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Kennedy Schlecht watches her dad work with a cow on March 24. Having kids integrated into work is a positive part of the lifestyle of farming and ranching. (Jenny Schlecht/Agweek)

The 'lifestyle' of farming can be draining. Let's talk about it

When I was a teenager, my mom and I were discussing why there were so many people around us trying to be "farmers." They'd buy 10 cows or a little tractor and act surprised when it wasn't as easy as expected.

My mom, wise in all things, suggested a lot of people want the "lifestyle" of farming and ranching.

"It's kind of a stupid lifestyle," I remember saying.

Now don't get the wrong idea. I wasn't a sullen teenager. (Seriously, ask my parents.) Nor did I dislike growing up on a farm. On the contrary, I loved helping out whenever I could and was proud of the way we lived. I was in 4-H and FFA, and I owned a few cows of my own.

But I also wasn't stupid. My dad and grandpa worked nonstop for what I knew to be not a lot of money. They could do their best, but their best wouldn't stop a hail storm from wiping out the crop or a disease from killing calves. Farming and ranching don't allow much time for recreation or relaxation, and priorities are far different for farm families than for people with "town jobs." Life can seem, sometimes, like a constant struggle.

Mom knew what I meant. But she pointed out all the good things we had. How many kids can go to work with their parents on a regular basis? How many people get to be their own boss, for better or worse? How many people get to spend good portions of their lives outdoors? How many people get to see the results of their work right in front of their eyes?

She was right, of course, and I knew it then and now. I married a farmer and am raising my kids on the farm, and the "lifestyle" definitely plays into our happiness.

But even now, if I'm watching the markets or checking a bank account, I'll think about how unattractive this "lifestyle" can be.

Agriculture is in a down time right now. We all know it. The markets have been unfavorable for a number of years, and in many parts of the region, drought or flood or other disasters have made things even harder. Farm families are greatly outnumbered by people who have never been closer to the farm than a jug of milk or a package of hamburger, and it can feel at times like the world is against us.

People in an industry and "lifestyle" that prides itself on hard work, independence and resiliency can have a hard time asking for help or talking about problems. If a calf is sick, we treat it. When we're sick or tired or anxious or depressed, we keep working.

Recent years have put more of a highlight on the need for those in agriculture to be aware of their mental health and wellbeing. Terms like "self-care" pop up, likely leading to some eye-rolling on the parts of some hardened operators. But it's worth remembering that the health and happiness of you and your family are more important than the farm.

We at Agweek want to talk more about mental health. Have you struggled with anxiety or depression in rural areas? Have you felt helpless or hopeless? Have you had trouble finding a doctor or counselor? Have you struggled with a decision to leave agriculture? Have you taken steps to make sure you're taking care of yourself? You can email me at jschlecht@agweek.com or call me at 701-595-0425. Even if you don't want your name or story to appear in an article, I want to hear your stories so we can focus our reporting on what matters.

The more people talk about these things, the more agriculture as a whole can work on finding ways to deal with the parts of this lifestyle that can wear us down so that we can continue to live the life we love.

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