The suicide rate for farmers is more than double that of veterans. Former farmer Debbie Weingarten gives an insider’s perspective on farm life – and how to help
The other night I was invited to sit on a panel and talk about modern farming practices in New Hampshire. There was a great crowd, the other presenters were articulate and knowledgeable, the venue was warm and festive and it was a great experience to share the things I’d learned over the past eight years with an audience of attentive and intelligent adults. Our experience has been a very positive one despite the setbacks and losses. Farming is an arduous lifestyle both physically and mentally. Financially it can be a struggle because the income, much like the seasons is never consistent. There is no weekly paycheck, some investments in future returns never come to fruition and losses are often tied to factors that are not ours to control; weather, markets, restrictive regulations, etc. However the rewards and payoffs that come in other areas of our lives have exceeded our wildest expectations. We are healthier, we sleep better, eat better, spend more time together, enjoy more of the meaningful aspects of life and escape the traps of modernity that serve as distractions and time wasters. We improve the world around us, enjoy beauty and sublime moments with regularity, have broadened our community and our contributions to it helping to build a better local environment because of it. We’ve entered into a close relationship with the source of our sustenance that has existed since the beginning of time and which most Americans are completely divorced from in their daily lives. Although we make only a fraction of the income we once had I can say with complete assurance our family is wealthier today than when our bank accounts and investment portfolios were overflowing. The stresses we feel are tied to something real, not contrived and built around illusory expectations that can never be fulfilled. Each day is new despite having a pattern that repeats itself because Nature is ever changing, even as it remains the same.
I read the article above this morning and was struck by two things — how our current culture does everything in its power to divorce people from the land and from meaningful lives tied to reality and then to act shocked when these same people become demoralized and give up. So many farmers have taken the bait of jumping on the Industrial Agriculture merry-go-round in an attempt to join the rest of the modern world and its trappings that they failed to even notice that they too had taken a wrong turn. Farming didn’t kill these people as the article would lead you to believe, it was the radical departure from it while trying to remain on the land that was at the root of their failures.
Most people believe that there is “no going back” to a previous era in life. This has never meant a literal turning back of the clock, of time travel, but that is how they perceive it. But go back we will because our present course is unsustainable. We have become an entire society of specialists so that virtually no one can see the bigger picture. Food comes from the store, the services and care of the medical profession have become a right, income is a guarantee — so much so that those who choose not to participate in life in any meaningful way are fully subsidized and compensated for their very existence. Clearly such a system is doomed to failure. Inputs come from somewhere. The continual use of any resource eventually leads to its depletion. We are going to return to our roots at some point, hopefully we will do it absent a cataclysm, but do it we will.
I have been writing about this for almost a decade, at first to keep some kind of record of what we were up to, but lately to the audience I know can understand what it is I have to say and who sense that they too can retrace their steps from that first false path and hopefully find what it was that was lost along the way.