Farms are often glorified as pastoral, restful places. But many a farmer might beg to differ. Keeping a farm operating is mucky, grueling, and financially challenging.
A Modern Farmer article urging people to stop romanticizing farms quotes goat farmer Molly Kroiz about pastoral tourism, “I think that we may run into issues with couples wanting a ‘farm’ atmosphere, but perhaps not the reality: that there are animals living here, and therefore certain smells and a certain amount of poop, etc. must be expected.” Again, mucky!
And expensive. The small family farms that are fodder for pastoral fantasies have an operating profit margin in a high-risk zone, including 9-25 percent of small American farms. It’s no wonder that agricultural labor force worldwide has plummeted to the present. You can tinker with the numbers by country to see the decline HERE.
So, if you’re becoming a farmer, consider not just how to feed your livestock, maintain soil quality, and get products to market, but also how to maintain your mental health. An Australian initiative recognized that suicide rates of farmers were 59% higher than non-farmers.
The researchers interviewed farmers about their mental distress. Says study author Lia Bryant, “We found that on top of key stress factors that affect farmers in general — things like weather extremes, physical isolation, intergenerational issues, and financial pressures, to name a few — there were additional shared risk factors that farmers in the same region (or farming the same commodity) experienced.” Aussie farmers can now tap into the Taking Stock site for mental support resources.
Even if we evoke the earliest days of farming, there were plenty of stresses and strains. A recent study researched the farming communities of Neolithic Europe. Archaeological evidence revealed lots of conflict, violence, and warfare. More than 1 in 10 of 2300 farmers’ bones had injuries from weapons, including axe blows to their skulls.
Study author Martin Smith proposes that farming upped the violence, even laying the foundations for warfare: “With farming came inequality and those who fared less successfully appear at times to have engaged in raiding and collective violence as an alternative strategy for success.”
Men have traditionally been the decision-makers in agriculture, and therefore also the ones at risk of head blows, then, and suicide, now. But, the proportion of farms run by women is on the rise. Still, a study in Sulawesi, Indonesia, found that older males are considered the opinion leaders. Yet, it was women and younger farmers who actually swayed people towards adopting a new farming tool.
Says study author Petr Matous, “While women and young people don’t usually occupy formal leadership positions in their communities and are not typically central to information and resource networks that result from roles like heading a farmer group, they may have other networks that matter, such as more active kinship ties.”
It sounds like more community-building to support farmers is in order.