By Val Farmer
Why the Farm Comes First
Consider these frequently voiced motivations. It is what I love, It is all I know, I can see progress in front of my eyes, Land is a legacy from my parents and grandparents and I need to pass it on to create opportunities for my children and posterity, it is the best way to raise a family – we do this together, we teach work ethic and responsibility. It is our livelihood – the work has to be done.
There is variety to my work day – no two days are alike, I am my own boss, I can be close to nature, I realize my dependence on God, my neighbors and my rural community are wonderful – I belong here, I am in true partnership with my spouse – we are together 24/7. By providing food and fiber I am doing something noble in the world. Add whatever else I may have left out.
All true, however, when farmers love the farm too much a lot can go wrong. When weather, markets, disease, accidents, disability, divorce, death of a loved one, family disputes etc. threaten financial livelihood and the very existence of the farm then this love turns into denial, avoidance, depression, rigidity, and feelings of fear, anxiety, guilt, self-blame, anger and finally despair.
The success formula of persistence, hard work and dogged determination doesn’t work and, if anything, makes frustration and inner emotional turmoil more intense. “When old dreams die, new dreams take their place. God pity the one dream person.“
Farmers in denial stop being problem-solvers. They may engage in “blue sky” solutions. They may escape into their work routine. Or addictive behavior. They keep their fears to themselves or try to blot them out. Worst of all, they don’t open up to their spouse and thus deny her the opportunity to help or even know the problem. They also do not offer a listening ear or learn of her perspective on their situation.
Seeing no solution to keeping the farm and seeing no other alternative as good enough opens the door to suicidal thinking. If one’s own identity becomes identical with the farm or being a farmer, it creates a vulnerability to forces outside of one’s control.
Also loving the farm too much actually hurts the work and quality of life. In self-justified service of the farm, a farmer can become too self-centered and cause these additional problems.
1. Marriage and family suffer. Putting the farm first distorts priorities. The farm is a tool, a means to an end. What is the goal of farming anyway? Answer. The happiness and well-being of everyone on the farm.
The farm competes with meeting important emotional needs such as emotional intimacy, recreational companionship, family commitments, obligations and special occasions, domestic support and parenting. It opens the door to living separate lives without sharing the struggles and excitement of each other’s daily lives. Farming could be and often is a true partnership but too many times it is not.
2. Perfectionism and workaholism harm relationships. Having things done the “right” way and on time can be a problem if the farmer is demanding, critical, harsh, and demeaning when teaching or correcting a mistake with a spouse, family business partners, children or employees.
Negative interactions with their father on the farm or and/or discouragement of off-farm pursuits turn children against farming as a lifestyle. When wives are emotionally alone and isolated, they become unhappy. When children observe conflict and/or emotional distance between their parents, they want something different in their own lives.
Also other priorities besides work are not valued enough. Farmers may not encourage exploration and enjoyment of other facets of life.
Farmers own narrow focus also increases their vulnerability to stress. They bring the stress and mishaps of the workplace into their personal relationships without understanding how their anger, demands, and blowups affect others.
By living a balanced lifestyle – recreation, vacations, friendships, leisure, hobbies, and other active interests outside of farming – increases coping abilities and better farming decisions. It helps with “out of the box” thinking when tough times come.
3. Pride and self-image are obstacles to getting help. It is difficult to name another profession where the neighbors all do the same thing for a living, where each farmer has roughly the same raw material (land), the same economic environment (market price), and the same physical environment (weather) with which to contend.
Perhaps pride, competition, and self-reward have something to do with this impulse to plow the profits right back into the farm. When you love farming too much because how it makes you look and feel among your peers, you put your life and happiness in their hands. However, the ultimate goal in a highly competitive business is to still be in business. This means hard-nosed decisions and following one’s convictions regardless of how it looks to the neighbors.
One farmer observed, “We’ve learned to circle the wagons and do some soul-searching. We’ve sorted out our priorities. We’ve learned to cut corners and be creative in our efficiencies. We’ve had to deal with realistic values, no matter how pretty the paint.”
A farmer needs a partner, to care about others, a support system, a balanced lifestyle, and a willingness to seek out good ideas and advice. That is hard to do when it is all about oneself and the farm. The pride factor in agriculture has a price in terms of relationships and mental health.
If tough times break you out of the trap of loving the farm too much, the purpose of the farm and enjoyment of life will be so more than an unforgiving dominant and relentless force that drive your life and everyone else’s along with it.