The last vacation I took was a year ago. I didn’t actually start taking vacations until I met my husband. We come from different worlds, like country mouse and city mouse. He went on family vacations every year and I did not. My family didn’t have the time, the money, or the ability to leave the farm. I could go my whole life without going anywhere, if I’m honest, but my husband wasn’t having that life so here we are.
Our last vacation was to Costa Rica. We went to a fairly new resort near Liberia and had a really great time. My style of vacationing involves lying around, reading and eating too much or drinking too much. My husband on the other hand prefers to explore, see all the sights and do all the things. We often meet in the middle. Half the time spent by the pool or on the beach, and half the time trail blazing.
On that trip we went zip-lining over mountains, which was terrifying and beautiful, but most terrifying. We also went horse back riding which is something my husband always talks about doing, but I personally hate horses so I usually avoid it. Growing up, my farm had a total of twenty-four horses. I’ve had more than enough experiences to last me a life-time, but for him we went for it. I’ve never ridden a horse that so desperately didn’t want to be ridden before. It was almost comical how desperate she was to get back to the barn. We also had dinner on a mountain top, went to a hot-springs, and went down to the market beach for a day trip.
Around the resort was interesting. There was a really cool black sand beach, but the ants and monkeys were too much to enjoy it. The monkeys were actually brutal there, like hungry racoons around a campground. Nothing was safe from them. The staff there were also really great, they did a weird dance at the end of the day that I’m still humming the tune of. They always had fun events and night too, it was never boring there.
All in all the experience was great. I would go there again. Farmers don’t often get to take vacations so it is a real luxury that I am able. I definitely wouldn’t suffer if I didn’t go away though, I’m very happy with the little patch of paradise I have here in rural Ontario. I’m truly a lucky duck to have both options.
In the spring we are going on a cruise through Spain, France and Italy for our delayed honeymoon. Fingers crossed we can still go! Pretty up in the air these days.
Has anyone had their travel plans cancelled because of the virus outbreak? Should I plan for the worst?
In my first blog I talked about how I sat in on a speaker who encouraged farmers to get on social media and tell our stories. That was in 2013 and for years I tried to figure out what that story looked like. How would I tell that story in a way that would be unique and interesting? It wasn’t until the year 2017 that I figured it out – and I’ll tell you – it was embarrassingly in my lap the whole time.
The Importance of Telling the Story of Farming
I wrote about this a little bit in my other blogs, but essentially, farmers need to introduce ourselves. It had become apparent to me after starting my career in the big city as a graphic designer that farming was a foreign concept to most people. The only interaction with farming most of my coworkers had was farm themed toys and children’s books they had as a little kids. I was shocked by the disconnection and was motivated to remove it.
Consumer research shows that even though people have a lot of questions about their food, they still view farmers amongst the most trustworthy sources of information about it. Social media offers us the unique ability to connect with those people and answer those questions since we cannot go to their houses and have a conversation. Just by posting about our day, what we’re up to and why, we can provide everything they need to know. As long as we are transparent and honest, the consumer will be receptive.
How to Tell the Story of Farming
For a few years, I worked as a graphic designer in an office in the city and in that time I was casually educating friends and colleagues about agriculture because I was so passionate about it. This was a dull attempt at fulfillment in my life. I wanted to farm, I wanted to make art and I wanted to help the agriculture industry. None of those things were really adding up. I thought quitting my office job and going to work on the farm would clear things up… and over time it actually did. I started drawing ridiculous situations I found myself in during the day and sharing them with my city friends. They encouraged me to start posting them on Instagram. Before I knew it, I’d found my voice. I was telling my story in a way that was unique to me.
Everyone has to find their own way. SharkFarmer has a podcast, Andrew Campbell posts daily farm photos and The Peterson Brothers make song parodies. Whatever feels the most comfortable or fun for you is how you should tell your story. The farm community represents 2% of Canada. You may not get the notoriety of the people listed here, but you can at least bring a voice to the table so that as a whole we can compete with all the noise out there online.
Comics about Farming
What started as a hobby and a way for me to relieve stress became a real, possible career path. Through innocent jokes and silly faces I was able to convey what life is like for me as a farmer in this modern world. It began to catch the interest of local papers and agriculture based magazines and has led to a few collaborations with various organizations. Then I decided to publish my first children’s book, coming full circle to the farmer in the book of my old coworker’s childhoods. Only this time, it was going to be an authentic representation of the modern Canadian farmer and just how complex they are.
Long Story Short
Social media has given me the opportunity to follow a career path that I didn’t think existed. I am able to do all the things I always wanted to do: work on the farm, make art and help the agriculture industry. I encourage everyone, as I was encouraged back in 2013, to get online and share their own story in whatever format they want. The effort is minimal but impactful, we can’t change the way things are overnight, but we can offer consumers the chance to have their questions answered by the only people who can answer them: The people growing and raising their food.
How do you tell your story? Whether you’re a farmer or not, how do you share your personal brand with the world? As a non-farmer, do you find it helpful for farmers to tell their stories on social media, and if so, why?
Activists can provide a lot of good for the world. They are brave people who see something they feel conflicts with their ethical code and they speak out against it. A lot of good can come from activism: environmental efforts have been made, justice has been served and animals have been saved. We need activists to keep the world ethical as we progress, but what happens when activism takes an ugly turn? When activists don’t do their homework, turn aggressive or go against the law?
Everyone wants to be heard and with social media everyone can be heard. Anyone can make a statement about the way things are and that statement might be seen by a couple friends or perhaps thousands of people. Activists use social media to get their message out there. With Hashtag Activism, anyone can get behind a cause with a simple hashtag in a tweet. It’s “slacktivism” at its finest. A person can feel like they are helping without leaving the comforts of their couch, which soothes their ethics alarm and leaves them feeling good about themselves.
The problem with slacktivism (or hashtag activism) is that it often lacks both fact checking and productivity. People often jump on a bandwagon without checking to see if information is true. PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, is a major activist organization that relies on shock campaigns, fear mongering, celebrity endorsements and untruths. They use social media to put out campaigns that encourage slacktivists to donate through shock, disgust and guilt. Investigations into PETA show that they use misinformation to collect revenue. The average person isn’t going to look deeply into the facts with proper research sources. They just want to save the cute and sad faces of their animal friends. This leads to a strained relationship between consumers and the agriculture industry that activists tend to target.
On the Attack
The activists that target farmers through social media are often aggressive – essentially bullies. They believe strongly in their code of ethics. Animals should not be consumed or kept in captivity. The land should not be changed to grow more crops and there shouldn’t be any genetically modified organisms or anything added to our food.
These are all perfectly reasonable beliefs. I also dislike the idea of antibiotics in my food or poorly treated livestock. What divides us are the facts. I know that Canadian farmers are held to strict regulations that do not allow for antibiotics to end up in food or for livestock to be abused. I know this firsthand as I am held to those regulations.
With a little research, myths can be dispelled. Unfortunately, aggressive activists are often uninterested in dispelling myths. They are set in their beliefs and no amount of discussion will change them. They go on the attack, they make uncomfortable statements and threaten the wellbeing of the farmers. Tired of being called horrible names, some farmers took to social media with the truth about what they do.
Caught In Between
Consumers sit on either side of the battlefield. Activists make them wary and suspicious and they start asking important questions. These questions are fair to ask. We should all know where our food comes from. For a long time, activists were the only voices on social media and a gap began to form between farmers and consumers. Now, with farmers joining consumers and activists in the conversation, we get a better, more complete picture. Farmers have nothing to hide and they are proud of the work they do. Social media gives them the opportunity to share that with consumers and to keep both sides of the story available for the consumer to make up their own mind.
Without getting too personal: how do you feel about activists online? Do they inspire positive change? Or have people already made up their minds and are just fighting? Are farmers handling their interactions with their critics effectively?
Several years ago there was never really any talk of mental health amongst farmers. Farmers were (and still are) massive believers in phrases like ‘toughen up’, ‘don’t complain’ and ‘don’t make excuses.’ These are phrases heavily drawn upon in our community to power through difficult times. Our lives are tough. The work we do is hard. Why make it harder for yourself? In an article posted in the Globe and Mail just last year, it was revealed that “40% of Canadian Agriculture Producers say they would be uneasy seeking help for mental illness because of what others may think.” There is a mentality within farm culture that is perpetuating the problem.
Farming is a high stress job. Many factors are completely out of your control. It is long hours and very hard work, even on the coldest, darkest days of the year. Even in storms, blizzards and heat waves. There is a lot of gambling, a lot of financial stress, a lot of physical stress and a heck of a lot of loneliness. Unending amounts of loneliness. Some farmers go weeks without seeing another human. We talk to ourselves, to our livestock, to inanimate objects. Isolation does something to a person – literally. It has physical effects on your body leading to cardiovascular disease, increased nervous system activity, increased inflammation, loss of sleep, increases the risk for dementia, increases your susceptibility to infection and the list goes on. I personally work alone all day most days. I like being alone, but it does start to take an effect on me. I like it better when I work with my mother and we can talk and joke while we work. We’re more productive as a team and I can see it has a positive impact on my mother’s overall well being too.
Enter Social Media
Social media has changed the game in my opinion. With more and more farmers joining social networking platforms we have more people opening up and discussing things. Media campaigns and events like Bell’s Let’s Talk Day actively invites them to talk about what ails them. It shows them that they aren’t in it alone and the importance of reaching out. The conversation wasn’t being had until a few brave souls came forward. Now organizations like Do More Ag exist to try to push us even further into helping ourselves. I’ve witnessed firsthand farmers who had previously been locked vaults and preachers of the ‘toughen up’ mantra, acknowledge and accept mental health as a concept. I’m sure that seems like a small step, but from my perspective, it’s huge.
We are now able to stifle loneliness, reaching out to farmers across the globe and comforting them. Letting them know that we are also going through the same things. Perhaps just offering encouragement or sympathies during a rough harvest, a flood, a drought… A recent crisis in the Ontario beef industry serves as a good example. When a processing plant shutdown cripples an entire industry and farmers face frightening financial hardship – every kind word helps. It’s a step away from the edge. It’s a gentle hand reminding us that it is alright, we’re human and we can’t control the forces that be.
The Flip Side
If I learned anything from Star Wars (and church), it is that in order for there to be a light side, there also has to be a dark side. Social media has done wonders in terms of connecting us with others and making the world a smaller, more accessible place. At the same time, studies are starting to suggest that social media may have negative effects on our mental health. On social media we constantly compare ourselves to others. Social media also opens us up to a world of people we could have easily avoided in our isolation. Online we encounter critics and bullies that use the protection of anonymity to say ruthless and painful things they might not say to your face. Especially if the career you’ve dedicated your life to is one that doesn’t align with the views of others.
Trolls are everywhere. No matter what you do, no matter who you are, you are going to get trolled on social media. It’s the nature of the beast. That said, farmers are deceptively fragile creatures and we are already seeing the evidence that online bullying is having a big impact on their mental health. It’s been a hard road to get farmers to acknowledge mental health problems are legitimate, let alone open up about it. To have a stranger attack you when you’re just stepping out of your box is enough to push you so far back into the box you’ll never come out again.
Long Story Short
Social media is having a huge impact on farmers’ mental health, some good and some bad. The issue of mental health in agricultural is a massive topic that needs more attention and more aid and I for one am optimistic about social media’s help in that. We are able to create more awareness and provide more resources that farmers might not have known about before. Just being able to socialize with other farmers innocently over a social network is so good for people living in rural areas. I see the effects firsthand in my friends, neighbours and family.
What are your thoughts? Does social media help or hurt mental health? Are attacked groups like farmers particularly vulnerable? Were we safer in isolation or does being able to connect with the good apples outweigh the potential attacks from the bad ones?
If You Need Help
If you need to talk to someone you can use the Ontario Mental Health Line. Call ConnexOntario at 1-866-531-2600
More resource are available here. There are local crisis hotlines in some counties across ontario.
As a farmer who is active on social media, I’ve witnessed first hand how the relationship between farming and social media has developed. In 2013, I sat in on a keynote speaker who blew my mind. Up until that day, I understood social media to strictly be a place to share party photos, delve out too much personal information, and communicate with friends. That talk was the first time social media was presented to me as a tool that farmers could use to help themselves. It was also before the term “influencer”. Back then we called influencers in agriculture AGvocates.
The speaker’s name was Andrew Campbell, known on most SM platforms as ‘Fresh Air Farmer’ and the creator of #Farm365. He was a journalist who had found success on social media as one of the first big AGvocates in Ontario. He had used Twitter as a platform to showcase his dairy operation and to interact with non-farmers in a way that made farming seem less like some whimsical old-timey concept and more like a real lifestyle and career. He used that success to launch a business in agriculture themed media ie. journalism, keynote speeches, etc.
Tell Your Story
The main message of Campbell’s talk was that modernity was clearly passing farmers by and that we needed to “Get online and tell your story!”
“We know today that 93 percent of Canadians know little or nothing about farming,” said Crystal Mackay, president of the Canadian Centre for Food Integrity (and my former boss) in an article for the Alberta Farmer. I was feeling that. As a farm kid fresh out of college working my first internship in the big, intimidatingly urban city of Guelph (and yes, I do see that as laughable now after all these years), I felt very much like my whole culture and lifestyle was a well-kept secret. As I moved on to work for bigger companies in bigger cities, I felt it even more. I was starting to feel like being a farmer was a rare and quirky thing to be.
Part of the basic message that was starting to go around the agriculture community was to tell your story so that consumers (aka the non-farming demographic), could get to know us and see us and understand where their food came from. It was also necessary to tell our story because there was an opposition forming out there with the intention of seeing farming end completely. In an article for Real Agriculture, Simon Hale both urged and warned us, “By not having a strong voice, we’ve let others fill the vacuum.” Opposing groups, such as animal rights activists and environmentalists, would attempt this through means of fear, misinformation and shock statement campaigns. It was working, and in the words of Miss Estranja, we felt very attacked. Farmers have been overwhelmed by the dread of being attacked or being called out for doing something wrong. Social media offered us a voice to defend ourselves. By sharing pictures of our daily chores or writing posts about them, we could show that we weren’t twisted individuals bent on torturing animals and killing the land. For so long we’ve stayed humble and quiet, but now we were being rallied to reveal ourselves. Young farmers, such as myself and the Peterson Brothers, took to it immediately. Older farmers are a little resistant, but seem to be coming around to the more innocent part of social media, leading me into my next point.
Uniting Our Rural Communities
Aside from being an obvious tool for advocacy, social media has so much more to offer the farming community. It’s not all business. The initial purpose of these platforms is to be social.
Farming is an extremely isolating career and lifestyle. I always say both career and lifestyle together because they are not separate. Farming is a way of life. Being a farmer means more than getting up and going to work. It means you live your work. You don’t have a structured schedule. You don’t have the same tasks any given day. You live where you work, often in remote rural locations. You are on call at all hours of the day. The choice to become a farmer is a heavy one and should not be taken lightly. It’s a decision that will affect your relationships, your physical health and your mental health. In fact, the mental health impacts of farm life is something farmers are just now coming to terms with as a serious issue.
With social media farmers don’t need to be alone. Keeping in touch is so much easier. No longer do friends and relatives have to drive by the farm to see if you’re still alive once a month or attempt to reach you on the landline you’re never in the house to use. Or a cell phone that has no reception out in the back forty. Now with smartphones and the internet you can stay in touch with what’s going on in the world and you can meet other farmers from further away. You can meet farmers that may be able to help if you have a problem that you just can’t wrap your head around. I have gone to Facebook or Twitter to crowd source problems: “Anyone know if calcium supplement for cows will work the same for rabbits?” Or “Anyone know how to get tractor grease off the cab?” I received answers to those questions within minutes.
Long Story Short
I believe social media is what has been bringing the agricultural community towards modernity. We are no longer forgotten and in the dark, we are here and present with everyone else. With organizations like the Ontario Federation of Agriculture working to get better internet for our rural communities, we will only continue to advance. I think this is a good thing, both personally and for the whole industry. I look optimistically for what the future holds for the relationship between farmers and social media.
Though perhaps not everyone does? There can be a flip side to all this. Where do you stand? Should farmers integrate into the social media realm or should they keep their practice to themselves in the fields?