Finding Moments of Stillness in Seeding Season

The Stigma-Free Society recently spoke with Roberta Galbraith, whose family are 6th generation farmers running a grain, pulse, and oilseed operation. Given the stress and high workload of seeding season, we asked Roberta what kind of strategies she and her family use for winding down at the end of the day and finding stillness in the busiest moments of farm management.

Can you tell us about some of the challenges and joys of being a 6th Generation farm family?

There are always challenges with whatever business you are running as an entrepreneur. Probably one of the most important pieces of running a family farm is that you have to communicate, be committed to the process of mentoring and encouraging the next generation that this is a good place to work, raise a family and eventually own or buy into the business. Our story is a bit different in that my husband and I farm with our two sons but our farm is a 1st generation farm that my husband and I started. We had virtually no funds to invest other than our own when we started. It was the end of the 1980’s and farms were suffering from low commodity prices and high interest rates. We both worked outside of the farm and raised five children while starting the farm. I remember vividly my husband Neil coming home when he was 45 years old and saying to me that it was now or never for him to embrace full-time farming. So we made the leap. One day into seeding that year, our tractor blew and we needed to buy a new tractor. We had just bought a sprayer the day before. Talk about stress. I said to my husband “a grain farm without a tractor is like a dairy farm without cows…it doesn’t work very well!” We bought a tractor that day.

You mentioned being in the middle of seeding a crop and feeling behind because of wet weather. How do you find moments of stillness in these particularly busy moments?

Great question! I tried to focus on the fact that I live in a beautiful part of Canada surrounded by wildlife, green spaces, trees and birds. It is peaceful even when it is stressful. I really enjoyed being on the late shift with my two boys (28 and 31) this year, filling the drill at midnight so that my son Ryan could seed through the night. It was nice to work alongside these two–it made me proud to know that they are good men.

What are some ways that you and your family unwind after a stressful day?

Sleep! I like to go for a walk with the dogs, bike ride, sit on the deck with a drink and just soak in the day and my surroundings. I developed a large backyard “park” at the start of the pandemic and have spent hours out there just gardening. Time passes quite easily!

Sometimes we think of self-care as needing to be linear and consistent. But that doesn’t necessarily work in a profession that fluctuates depending on the season. How do your self-care practices change depending on the season?

In the winter I spend more time reading, doing yoga, walking or snowshoeing, and connecting with friends. Once spring hits, we are outside more and the farm really swings into gear. I try to get up early and sit on the deck for a few moments before the day starts, sip my coffee and make lists of what needs to be done or write down thoughts. I am a community volunteer and am involved with several organizations both locally, provincially and up until recently on a national board. That keeps me busy and gives me an outlet where I focus on others, which can be grounding, as other’s challenges can many times be much worse than your own.

How can we work with the changing seasons and fluctuations in busyness to improve our mental health?

Great question and I think it depends so much on your individual situation. Being “tuned” into your stressors, levels of stress and understanding when your plate is getting too full is key to managing stress I think. Also communication is key….understanding that we all have a role to play on the farm and that ALL jobs are important makes everyone pull in the same direction and that keeps spirits up even when we are tired and things don’t go as planned. We like to try and be proactive, plan ahead, think of contingency plans, and “what if” scenarios. If you have talked about it then you are less stressed when something happens because you already know what the Plan B or C or D is. Working with Mother Nature is not for the faint at heart. She holds the last card and learning that early in your career as a farmer and working with her can be a lot less stressful than working against her. Building resilience is, in my opinion, one of the greatest gifts that we can give our children and it is a skill that enhances with experience. Pressing pause sometimes is the best decision. Giving ourselves time to reflect and gather our thoughts and actions is sometimes the best use of our resources–both physical and mental.

Running a farm can be a stressful and demanding business, but even in busy seasons, it’s possible to find and cultivate those small moments of stillness that nurture our wellbeing.