Farming, Stress and Starting Tough Conversations on Mental Wellness

(Debra Murphy/RealAgriculture)

By Kim Keller, farmer and co-founder of FarmAtHand
This post first appeared on Farm at Hands’ blog, here.

Lately there has been a lot of media and coverage on agriculture — investments, technology, GMO vs. non-GMO, green fields and blue-sky opportunities and more. But very little attention is given to the real people working in the field everyday— the farmers — to make ag as amazing as it is. It’s pretty easy to forget about the people and families in the field, building this opportunity and using this agriculture technology being built.

I read an amazing post, “The Psychological Price of Entrepreneurship” by Jessica Bruder, where she talks about founders of businesses and the effect it can have on mental health. I am so thankful for Bruder taking the time to pen that, as it hit home for me and I know it did for many other people. It helped me as a founder and I also hoped it would help give people outside of the tech startup world a perspective of what it’s like to go through that rollercoaster.

After I read that article I realized no one really gets it until they are right in the thick of it. And farming is no different. I hold a pretty interesting perspective on all of this — being both a tech co-founder of Farm At Hand and also a farmer. I create tech for farmers to use, but then I also live the life of a farmer and use that very same tech.

Today as I write this, I am a farmer, feeling every stress that every farmer feels. I want to talk about some of the very real stress and emotions that go along with rolling the dice every spring when it’s time to put that seed in the ground. What sparked the thought of writing this post was not only seeing and experiencing my own family’s stress and watching the toll it takes on them, but also hearing the most heart wrenching and tragic news of some farmers taking their own lives due to the immense pressure they face each and every day. It’s time to open up this conversation in ag — it has been far too long coming. One loss to suicide is one too many.

We as farmers have all been there — so full of hope and energy every spring, until the tractor and air drill get stuck for the 5th time in a week trying to get that crop in the ground. Or those beautiful summer days that turn into devastating hail storms. Or worms that show up the one weekend you try to take off to spend with your family. The harvest that gets off to a slow start, counting every bushel that comes in and noticing it’s a lot less than we anticipated, while also watching the markets take a nose dive. Or checking the weather four times a day to see the forecast, hoping it doesn’t rain or freeze early so we can just get this crop off and into the bin, quite often wondering what the hell we’re doing this for and no idea how we are going to wake up the next morning and do this all over again, let alone a few months later when spring comes around again.

This is all a part of farming. This is the other side of the amazing opportunity that everyone is seeing in the ag industry, and increasingly in ag tech, as well. This is the real life that goes into every day as a farmer. Every year our fate is in the hands of everyone or something else, but our own: weather, disease, insects, or markets. We just strive to make the most of it.

Now, having said all that. Being a farmer is also one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever encountered. That feeling of working harder than you ever thought you could and succeeding. That feeling of going through the worst case scenario and surviving. That feeling of knowing you are doing something real that everyone in the world relies on to survive and doing it everyday. Those feelings are what make farming and the Ag industry amazing. At their core, farmers are some of the most giving and humble people you will come across, rarely ones to give themselves a pat on the back for a job well done, or boast about their accomplishments.

Farming isn’t an occupation that you choose, it chooses you. It is in your blood from the start. It takes a pretty amazing and capable person to go through the trials and tribulations to work for that moment of success. There is no quitting part-way through in farming; it’s all or nothing. For every farmer who has taken that huge responsibility on, I am so very thankful. I couldn’t imagine being a part of any other industry; in fact I tried not to be a farmer, but I found my way back, and I couldn’t be happier, even through the most seemingly unbearable times.

I ask everyone else to show how thankful they are as well. Let’s take it to Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and #thankafarmer for all their hard work, for waking up everyday and going another round no matter what the previous day or week or month brought, for providing the sustenance we all require for basic living, and most of all, for being a part of building these amazing opportunities currently in the ag industry. Just remember that each and every opportunity that comes your way via the ag industry, has a farmer behind it, who carries that weight and pressure on his or her shoulders every day. And they sure could use words of encouragement and appreciation throughout it all.

For every farmer out there, take the moment to celebrate the fact that you’re building one of the world’s most important industries and you’re making it even better each and every day out there, doing what you do. Also, take a breath, send a text, call a neighbour. Remember that you’re not alone out there. Each farmer is or has gone through those same emotions and stress you may currently be experiencing. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help when you may need it. Everyone around you will thank you for it.

Thank you.

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