The pandemic has forced farmers to adapt to a new way of living, working, and playing. What once required a trip to the city to go to the gym or attend a group fitness class can now be conducted online.
With increased emphasis on distancing and the topic of mental health on the verge of becoming mainstream in agriculture, it has left me wondering if farmers are on the cusp of a health and wellness revolution?
For young farmer Jocelyn Velestuk, focusing on health and wellness has always been a crucial aspect of sustainably managing the farm business.
Velestuk is a grain farmer at Broadview, Sask., who focuses on soil health, which aligns with her focus on personal growth and healthy living.
“The farm team has become really honest about stress management and the various stressors each farm team member faces,” she said.
For Velestuk, it is not about perfection, it is about honestly and balance.
“I have to constantly adapt to a busy family and farm life, so it’s important to give myself grace throughout my self-care journey.”
Adaptation is something Ryan Watt knows well. As a fourth generation farmer in the Craik, Sask., area. He said investing in himself, mentally and physically, allows him to better plan for risks and adapt to challenges that he and the family farm might face.
“It’s a bit of a wraparound approach to stress management. The healthier I am physically, mentally, spiritually, the better I perform in other areas of my life including on the farm.”
While Watt’s health and wellness journey began with a focus on diet and exercise, he’s now started to embrace spiritual health by implementing meditation and yoga into his daily practice.
“It helps keep me connected and grounded to myself.”
Spirituality and religion have been a primary motivator since the beginning of human existence and that aspect remains on many family farms. Chuck Weinknecht farms in the Yorkton, Sask., area and his faith is of utmost importance to him and his family farm.
“The foundation of my farm has always been my spiritual beliefs. It helps keep me humble and motivated on the family life while driving me to care for those who are less fortunate.”
Interestingly, what began as a focus on spiritual health for Weinknecht has been expanded to physical fitness as he has recently implemented an exercise routine into his daily schedule.
“Exercise helps me manage stress and get a good night’s sleep.”
Managing the various areas of health can be challenging for farmers, and the approach taken differs for everyone.
According to health and wellness coach Scott Kemp, time and knowledge are the two greatest barriers to prioritizing health. Kemp is a consultant at Backswath Management where he designs programs for farmers to reach their health and wellness goals.
“Farmers have 100 things to do in a given day. Ten of those tasks make it to the top of the list and three to five usually get done in a day. Your health has to be within those top three or four priorities or else it won’t happen.”
Kemp said he believes the first step is prioritizing yourself, then prioritizing the time throughout the day.
Earl Silinski has been prioritizing his health for a long time. As a busy operations manager of 20,000-acre grain farm, he said prioritizing exercise helps him with his organizational skills in general.
“I’m usually two seasons ahead in my planning and thinking about the next harvest before this year’s crop is even in the ground,” he said.
Silinski said a long-term perspective makes him a better manager.
“I’m a better steward of the land and it helps me build strong personal relationships.”
Kemp said having a good support system will improve the chances of success.
“What is most important is to pick something that is enjoyable. After that, bring your tribe with you.”
As a triathlete, marathon runner, spin instructor, and busy father of three, Kemp said much of his personal health success has been a result of bringing his family along for the journey.
Stuart Chutter attests to the value of tribe for motivation and support. As a young cattle farmer and regenerative agriculture advocate from Killaly, Sask., he credited much of his success to a great support system.
“I’ve made some great friends through fitness activities who inspire me in all areas of life.”
Chutter’s health journey did not begin with a specific goal in mind, but he wanted to become happier, healthier, and more confident and that has led to other benefits.
“Looking good and taking care of myself has made me a better businessman. I truly believe fortune favors the bold.”
Health and wellness is a personal journey, but our support systems will lift us up during challenging times.
“We have to care not just about business things or the land, but also about our people, including ourselves. Our relationships require as much care as our crops do and are more important than anything else.”
Katelyn Duncan PAg is a Regina area agrologist, farm consutant and policy analyst. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.