(Our first moment with our sweet and very new baby born on the farmhouse floor. )

I realized after the first month of being a mom that I have been a jerk to parents.  I did not support them in a way that I now understand as necessary.  I rarely brought meals, or offered a listening ear to council in challenging times.  Before having a baby I did not particularly celebrate the tremendous and terrifying fact that my friends pushed *actual humans* out of vaginas.  The challenges of having a newborn were a learned understanding for me; and I have become a better friend to new parents. 

The challenges in farming are also learned.  And while many people know on an intellectual level that farming can be challenging, few of the people in my community will ever experience what it is like to be a farmer.  Few will be faced with losing crops to pests, diseases, and insects.  Few will be faced with the near-impossible challenge of paying themselves and their labour in the field.  Few will feel the isolation that farming today has become.  After millennia of being a species where nearly every person was growing or gathering food, a small minority of people are now responsible for one of the most important tasks in our society.  This is almost as terrifying as tasking a handful of people to raise all our children (which in some ways we do- sorry teachers!).  This has created a reality wrought with problems, problems felt most harshly by farmers.

Lately I have been doing some soul searching.  After 10 years of being involved in farming, and 5 years of owning a farm, I had hoped I would have more answers.  I had hoped that by now I would know how to earn a decent living while farming and empower others to do the same.  I had hoped we’d have more success in achieving healthy relationships and life balance on my farm.  I had hoped that I’d know how to make organic food more accessible for all. 

While I have made good strides in all these areas, I’m not where I had hoped I’d be.  While the modern self-help movements will tell you to “shift your perspective”, I’m tired of digesting the harsh reality of farming into a palatable perspective.  Truly, farming is at odds with the high price of land, supplies, and the cost of labour. Ecology is out-of-whack. Climate change is having awful impacts in the fields.  I’m not making this shit up.  The first 5 years of owning a farm has felt like nurturing a newborn all.the.fucking.time.  Our farm still needs ALL the help we can get. I’m still marketing our products to the general public by expressing our desperation.  I’m still “trying” and “trying harder” to make this work.

As you may know, many are leaving farming or not even attempting it once they get a taste of the challenges farmers face.  And I often wonder, “Should I leave too”?  

Maybe I should have left the profession when I realized how terrible it is for my mental health (and the mental health of my peers).  Maybe I should have left the profession when I realized that 95% of the fights I was having with my partner were about the farm.  Maybe I should have left the profession when I realized how isolating and lonely it would sometimes feel.  Maybe I should have left the profession when I realized that in order to “make a living farming” I’d actually need to have a wealthy family member to help me pay for a vacation and a dentist (actual truth in my case).  These are just some of the examples of the absurdity of choosing farming as a profession.

I fantasize about leaving the farm in perhaps the same way you fantasize about being a farmer.  I imagine living in town working a normal job and being rich because of the absurd wealth we would get from the land.  I imagine walking or biking to friend’s houses, singing at open mic nights at local cafés, staying out late at a party in July.  I imagine taking off a whole summer and travelling across Canada.  I imagine my child running around with a neighbourhood gaggle of friends. 

The fantasies go on.  And while part of me wants to leave the farm, I’m not going anywhere.

I’m not leaving because I know why I am here.  I know the value of those who feed their communities while respecting the planet.   I know that creating a livelihood for my family that is hopeful, beautiful, and rooted is a gift.  I know that the privileges I have in this world can be honoured by being committed to finding solutions, possibilities, and allies for ecological farming.  I know that there are dreams for my farm that I must continue to hold in my heart even when they seem impossible.

For 10 months I’ve been feeding my baby several times a day with the slow trickle of milk that is the act of breastfeeding.  And during this time I reflect.  I ponder.  I go on social media.  I write.  I read. I stare out the window.  While breastfeeding I access a part of the world that I previously wouldn’t have dreamed of “affording” myself.  What kind of bizarre world do I live in that breastfeeding feels so damn luxurious?  Why is this stillness so soothing for me?  Why am I so busy and stressed that even as I feed my baby I feel like I need to check the farm email, and process some CSA registration, or edit our crop plan?  During these months I’ve come to realize that our push for “efficiency” in the years since we started have taken a lot out of me.  Things are “too big” on our small farm that I can’t hold them with the care and love that I want to.  And now motherhood has inconveniently re-oriented me to my desires for our farm.  I desire to know the faces and names of all my CSA members, I desire to grow things that are wonderfully inefficient like sugar snap peas, I desire to balance the ecology of our fields by tending pastured animals in them even if they won’t turn a profit.  I desire to start a farming cooperative to share this resource of land that we’ve been able to access.  And I desire for there to be space at the end of each day for me to have a normal life, be a great mom, daughter, partner, lover, friend, etc. 

A healthy postpartum period run its’ natural course.  Parent’s adapt to life with their baby and the baby becomes less needy over time.  Our farm hasn’t left our “postpartum” phase but we are beginning to.

So we’ll stay on our farm and try new things.  We will look at our farm with new eyes.  We will ask for help even when we’re sick of asking for help. I endeavour  to find a way to make this profession *actually* work for our family, our community, and ultimately our planet.  I’m willing to keep encouraging others to grow food even though the rate of failure is incredibly high because it matters that we keep doing things that matter.

One short-term decision we have made is to reduce our CSA by 20 members, which is almost 20%.  We’ll mitigate the impacts of this by continuing to be creative, as has been our task since the beginning.  We’ll ask important questions, honour those who work with us by reducing stress, and continue to be stubborn until we find the iteration of our farm that will work for the next 5 years.  Hopefully the microcosm of our farm can find some answers for the big picture of farming.  Who knows what will transcend.

It is important to remain open to the infinite possibilities that exist in this wild world.  

Thanks for reading and happy eating,

Farmer Bethany