Farming is, in it’s nature, a practice best approached with an eye for the future. That ethic, one emulated by biologically conscious farmers and permaculturists world-wide, is one of slow, sustained growth and places an onus on ensuring that the decisions made today don’t reduce tomorrow’s potential. A successful farm is one that is learning from the successes and failures of years prior, one that is improving the land with each passing season.
When you start talking about sustainability, it’s easy to fall into heady discussions about reducing erosion, building soil biodiversity, and tuning into natural systems with a focus on maintaining land. A facet of sustainability that may be just as important, though often overlooked, is personal sustainability. That is, the responsibility you have to your own physical, mental and spiritual being, the responsibility you have to maintain your health and ensure you can continue doing what you love into the future. As a young farmer, a simplified version of that question is as follows: “How can I keep my farm job from crippling me?”
With the summer heat waves we experienced in early June and again recently, it is all the more pertinent to remember the responsibility we have to ourselves to take care of this wonderful tool that we use everyday. Especially you sun-burnt, field-weary veggie-slingers out there. Heat adds on stress that manifests itself physically, often in strange ways. We’ve got to protect ourselves!
Before anything else, make sure you are checking in with yourself and the way that you feel. Taking fifteen minutes in the morning to stretch and sit with yourself, noticing how you’re feeling. When I say sit, I mean just sit. Notice how your breath, back, neck, joints, head, stomach, toenails, etc., feel. When we learn where our bodies need help and where they are weak, we can learn how to work around those problems, and where to build strength. This is the starting point for helping yourself maintain physical fitness, but it is the part of practice most easily overlooked.
Be careful of how you use your back. When weeding, digging, or performing any action that requires a lifting motion, keep that back straight and use your legs to get low. When you do have to lean over, hinge from your hips, not by rounding your back. Using tools that fit your body becomes especially important when you use them repeatedly throughout the day/week/growing season. Make sure the handles on your tools are long enough to accommodate using them without hunching.
An easy way I’ve found to reinforce keeping an active body posture when working is to treat a task like I’m in yoga class. Breathe deep and think about keeping your stomach tucked in and back supported when working over a bed. When weeding, it’s easy to get into a low squat and work from there (see it in action: http://www.yogajournal.com/article/beginners/learn-malasana/). That keeps your back in line, opens the hips and strengthens the legs. Stretching in the morning will make it easier to maintain these positions and if you include them in your daily practice, they become easier still.
Every season that I’ve worked as a farmer, I am reminded that I have a breaking point and that it does no good to push myself too close to that line. Task lists are usually infinite and seemingly insurmountable. I find it especially hard to pull myself away from a job left unfinished, and I don’t particularly recommend abandoning your work. However, I’ve found it to be extremely important to prioritize tasks, finish the necessities, and leave some on a “try to finish” list that might be put off until next week.
This is a plee to remember that we are only humans and it takes more than work to satisfy ourselves. By taking the time your body needs to rest physically and mentally, you reset. The time spent out of the field will allow you to work harder, with more gusto! Take time away from work to read, spend time with loved ones, cook fancy meals with all of your fresh produce, SLEEP, swim in a river, hike to the top of a mountain, listen to bird calls, see or play good music, and have fun. Take those chances as they present themselves. It is no crime to spend part of your life enjoying your life.
If your physical self is the tangible part of your existence, and your mental being is shaped by the way your mind processes information and makes calculated decisions, your spiritual self can be seen as everything else, the intangible stuff inside and outside of your body. If you’ve taken my advice and made sitting with yourself part of your daily routine, you’ve inadvertently begun a practice in meditation. If you begin to regularly bring your consciousness to your breath and body while you are working in the field, the same is true. These meditations are simple, and can be brought into your daily ritual with small effort. The more they’re practiced, the more you’ll benefit that intangible part of yourself.
Maybe the most beneficial parts of our work as farmers is the connection that we share, directly, with the earth. When I’m in the field covered in dirt, veggies in my belly, water from the ground pumping through my veins, wind ruffling my hair and oxygen entering my blood-stream by way of my last inhale, questions highlighting the difference between self and else a far afield. I’m just in it, with all of myself.
I’ve heard people talk about the feeling they get while working at our farm; like all things melt away except for what’s at hand and they’re left, simply, weeding. I encourage you, farmer, gardener, earth steward: remember that our work is, in it’s purest form, a conversation with the earth and a practice in the interconnectedness of all things. The work can be extremely tiresome, stressful, yada yada yada. But if we can take ourselves out of our silly “worried people” role for just a minute during the day and really just be there, feeling however we feel and accepting our infinitely small, infinitely wonderful existence amongst the weeds, we will do more for ourselves than any concerned effort can hope to do.
“Over the stone lip
the creek leaps out as one
divides in spray and streamers,
lets it all go.”
Gary Snyder, Mountains and Rivers Without End, excerpt from The Flowing
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