Farm Life Balance - a Feminist Rant for Stacey

In the mantra of many mental health professionals, religious leaders, and philosophers (pop and professional) we need to take care of ourselves to take care of others but guess what?  you can also take care of others (running partially or full empty) for years and have it go pretty well. It doesn’t make it fun or easy but it is possible and for many of us, farmers, working women, this is how we function… until we don’t. My best farm friend in the whole world asked me where is the balance between being driven (and let me add loving and valuing that about yourself) and being a good mother/wife/friend and having time for yourself. Well I have no idea. All I am trying to settle on right now is how to be “good enough” and how to be present in the things I am doing and then be done with those things ( stop the endless mental multitasking)

It is possible that the concept of the second shift, the idea that working women then come home to a second shift of house/child/domestic work, should for farming women be extended to the concept of the third shift. In my own life this was true. I wasn’t exactly forced to do this but it was partially a result of social structure and patriarchy and partially about my own embrace of the idea that I could, should, and wanted to have it all. I went from working a 30 hour a week job (that I neatly got done in 15-20 hours) teaching college, to 30-50 hours of farm work not including paperwork, intellectual work like newsletter writing, and CSA communications, to lots of meal prep (not all but half), all of the house cleaning (despite the fact that I am terrible and negligent), and breastfeeding, child care taking and NOT SLEEPING more than 3-4 hours in a row for about 7 years… like almost a full decade. In my free time I went running (escape) or sometimes watched a movie for 30 minutes before falling asleep. I tried to be a good wife in many ways. Facebook, CSA email replies and paperwork became my break while I nursed one of the kids and tried to read a book to another.

So, I do think there is a point when lack of self care and trying to do it all drains you so you do nothing well.. or most problematic for me drains me to the point that I can do only one thing well… keep working and moving. And even more problematically I was always rewarded for this work by everyone. I was practically high fived by everyone I knew for doing it all. Only twice in the past 10 years has someone actually asked with concern about if I was doing too much. Otherwise everyone was happy to help me celebrate being super woman.

So I don’t have an answer to how to create a beautiful economically sustainable business; to give to children, spouses and friends; and to take time for ourselves but… I have a couple of ideas.

There is a new movement in sustainable agriculture to embrace ideas like the Lean Farm, or small intensive acreage of high value crops. I do not think these new models are popping up and so attractive because they make farming easy (because almost nothing does); and I’m not sure they are possible until you have considerable access to capital and are established but… they all bring up the idea of creating farms where we try to do less of everything and get really good and specific things and systems. Using an approach where we look seriously at time management, at work flow, at profit margins for individual crops means thinking about limits as part of farming. The problem is many of us who get into farming have issues with limits. We want to be to model farm to prove to neighbors that organic farming is the future, we want to recruit and make it look beautiful because this type of farming has a certain level of evangelism embedded in it. We also set ourselves up to grow and grow long after we need to because we thrive on accomplishment and challenge and we get used to living in chaos. In fact not feeling chaos is mentally and physically difficult for me. Rejecting certain aspects of being driven and replacing them with self care, with naps and a little meditation, with ice cream cones before dinner, with a day with friends in planting season. Those are good ideas (but not easy at first).

Create your budget and living needs expectations holistically and clearly. For years, and I know my friend, fellow farmer and now extension staff extraordinaire Claire  will confirm this, I was looking for a way to understand what the heck was going on with my farm and how balance could be built in. I realized part of the issue was actually my marriage but many farmers work and work and plan and plan for the farm and leave life behind. My budget for the summer includes some serious fun money for a tree house, for a canoe, for vacation, for outdoor tools (and low tunnels) for kids. I am not personally interested in constraining eating out to once a month – I want to enjoy fish fries and beers and fancy dinners at restaurants I sell produce to. This part probably sounds crazy but my ability to spend money on non farm things without guilt or insane internal accounting has also been a learned skill.

Build in family/spouse friend/personal time into the schedule and treat it like a task. Last year I started having weekly friend dates one night a week. Holy moly those were liberating. I don’t think it is too much as a farmer to plan activities like pool night with the kids, date night complete with childcare, and a friend date weekly. A lot of it is just allowing yourself a little less perfection and a lot less guilt. It is not easy to say to your kids who have been taken care of by someone else most of the day “I’m going on a date” but perhaps we need to. It likely would have not saved my marriage to have date nights but I do think that being treated as a friend and lover, not just a farm worker, house keeper and brood sow, is important. I don’t think I was not valued but work, physical and emotional, cannot be our only metric of self worth, as easy as it is. The possibility I see in disappointing the kids for spouse time or personal time is actually being present when you are with them. I have decidedly not been present for much of my kids lives. My body was there, I still sleep with the entire kids pile, my love was there, they were cared for and fed and school folders were perfectly checked. I was also impatient, overwhelmed by the chaos and both mean and buried in other things (my phone, my email…) because that work allowed me a breath (but not recovery).

 I have to say now that I am separated and nearly divorced I have so much time. I will soon be busy with the task of farm building and managing land for next year to prepare, but 50% of childcare is way way way less than I have provided because I actually mentally check out from childrearing. This year I will also have really really good childcare which I need because if I feel like I need to check in I am emotionally draining myself.  Hire childcare and treat high quality childcare as MORE important than hired farm labor. Let me say that again. Childcare for women especially matters the most. Also have options for back up, for date nights etc. I spent years calling in favors, asking my mother and mother in law at the last minute to help and that is the worst. Passing on my labor to other women at the last minute uncompensated also seems to perpetuate a system I really don’t love and I would be highly annoyed if I was them. Also while this solves nothing if you are already in a heterosexual marriage, only marry someone super kind who lives out feminism in all their actions. I'll save this for a future blog post but really understand what forms of equality you need and expect upfront because even the most well intentioned people haven lots of baggage from patriarchy (men and women included)

Hire out housework unless you are someone who likes it for some crazy reason. Unless you have aspouse who wants to do this work pay someone to help you keep it together. Do you know what I don’t want to do after working a 70 hour spring week? Laundry… mopping… wiping little boy pee off the toilet and the entire area around the toilet…basically anything more than basic dishes and once a day sweeping. I also want my house to look nice and be free from clutter and messes because otherwise the work just stares at me.

Understand the mental effort in maintaining relationships and try to maintain healthy personal boundaries for self preservation. I am a bit of a multitasker. I actually don’t know why everyone cant hold 6 things in their mind at the same time and why anyone would not want to… but this is emotional labor. I also have spent a lot of time thinking about babies, meals, how my workershares and employees feel. I spent a lot of time trying to manage other peoples experiences and feelings because this is what I thought they needed. Do you know what will make you crazy, drained and miserable.. trying to keep everyone happy all the time. I am learning to walk away from work if the people or person I am working with is not kind to me instead of trying to argue that I deserve better treatment or trying to manage an employees reactions. I am rethinking future farm structure and considering doing things with people I love instead of things for people I love.

What we get from being good enough. Last week I walked away from work because I felt sick and went home and took a two hour nap at 10 in the morning (the 4th nap of my life). Then I went back to work, did only what I wanted (drank tea and planted in the greenhouse with my 6 year old) and went home and slept for 12 hours. And… I was better instead of sick for a week and a half. I have had incredibly deep conversations with my kids, been able to have energy to teach them how to clean up their own “around the toilet pee” rather than flipping out yelling and doing it myself. I play kickball without wishing I was alone somewhere else. I am planning on staying over at a friends house so she can watch my kids while I go to a fancy dinner so I can drink the paired beers and so I can not drive my kids home at 9pm and wake up drained and exhausted. I still feel a little guilty when I feed my kids cereal but that is fading away. I also don’t spend so much time judging others because I like myself and know all we can all hope for is to be good enough. I know it is a cheesy thing to say but I am not interested in having life as it should be but rather liking life as it is.