The number of peach orchards in Howard County these days compared to the early 1900s … there’s a vast difference. I have both a personal connection to and fond memories of peaches from this part of the world. My childhood house sits less than eight miles away from Highland Orchards, which boasted the largest peach orchard in the country in 1904.
Now, my hometown, Nashville, Arkansas, which is the county seat for what once was hailed as “The Peach Capital of the World,” finds its claim to fame with high school football or – dare I say it – dinosaur tracks.
As with most things in life, the ups and downs of nature run its course; those farmers with successful orchards and acres of ripe, pinky-gold, fuzzy fruit are becoming more and more difficult to find. No, it’s nothing against the people … but can it be DUE to all things working against the people that have made it less alluring to be a farmer?
Later this month, on May 26 at 7 p.m., I’ll be part of a panel discussion called “Growing Hope” with leading experts in the mental and physical health fields as well as actual experts from the fields (AKA farmers).
We want to look at the factors that farmers face that not only begs the question, “Why is a life in the agriculture realm so challenging?” but, also, when it gets to be too much, what can one do about it?
Farming the land has been “a job” since lit-er-all-y the beginning of time. And every farmer has faced times of loss, stress, trauma and disappointment.
So, what makes farming and agriculture different from any other industry?
Bankers have stressful days.
Teachers have stressful days.
Doctors have stressful days.
No vocation is going to be trouble-free …
But, maybe, our attention is drawn to this business because it has SO MANY factors working against it … and SO MANY people watching it under a microscope … and SO MANY outcomes relying it to succeed.
Today’s farmer STILL faces those environmental factors that our ancestors faced: the droughts, the floods, the pests.
But, as much good that modernization brings, now Farmer Joe has got to put up the fight against other enemies: inflation, supply chain shortages, equipment breakdowns, pandemics and politics.
I’m not saying other professions aren’t affected by these monsters, but I am saying that it seems that, in a way, there’s almost a “free pass” or an “out” that farmers never get.
Hear me out:
A big box store computer system has an outage? Well, we’ll just wait for the IT guys to fix it. And they will. It may take a few hours or even a day or two, but it will get fixed. The store may lose some customers that day, but they’ll come back and the money lost during the outages will be made up within the blink of an eye.
The trickle-down effect of that store’s power outage doesn’t stab as sharply on the INDIVIDUALS in that room than say, a farmer who just lost his entire crop of corn. Because then … who can he go to? What does he do?
You can’t just copy and paste a successful harvest. You can’t just “order more” healthy crops and have them arrive on your doorstep by the next day. So, then, the stress of losing the crop is compounded by the farmer knowing HOW MANY people and families were relying on his successful yield; a stress on another stress. And the hits just keep coming.
Many people don’t know HOW to cope with stress. They may not have a close friend to confide in. They may turn to the bottle. They may lose sleep, isolate themselves and make unhealthy choices, which lead to bad habits, which lead to additions, which lead to … a very dark place.
So, where can farmers go? Who can farmers talk to when it gets to be too much?What is there to DO when DOING ANYTHING seems absolutely impossible?
It’s difficult to admit, but it’s a fact (no, I’m no licensed therapist or historian or anything, but that doesn’t make it less true): you are not the ONLY one who has ever faced this problem you’re facing. I’m not saying it doesn’t suck. I’m just saying that however frustrating or embarrassing or stressful it is, you are not alone. You are not alone!
Problems don’t care about your zip code.
Stress doesn’t care about your last name.
Accidents don’t care about the number of zeros in your bank account.
Stuff is going to happen to people of all shapes, all sizes, all occupations and all areas of the globe.
Choosing to take up a life in the fields is one incredible and praiseworthy decision to make. The men and women who choose to use their moments, their skills and their lives to grow something for the people around them and those who will come after them are about as selfless as you can get.
Back to Howard County: both my grandfathers had successful peach orchards and vegetable gardens. One of them also had broiler houses.My dad raised beef cattle, maintained chicken houses and owned a feed and farm store all while being a businessman, preacher and community leader. That man didn’t have a lazy bone in his body.
Do you think they had a few stresses come along? I’ll let you answer that. I have no doubt their faith in God was the driving force in their lives and success. My dad had people to talk to. He had other outlets to focus on when one part of the income puzzle was undergoing trouble. And he knew that nothing lasts forever.
I realize not everyone has positive relationships or other opportunities to pursue when things are looking bleak, but there are resources to help. There are people who care. There are ways to manage and come out better than you were.
Just recently I heard a saying, “A farm is nothing without the farmer.”That’s not to put MORE stress on you, but it is to say that it is critical to take care of yourself. Farmers are heroes who don’t get the praise they deserve. I think it’s time we change that, too!
"Growing Hope: Combatting Stress in Agriculture" is funded through a Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network Grant provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and administered by the Arkansas Department of Agriculture.
About the author: “Growing Hope” host Lauren McCullough – who grew up on the family farm in Nashville, Arkansas, showing registered Brangus cattle and raising chickens – is a creative entrepreneur, dividing her time as a photographer, videographer and on-camera talent. Now a resident of The Natural State’s capital city, Lauren’s passion lies in capturing and sharing the special moments that make up the "everyday" as she meets fellow Arkansans and shares their unique stories with the world.