What are your vacation plans this year?
I ask because I suspect the answer for many of you will be that you don’t really have any plans, or more likely, you feel too busy to take a break.
It’s understandable. After all, summer is the busiest season on any farm, and doubly so in this country of seemingly eternal winters. With just a few short weeks to plant, husband and harvest crops, or an even shorter window to cut and bale prime hay and the ongoing need to keep livestock on the best grass, you’re busy.
But the fact is, the time of the year that’s best for crops and animals is also the best time to explore the world and spend some time with the people that are most precious to you.
The short summer window that comes after crops are sprayed and before harvest looms is your best chance to do this, and I urge you to take the time.
It doesn’t have to be big or expensive. Go camping, or to visit friends. If your kids are grown and have moved off the farm, go sponge off them for a few days in the city and play with the grandkids. Take it from a former farm kid who rarely gets family visits — they’ll be delighted to see you.
I grew up on a grain farm in Saskatchewan in the 1970s and early 1980s, and as I look back, my memories of my family and the fun times we had are generally clustered around this time of the year. July, when we actually had time to do things together that weren’t picking rocks, burning flax straw piles or any of the other million or so odd jobs that always seemed to need doing.
This was the time of year my dad took us fishing. Or my mom took a trip to the city to visit family there, kids in tow. Or occasionally, we’d borrow our uncle’s tent trailer and all pile into the old Dodge Monaco for a real vacation. It was on one of these trips I made my first visit to Manitoba, to Duck Mountain and Riding Mountain parks.
Looking back now, I realize there weren’t truly that many of these occasions, it just seemed that way, and none of them were really all that remarkable. After all, families go camping every summer weekend all across Canada. But to a small child they were magical, and I strongly suspect at least part of that magic was that they were the few occasions when we were able to get our parents away from the farm — and all that work that was impossible to ignore in clear conscience.
It was when they truly relaxed themselves, and when we all had fun together as a family. It was a recipe for memories, the memories I will carry the rest of my life. Playing in the water at the lake. Eating saskatoon berries straight off the bush. A fire and toasted marshmallows. Mundane perhaps, but at the same time, magical to a child.
I’m afraid too few farmers recognize the need to take this sort of pause. Or perhaps more correctly, plenty know they should, but few do because they have so much to do and they’d feel guilty if they did.
In many ways, I think that sort of work ethic is part of the heart and soul of agriculture and it’s very often a good thing. It’s what gets things accomplished, how farms are built and developed, how crops are sown and harvested. But it can come with a downside. Workaholism is never a good thing and it’s important that the much talked about ‘work-life balance’ extends to farms too. Maybe it’s even more important.
If you really think about it, you’re running a biological factory, and you and your family are living right in the midst of it, on the shop floor as it were. There aren’t many other businesses you can say that about. Most families have a sanctuary where work and business don’t intrude, but farm families seldom do.
I recognize taking that time away from the farm isn’t always the easiest thing to do, but in the long run it’s important. It will allow you to recharge and regroup and return refreshed. It will let you appreciate your loved ones without constantly thinking about that job that needs doing. And it will let you experience the present, rather than fret about the future or worry about the past.
There are also plenty of well-documented benefits to vacations that can be good for your business. Research has shown that people who take regular vacations are less stressed, more creative, more confident and emotionally stable, healthier and significantly more productive. Counterintuitively, if you take some time off, you might actually accomplish more.
But most importantly, and probably most frequently overlooked, is the fact that you deserve it.
I was raised by farmers and I’ve been privileged to continue to know many farmers well over the course of my career. There are few groups of people who work harder and longer and more tirelessly.
Don’t you think you’ve earned a little break?