Towards Pleasure in daily life activities
  • Emotional regulation exercises for High-stress situations
  • Sleeping, eating, and herbal supports for body and mind
  • Sexual wellness
  • Relationship Tending
  • Cardio and building stamina
  • The importance of Play
  • Stretching
  • Vacation and time-off
  • Deep tending in the off-season
  • Farming in the pandemic 

If you feel called to tending to yourself this fall as the season winds down, please join me.