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Farming is a Team Effort, and so is Mental Health

With Lesley Kelly #

Mental health is an under-discussed topic in the agriculture industry. Farm related stress, isolation and anxiety can run high, especially during the pandemic, and many growers may not be giving themselves the attention and self-care they need.

Grower Lesley Kelly, the voice and founder of High Heels and Canola Fields, wants to change that—she aims to break mental health barriers across the agriculture industry. She’s also the co-founder of the Do More Agriculture Foundation, a non-profit that helps build awareness and supports research for mental health in the industry.

Quite the resume if you ask us.

Communication is Key #

Many of Lesley’s closest family members live with mental illness, so she knows first-hand how candor can help build a support system.

A couple years ago, Lesley—along with her husband, Matt, and her brother, Derek—took over Evergreen Woodcreek Farms, her family’s farm in Watrous, Saskatchewan. They now grow canola, wheat, lentils and more depending on the year.

“We all met and sat out on the deck one day,” Lesley says. “It wasn’t a business meeting; it was to learn about each others’ worlds. My husband shared his struggles and his anxieties, and it was an eye opener. We wouldn’t be able to support each other if we didn’t know what someone else was going through.”

Once her family began to see the benefits of being more open and honest about their mental health, Lesley wanted to push that further—to be a mental health advocate and help farmers like the ones closest to her.

“Why not share what we had gone through and show that it can get better?” she asks. “That there is hope out there and that a fellow farmer isn’t alone. Because we felt like we were alone.”

Stressful Work #

Farm stress is common among growers. In fact, a 2019 study by Farm Management Canada states that over 76% of Canadian farmers reported they had mid-to-high stress levels. However, even though it’s so common, the results of this stress can look different depending on the farmer. It can stem from many root causes, including financial undertaking, isolation, unpredictable weather and/or intense workload—running a farm is hard work, and the pandemic hasn’t made things any easier.

So, if there is such a growing feeling of stress and anxiety across the industry, why are farmers so hesitant to talk about it?

Lesley thinks it’s because there is a general notion that stress is just part of the job. In one of her first videos about mental health and self-care, she received some push-back in the comments. They were called ‘pretend farmers’ and told that if they couldn’t handle the stress they should get out of the business.

Finding What Works for You #

Things were tough for Lesley and her family, but it’s slowly getting better—especially for Matt, who had experienced panic attacks and high levels of anxiety since being on the farm.

“For Matt, journaling really helped get everything he was feeling out,” Lesley says. “For me, it was a great learning experience to see what he handed me—a piece of paper where there was no white space left on it.” For many growers, it’s about reaching out for help and finding the most effective ways to take care of themselves.

Everyone is different, though, and Lesley says that what has worked for Matt often didn’t work for her and vice-versa. It took a lot of trial and error to figure out what self-care and mindfulness looked like both individually and as a family.

Family and the farm are one in the same for Lesley, and everyone’s mental health is and will always be as priority as the health of the plants in their fields.

Power in Caring #

Lesley’s late father Garnet, who ran Evergreen Woodcreek Farms before her, once said something that changed her whole perspective on farming. He understood that openness would create a better environment for everyone.

“If I’ve learned anything about the 40-or-so crops that I’ve grown over the years, it is that if you want to be successful, it isn’t about how much land you have or the type of equipment you drive. It’s about how we take care of each other and ourselves. That will determine our success.”

We hope his words will stay with you too.

If you’d like to learn more about Lesley, you can find her videos, blogs and podcasts over at High Heels and Canola Fields. You can also visit the Do More Agricultural Foundation to find resources for help and support if you or someone you know is having a hard time.

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