Avoiding Burnout

Two of my favorite podcasters, John at Growing Farms Podcast and Ethan at The Beginning Farmer, have both recently taken extended breaks from podcasting and both have discussed how close they have recently come to giving up farming. And a few of my favorite bloggers (you know who you are) have scaled back their farming/homesteading this year. They’re helping to remind me of the risk of burnout.

We’re producing way more food this year than we can eat or sell. We enjoy giving food to the local food bank, and we’ve been giving them plenty this year, but even that isn’t an adequate outlet for all of our excess. And, of course, giving away our produce isn’t a sustainable economic model.

I love working outside and I love growing food. But I can’t keep up with all of ourΒ gardens in the summer without neglecting the rest of the farm.

I’m going to finish out this year as planned. But when winter finally settles things down around here I’m going to carefully reassess what we’re doing. IΒ don’t plan to ever stop growing our own food. We are homesteaders first and foremost. That won’t change. But I’m seriously wondering whether it makes sense for us toΒ keep trying to grow food for so many other people as well.

In the meantime, we’re going to market tomorrow with more produce than we’ve ever taken before. I’m not burned out yet.

 

 

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40 comments on “Avoiding Burnout

  1. Wishing you all the best and a good decision about the future, Bill. I know it’s exhausting, and I can appreciate the point about the business model not being sustainable. Much like writing books and blogs, methinks!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. shoreacres says:

    It seems to me the key sentence might be, “We’re producing way more food this year than we can eat or sell.” It sounds as though it’s your market that’s the issue. As I’ve mentioned, around here, the farmers who come to market regularly sell out. Sometimes, when I preorder online, certain items already are sold out if I don’t hop right on it.

    Cutting back might be more reasonable than stopping. If you grow less, to match your demand, the worst thing that will happen is you’ll have a bad year. But, the good news is that if you cut back somewhat and then have a bad year, you’ll disappoint fewer people! πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    • Bill says:

      Yeah, I kind of let my point drift with that sentence. Not a well-thought out post.

      We often sell out too. Last Saturday was our all-time record and we’re taking even more this morning. Our most desirable items, especially when they’re first coming in, sell out in pre-orders.

      But thanks to a bumper year in tomatoes, we can’t get them all to market or the food bank before they start going bad. They’re so delicate. No pigs to feed them to this year, we’ve put up all when can handle already and the chickens are starting to give me that “What? More tomatoes?” look.

      Mainly it’s just that feeling of exhaustion that always comes this time of year. I’m envious of people with well-tended kitchen gardens. I’m wondering if it makes sense to grow so much food when the financial benefit to us is negligible. We have lots of wonderfully loyal customers but few of them it seems are choosing our food because of the labor-intensive way we grow it. Just a lot to think about. I just want to make sure it stays fun. I have lots of other ways I could be productively spending my time. But as you suggest, whatever decision we make, growing less will be part of it I think. Having said all that, hopefully we’ll end the day today with a feeling of accomplishment like we had last week. Time to go!

      Liked by 2 people

  3. I wish I was your neighbor! Have fun at the market and good luck. ❀
    Diana xo

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  4. Susan says:

    It’s understandable to get burnout when you’re doing as much as your doing. But know one can ever clearly think of cutting back in WINTER. Winter is when we get into trouble with garden planning. By then , we’ve forgotten all the pain and work. Those darn colorful, beautiful, delightful, full-of-promise temptors……………………….
    πŸ˜€

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  5. It all sounds so good in theory to cut back, but how to do it effectively is a struggle. The seeds seem so innocent, but they grow up into big plants that need tending. We cut our gardens in half this year, and I am still struggling to keep up. Finding the right scale is a never-ending quest. Congratulations on selling out at the market, that is always a satisfying feeling.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. valbjerke says:

    I’m beginning to wonder if avoiding burnout is possible – our well organized ‘free time’ promptly got filled up this year with the unforeseen. Unable to find firewood at a reasonable price we’ve been going up in the mountains and cutting our own (miserable work), and though we normally purchase our hay from a farmer down the road – the hay crop this year is a bust – full of weeds. Another farmer we know stopped by the other day and offered us all the squares off a fortunately pristine field some miles away – at a stellar price, if we wanted to come load it ourselves. So we’re cramming that project in after work and this weekend should have the last of it here. I spent my ‘day off from work’ unloading and stacking 115 bales under cover to a 12 foot ceiling in 80 degree heat. Not complaining, the milk cow loves the stuff. I’ve been avoiding looking at the gardens too closely – but noticed last night – the peas are ready. So today – off to town to fix the water pump on the truck that packed it in yesterday, home to unload more hay and get ready to get the last of it tomorrow……πŸ˜„
    I think most all farmers straddle the burnout fence. But we adapt, get through it, take a breather come winter and get ready for the next round. Still wouldn’t trade it for anything.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Joanna says:

      I think that is one key component valbjerke – farming is seasonal. If we can get through the busy periods in one piece then we must make sure we rest when we can. I have the biggest issue right around the end of the academic year moving into the farming year – which overlaps by about a month or two here in Latvia. The summer season is blessedly short and I am just accepting that somewhere amongst all those weeds there are some veg and as the weeds slow down I can start to get even in the battle. Like you I wouldn’t trade it for anything

      Liked by 1 person

    • Bill says:

      Oh good grief. Sorry Val that you haven’t gotten a break. I had you in mind as one of the fellow bloggers who has cut back (along with Sailors Small Farm, Just Another Day on the Farm, Throwback at Trapper Creek, and others).

      I wouldn’t trade it for anything either. And I realize that I’m fortunate to be able to even consider cutting back, knowing that isn’t even an option for many folks.

      I think I was just feeling a little whiny last night after a long hot day of preparing for market. Tomorrow I plan to shut up and get back to work. πŸ™‚

      Glad you have your hay in the barn and you’re getting your wood in the shed.

      As you said, we can rest in the winter. In my case, once winter finally arrives I’ll start dreaming about spring and missing gardening. πŸ™‚

      Liked by 2 people

      • valbjerke says:

        That’s what’s funny about it all – we have cut back – and like other bloggers you mention, including yourselves – we all seem to be double-timing it anyway πŸ˜„
        You’re having a banner garden year, ‘throwback’ is going like crazy between hating/garden/training a new milker, ‘sailor’ is running after pigs and moving chicken tractors…..we’re a bit comical we farmers I think, in our efforts to slow down. It makes me wonder how we all pulled it off ‘before’ we cut back πŸ˜‚

        Liked by 3 people

  7. ain't for city gals says:

    Seems to me five years is about the standard burnout time…and then things change.

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    • Bill says:

      I recall reading once that we get restless every 7 years or so. I started doing this full time 5 years ago next month. Some I reckon that puts me in the burnout danger zone. πŸ™‚

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  8. freethnkr1965 says:

    The Beginning Farmer is one of my favorite podcasts and I think I’ve watched every one of John’s YouTube videos. Great guys who share their knowledge.

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    • Bill says:

      I haven’t watched the videos but I do enjoy the podcasts. I wondered what had happened to Ethan. I’d heard John’s “meltdown” episode, but didn’t realize that John was going through the same kind of thing. I’m glad they put it out there. It’s important I think that folks who experience that know that they’re not alone.

      Liked by 2 people

      • valbjerke says:

        You make a good point – it’s important farmers/homesteaders/off the grid know they’re not alone. I follow a few blogs that started out full of enthusiasm and giddy hope, and watched as they slowly wear themselves right into the ground – then wonder if they’re doing it all wrong or should be doing it at all.
        I think there’s something to be said for ‘back in the day’ when large families were the norm and there was help to be had. I’m sure it made a difference.

        Liked by 2 people

      • Bill says:

        Yep, I agree. I never realized how much our kids did around here until they were gone. As for this lifestyle (and mine is mild compared to yours) there are plenty of websites that sugarcoat it. I’ve probably been somewhat guilty myself. John made the point on his podcast over the past year or so that it is nearly impossible to find any blog or podcast that talks honestly about the financial side of it, for example.

        Liked by 1 person

      • valbjerke says:

        Ah yes – I think the joke is ‘how do you make a million dollars farming? Start with five’.
        Unless you’re entirely self sufficient – you must be very careful you are not shooting yourself in the foot. I always use the ’round bale’ example: I’ve paid as little as 30.00 a round, and as much as 100.00 a round depending on the crop. If you need to buy hay – pay close attention to what the hay farmers around you are talking about. Grain is a good example as well – we’ve paid as little as 250.00 a ton for wheat, and as much as 500.00 a ton – which is what you’re stuck with when you have five litters of pigs to over-winter.
        We’ve done much right, and likely as much wrong over the years – but when asked – I never sugar coat it, or fib about the sheer volume of physical work involved. I see little to be gained by watching someone repeat a mistake I’ve already made. πŸ™‚

        Liked by 2 people

  9. Timely post, Bill. I’ve heard John and Ethan tell their stories of hitting the wal too. It’s hard to listen to their struggles and realize that they’re young and fit and healthy and still finding themselves in that place of potential burnout. I think Valbjerke made a good point earlier that all of the bloggers/podcasters you’ve highlighted are double timing it as she put it. That is certainly a big part of the issue.

    I think another one that is relevant for some of us mentioned above is that we are all much of an age – Matron of Husbandry, myself, Valbjerke, Another Day on the Farm and yourself- we’re all middle aged or slightly better πŸ™‚ and probably feeling the toll this all takes on our bodies a bit. I certainly am. We don’t bounce like we used to. We’re less resilient with regard to stress as well – we just don’t handle it like we could when we were 25. There’s a reason air traffic controllers retire early.

    I can feel myself losing a certain amount of optimism, and gaining an impending sense of getting too old to do this – the windo of opportunity is suddenly finite, when once it was infinit.

    I agree too with Valbjerke that I don’t want to stop doing this stuff, in fact I probably can’t (a farming/self sufficiency addiction?), but I do need to scale down. It’s hard, though as Matron said. For one thing- there’s a certain scale that’s hard to resist – if you want to raise your own pork it’s really best to raise two pigs, as they’re companionable, and they’ll be happier -but then you have to find someone to share all the extra meat, and you might as well sell it as give it away, and suddenly it seems just as easy to raise three as two, and….

    One thing about the winter season when we all tend to recover and plan and hope again is that it reminds me a bit of having babies – how is it that we women can possibly forget the pain of labour and childbirth enough to be willing to go through it more than once? But we do. And so do farmers/homesteaders/self sufficieny people. We slow down, we enjoy the fruits of our labours and the catalogues come in with the Christmas cards…and we’re back to it,

    I think the people who make it work best are those with a partner in crime. Someone who shares the load with them, who can pitch in when the work load is too much or there’s a crisis. Bill you mentioned not realizing how much your kids did till they were gone. With my husband and myself both working in town, and my other daughter at university the load has fallen largely to my younger daughter who just finished high school in June.

    I too need to reassess what it is I really want out of all this and how I go about it.

    Liked by 2 people

    • valbjerke says:

      I was just thinking last night – I ordered a seed catalogue from a different company last year (along with all the others I get) and it arrived – printed in black and white Never ordered a single thing from it – maybe that’s the secret to slowing the gardening down – don’t order any of those beautiful color seed catalogues. 😊

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    • Bill says:

      Thanks for the excellent comment. Very well said. We’re definitely thinking along the same lines.

      I smile at your example of the pigs. That’s exactly what happened to us. I wanted my pork to come from the farm. So I needed to raise a pig. But it’s not good to raise one alone, so we raised two. Then the person who was going to buy the second one didn’t come through, so we took it to a USDA processor so we could sell the cuts. So we had our labels set up and the processor and some experience at selling. So the next year we raised 4. Last year we raised 7. Whatever happened to just wanting to raise my own sausage?

      And I do hear you loud and clear about our ages. I’m going to be pretty mad at myself if I mess up my back.

      Here’s a problem I have. If I sat down and did my reassessment now, I might well make some significant changes. But I don’t have time to do that now. I’ll do it in the winter. But in the winter the pressure will be off and, as you say, I’ll be remembering all the good stuff and not the weariness. I’ll probably ended up expanding things rather than shrinking them! I remember back when I was practicing law I once had back to back multi-week trials. In one stretch I worked 10+ hours for over 70 days in a row, without a break. Cherie was in the third trimester of her pregnancy with our first child and I was never home. I resolved that I would quit my job as soon as the trials were over. But when that day finally came, I didn’t quit. I remember thinking, why quit now? The pressure was off. It’s the same with farming. Once the pressure is gone, so is the desire to ditch it. πŸ™‚

      If I didn’t love this lifestyle I’d have stopped long ago.

      Your last line is exactly where I am right now. I need to carefully think it all through.

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  10. NebraskaDave says:

    Bill, wow, great discussion about burnout. It’s true that this subject and gardening doesn’t come in the same discussion. My situation is different than most of the blogs I read in that I’m retired and have an adequate income so time and money is not an issue. I’ve been in retirement seven years and have had Terra Nova Gardens five years. It took four years just to get the fences up and the weeds under control. This is the first year that I really have a well maintained garden. I’ve learned that there never seems to be enough time to get everything done in the garden. I have to remember that the pictures in the catalogs and garden videos with pristine gardens have a crew of gardeners that care for the gardens and keep them tidy for the videos. I’ve learned it’s OK to have a few weeds in the garden and to concentrate on one task at a time until it’s done. I’ve also found to pace myself while working. There have been years when my garden was a weed forest; years where critters devastated the harvest; weather has wreaked havoc on the crops; and disease has taken the plants. My family, like yours, Bill, has tilled the soil for many generations. Even through I got sided tracked like you did, I came back to the family roots of tilling the soil. I often think of my ancestors, who had survival responsibilities much more difficult than I do. They didn’t get to cut back or worry about burnout. Survival depended on every decision they made or didn’t make. I’ve come to really admire the grit it took to live off the land during those times.

    That’s not to say that today doesn’t have it’s survival challenges but they are more psychological than physical. We have a different kind of stress today than 100 years ago. As glamorous as the pioneer life looks, I’m glad to have the modern conveniences of today.

    I’m glad to hear that your produce is being sold out and that a new day has a fresh outlook on the daily issues.

    I hope you had a great day at the farmer’s market.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Bill says:

      I do feel a little guilty, silly even, about fretting over whether to cut back or not, when that isn’t an option for many people and certainly wasn’t for most of our ancestors. But at the same time, I realize that a lot of work and misery went into enabling me to retire early. It would be foolish (but perfectly in character for me) to turn this into a stressful job like the one I left behind.

      Your comment reminds me of something interesting I recently heard. It comes from one of Carl Sagan’s books. He says to imagine we could gather together all of our ancestors, back to the first one that didn’t walk on all fours. That would be about 250,000 people. For the first couple of million years we were all hunter-gatherers. For the last 10,000 or so years we’ve been agricultural. But only in the last couple of generations have most humans started to live separated from the land. So if all those people were in one place and able to have conversations, they’d all be able to talk about nature and living off the land. Except for one or two people–the most recent of us–who would have almost nothing to contribute to that conversation. I thought that illustrated well the dramatic change we’ve undergone over the last 100 years or so.

      We did have a very fine day at the market. Probably our second best ever. We still had lots of produce left over but we were able to donate it all to the food bank so nothing was wasted.

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  11. Time to start mentoring/taking on apprentices/teaching courses to offer your knowledge to others while they give you a helping hand and earn food while they’re at it? This knowledge you’ve acquired is so much more valuable than the amazing food your producing: )

    Liked by 1 person

    • Bill says:

      I have some ideas that I’m going to try to develop along those lines (this winter, of course). I’m especially interested in developing a partnership combining local history, local art, local folkways and local food to promote community development and to cultivate awareness of the things that give our community its identity.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Scott says:

    Is it a super wet summer there too? Is that why you’re swimming in food? Or too ambitious setting seeds? πŸ˜‰

    Liked by 1 person

    • Bill says:

      The weather has been generally cooperative once we got out of our wet May, but one of the main differences this year is that we’ve had no deer damage. That’s astonishing considering how much they’ve hurt us over the last few years.

      It’s funny how quickly things can change on the farm. Now that the surge of tomatoes, squash, cukes, etc. is winding down, the quantities are much more manageable and we’re transitioning into a new set of crops. We’re still struggling to keep up, but I’m starting to see light at the end of the tunnel.

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  13. That is so very wise Bill..
    Yes we grow far more than we need, but give away quite a bit of food to family friends and neighbours.. Each year we are not getting any younger and although we do not have a farm. our very large plot takes some keeping on top of..
    And at the end of the day, you need time to recharge your batteries and too many allotmenteers collapse due to heart attacks or take ill. My hubby said he could not have maintained it this year without my help.. He is 69.. though still thinks he is 50 πŸ™‚

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    • Bill says:

      Every year I learn lessons. I’m already thinking about what crops to cut back on next year for example. For me it’s very important that I keep things on a scale that I enjoy. I do not want my gardening to turn into something that creates (rather than alleviates) stress.

      I’m hoping that I feel like 50 when I’m 69. πŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Every year involves fine tuning for the next. I grew too much rampicante squash and am giving a lot of it away. But I’m glad to have it -it’s such a versatile squash and we love it. Meanwhile I should have planted more corn and not planted it with the beans.

    Good luck with the rest of your season. Better to have too much than too little.

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    • Bill says:

      Yes, you’re right. I keep a journal of garden lessons every year and I consult it during the winter when planning for next year. One entry I made today was to note that we’re growing way too many cantaloupes. I know that’s an area where we can cut back. As you say, every year it’s important to fine tune for the next one!

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  15. I just wanted to applaud you on your determination not to burn out! You have already achieved so much and have so much to look forward to, my family has struggled with almost burning out before we ever truely got started. At the end of the day, you’ve got to do what is best for your family. Good luck!

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