For many first-generation growers, the opportunity to raise their families with fresh, healthy food, easy access to nature, and a connection to the land is a significant part of why they chose market gardening as a profession. But balancing family and farming is not always easy: both jobs require a great deal of time, care, and a willingness to adapt to the unexpected. When it comes to striking a balance you must not lose sight of the fact that you need to nurture yourself first if you want your family and farm to also thrive.
We spoke to 5 market gardeners with children of different ages about their experiences, challenges, and tips. We invite you to embark on this journey with them via this miniseries of 5 articles which chronicle the biggest takeaways from those conversations.
Nurture Yourself First
With so much on your plate as a grower, a parent, and all the other roles you hold in your life, it can be easy to drop taking care of yourself and your own needs from your to-do list. However, as Jean-Martin Fortier often says “The most important tool in your farm’s toolbox is yourself”. You need to nurture yourself first. If you’re not in a position to be healthy and happy running your farm, nothing else will matter. You need to commit to taking the time to rest your body and your mind in order to be an effective farmer and parent.
After all, kids will remember what you do, not what you say. If you model taking care of yourself and they see your work on the farm as a source of joy, they are more likely to feel the same way. If they see the farm as a source of stress and pain for you as well as something that takes away from the time you spend with them, they are likely to see it as something to be avoided or resented, and this will impact their behavior on the farm.
Taking this time for yourself is not easy, and it doesn’t look the same for everyone. For Ben Street at Street Fare Farm, taking time for himself means committing to a 45-minute workout before lunch throughout the farming season – this physical activity is an important part of his life, and it allows him to stay connected to what led him to farming in the first place. For Jessey Njau at Zawadi Farm, it means taking his need for rest seriously. “The energy I have is the fuel for everything I do”, he says, “so rest and building back that energy is very important”. Now that his children are older, they understand that need and are able to give him time to take a nap during the day.
Adapting to a Different Rhythm
All of the growers we spoke to mentioned that one of the biggest changes that came with having kids was the change of pace. Being responsible for the needs of children means you can no longer work until all hours of the night in the field, or skip lunch to keep working.
However, in many ways, this shift to a different schedule has a bright side. For Myrtha Zierock, one of the biggest surprises about having her son was how it allowed her to stop sweating the small stuff. “Once he was born, I was much more relaxed about small errors. I was so much more stressed before he was born, trying to plan for everything and, afterward, I just realized that I had to let some things go”. This ability to let go of small details while still focussing on the big picture can be a blessing. The idea of “Nurture Yourself First” is also about letting go of the things that, at the end of the day, aren’t a game-changer.
All Good Things Take Time
The challenges of being a good parent and a good grower can sometimes leave you feeling overwhelmed and exhausted. When that happens, the growers we spoke to recommend taking a step back and looking at the reasons why you’re building this life for yourself and your family. As Anna Raines from Raines and Sun Farm said: “There’s always going to be a give and take between family and farming. There’s a tendency to want to get a lot done on the farm, but your kids are only young once – you have to think about what you really value.”
Instead of thinking in terms of your weekly to-do list, take a moment to revisit your dreams for the next 5-10 years. Think about what motivates you and why you chose to go into farming. Looking at your core values may help to remind you that your family and your farm aren’t in opposition, but are both part of the beautiful world you’re creating. Having this long-term view also helps to remind you to take the time to make memories and connections with your children at the stage they are at now – this is what you’ll remember when the success or failure of a generation of radishes is long forgotten.
A Farm Is a Wonderful Place For Children
One thing to remember is that by raising your children with a connection to farming, you’re offering them an incredible environment to learn in. As Anna Raines said: “a farm is a really great place to have kids: everything you do is so real to your kids compared to an office, they can take a lot of pride in what you do.” Ben Street from Street Fare Farm echoes this idea, saying that living on a farm “offers a unique opportunity to raise a family – having that visceral connection to the environment and the earth – this is a facet that’s missing in a lot of Western societies that you get to offer your family.” Focussing on the positive, and looking at the big picture can help you put daily challenges into perspective. The care and attention you share with your children and with the land are long-term investments, and both will continue to offer rewards to you and to the broader world for generations to come.
Whether you’re a grower with children, considering having kids, or considering making the leap into market gardening with your family, one thing is clear: you’re not alone. Talking to other parents in your area can help you to build your support network, as will building your relationships with other growers. Jessey and Misha at Zawadi Farm put this beautifully: “we can be beacons of light to each other.” Sharing with others and building relationships will strengthen your support network in challenging times and offer joy and connection during the good times.
Parenting and farming can be quite a journey! We have prepared a series of articles that will help you navigate those exciting experiences.
We invite you to consult the following articles: