On Finding Balance

Happy farmers enjoying a day off.
Happy farmers enjoying a day off.

Farming is not often a lifestyle equated with balance. It might be equated with wholesomeness, with “the simple life”, with healthy hard work, with passion, but not, I would say, with balance. And maybe that is because many people who get into farming are driven by a passion for what they do, enjoy a little bit of hardship, and do genuinely love a hard day’s work.

None of those things are necessarily bad things. Even enjoying some hardship is not, in my opinion, a negative thing, as it makes one appreciate the luxuries in life all that much more, and not take them for granted. Ask anyone who does some kind of hard physical labour for a living how good a solid meal tastes at the end of the day, or a cold beer, or a cup of tea, and you will begin to understand how hardship, and hard work can really heighten your appreciation for the little joys in life.

But back to that elusive balance thing. Farmers are well known for working from dawn till dusk, working long, long days, and, as a consequence, not taking care of their bodies sufficiently for long term use. I know, as I have done all of those things on past farms I have worked on. I have worked 12-14 hour days on a regular basis, 6-7 days a week; I have worked from sunrise until sunset or sometimes past, using a headlamp to finish the day’s task; and I have worked my body to the point of chronic pain and total exhaustion. And the weird part, is I have still loved farming through all of that. But, I have also realised that, for me at least, that level of work, that kind of abuse of my body, and that complete and total immersion into all things farming, is not sustainable in the long term.

For me, balance is also important. I love farming, I love working hard, I love the physical labour of it all, however, I also still love other things. I still have other interests, and would like to continue to do so. I think time away from the farm, time off – a foreign concept to many farmers, at least during the growing season – is a definite positive. It helps to clear your mind of farm troubles, rest your body, and gives you a fresh perspective on problems when you return to work.

This is yet another area in which my experience at Rootdown has been a very positive one. Simone and Sarah have both done a very good job of working some semblance of balance into their busy lives as small farm owners (they take one day off each during the farming season, and then take winters off as well, aside from planning for the next year), and they have in turn, offered Aurélie and I a very balanced work experience this season. We have worked Monday to Friday since the beginning of the season, and have only occasionally worked overtime. This overtime was almost exclusively in the busy harvest months of August and September, it was predictably on the same days each week, and it was never expected of us – the option was always ours to leave at the end of 8 hours if we needed to.

I knew I needed a more balanced life/work balance when I came here, however I didn’t realise quite how much I needed it, or how much I would appreciate it. I have loved, absolutely loved, having time at the end of the days and enough energy left to cook good meals for myself. I have also greatly enjoyed having weekends off and, once again, enough energy left to explore the beautiful Pemberton Valley. It has been amazing to get out there in the mountains, to hike, to camp, to explore. It has also been so great – and this may be the most important thing of all if I am to continue farming for years to come – to heal my body and not be suffering from chronic low back pain or sore wrists such as I have in farming seasons past, or to be suffering from a level of exhaustion so extreme that I feel as though I may not physically be able to finish the season.

Because as much as I think it is important to love the work you choose, and as farmers (especially once the threshold from farm worker to farm owner is crossed) we are choosing hard work, long days, and sometimes sore bodies, I still feel as though balance is important, and quite possibly even essential for a life long career in farming. Too many farmers nowadays seem to suffer from burn out, either physically, mentally, or emotionally exhausting themselves and losing the love for what they do, or simply feeling too burnt out to continue. I have known or met a few myself in recent years.

Splashes of fall colour in the alpine, captured on a hike to Semaphore Lakes.
Splashes of fall colour in the alpine, captured on a hike to Semaphore Lakes.

I am grateful beyond words to Simone and Sarah for giving me perspective and letting me experience, once again, a balanced farm lifestyle. As I go forward in farming, I will take these lessons with me, and try to find that sweet spot, striving to find a sustainable work/life balance in what I do.

A hike to Blowdown Pass overlooking the breathtaking Stein Valley on yet another day off spent hiking.
A hike to Blowdown Pass overlooking the breathtaking Stein Valley on yet another day off spent hiking.
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