Burnout is a silent killer – sometimes, you wouldn’t know it has hit you until you are down. In my first season into farming, I had a rude awakening to burnout and had to make sure I take necessary adjustments and steps to navigate past it, if it ever I it returns.
My steps below, don’t have to be yours, but they’ve served me well and will give you a general idea of how to place yourself in a space where you can effectively manage farm life.
Understand what rejuvenation means for you For me, I love deep philosophy, big and honest conversations. When I listen or participate in these conversations, I feel like a student. It shuts down my ego and puts me in a state of being fueled, my mind relaxes and quiets down. Then, I have an opportunity to listen on a deeper level and slow down enough to understand.
Learn something, teach something I have a theory. Imagine the Plus Sign +
X-axis, east, and west, these are your peers, people who are in the same capacity as you. It’s where you constantly share and learn from each other.
Y-axis north – these are your mentors. People who started the farming journey earlier than you or have different or complementary skills, reach out to them, learn from them
Y-axis south – these are your learners, the people who are seeking after you for lessons and or guidance. It’s your opportunity to unpack what you’ve learned, to be transparent as they could also teach you a thing or two – continue fueling them as the Y-axis north does for you. This mindset keeps me humble and connected with the farming community as a whole. It allows me to be vulnerable, available and open enough to learn and adapt to the ever-changing world of urban farming.
It’s ok to stop and rest – Eliminate the Rest Guilt! This should actually be the first point to managing burnout. I’m sure there are many of us who’ve struggled a lot to complete farm tasks. For me, especially the first and last 3 months of our growing seasons, commonly known as shoulder seasons. Where we’re on go mode for 12+hr 7 days for months on end. For my farm, we have plots to open, beds to prepare, amendments to add, compost to deposit, weed management programs initiated, repairs, irrigations tested and started, relentless plantings with literally thousands of seedlings that need to be planted, not forgetting to start new seedlings to keep up with the crop plan rotations, to monitor and maintain those seedlings during these months – all this is done in conjunction with harvest, pack, and delivery! Power naps became my go-to. Again, this is for me, the most effective charging mechanism as I don’t drink coffee (if you’d like to know, coffee works the opposite for me, it makes me drowsy, sleepy, and very unproductive, go figure) If I don’t observe these rest prompts, I’ve noticed that I’m prone to make very bad decisions and mistakes, for example, I ignored these rest prompts and ran a forklift into a water tank! (that’s a story for another day!) Here too, I had to learn to embrace rest and to communicate with my workmates how important it is for me to work when rested, instead of feeling guilty about it. A supportive space that accommodates your ability to work and function when rested, should be a great space to shield you from burnout.
Find a vulnerable space and people, express yourself Such a valuable resource, people! Covid and lockdowns didn’t help with this one. Though I am very fortunate to have a few people who check-in and ask me direct “cut the BS questions” or simply how I am. (You know who you are! Thank you!) Vulnerability is hard, I understand. If misplaced or mismatched can be a perfect space for ridicule and thus perpetuating the exact thing you’re trying to recover from. My rests now include acro yoga, meditations or breathwork, books, and music. A nice long hug does the trick 1000 times better but again, we live in different times now. Find a spot or someone, a space to remind yourself your Why. Why is this work important to you? Is it worth this much effort and lifestyle change? Another exercise task I perform weekly is deliveries. It May sound weird, but I enjoy being on deliveries. When I hand over my hard-worked vegetables to my farm-share members or chefs. The look on their faces when they accept this love in the food we grow is so life-giving! Also, I’ve learned that, in my meditations, to listen to names. Again, may sound strange, but I sometimes receive names of people I should give food to, no questions asked. So I package a box of vegetables and drop them unannounced. Still sounding strange huh. Weirder yet, is when I find that they actually needed it. It’s very true when it was said once “it’s in giving that we receive”
You are Not Failure! failure is not showing up, you did! Ok, This is a BIG ONE! Ask any farmer, there is always work to do, any day and any hour of the growing season, there’s something that needs doing. A great reminder for me is that, showing up, being rested, present, combats my feelings of failure. Showing up also means that you were present when your promptings to stop, to rest, to take a break, were heeded. The tasks will always be there and more will show up, but if you are incapable of being present, you’ll accomplish little more than being restfully present. “You are the most important tool in the farm” is a quote I repeatedly remind myself. If you understand this, then you’ll also know how to effectively prepare this ‘tool’ for the marathon work that is farm work. It is hard work, but it is also heart work. Let’s grow!