We are very fortunate to live here in Wicklow in a very scenic and accessible part of the country.
e have the mountains on one side, the sea on the other and Dublin is less than an hour away.
This gives us great opportunities for non-agricultural interests, but many of us farmers are slow to take advantage of the activities available to us.
We rented a piece of land on Roundwood Road which is buzzing with activity every weekend when groups of cyclists head up the mountains for a lap.
Since they drive in twos and threes on the roads, many road users are rather frustrated and annoyed. I don’t In fact, I admire her. I admire the idea of them meeting regularly to bike up the mountains, have tea or soup and enjoy each other’s company in a positive, active environment.
Farming can be lonely and farmers can feel isolated as they try to cope with all of the challenges we face every day. Many farmers don’t see anyone all day long when their family goes to school and/or work every day.
Isolation can be dangerous, physically in the event of an accident and psychologically when you have too much time to yourself to think about potential problems.
There are many farms across the country that 20 years ago employed at least one ‘worker’ or the next generation but are now gone, leaving the farmer to do everything himself. The presence of the worker gave the farmer time to attend meetings and social gatherings during the day, safe in the knowledge that he would not have a mountain of work to do when he returned home in the evening.
Covid and the many lockdowns have left many farmers feeling cut off from society. Even burial in the countryside isn’t what it was in pre-Covid times.
I’ve always had interests outside of farming. When I first returned home to start farming in the early 90’s, after a few visits to the market I quickly realized that I needed something positive and non-farming in my week. I got back to rowing and no matter how hard the week on the farm was, once I was in the boat all that mattered for the next time was how fast the boat was going.
Life on the farm can be all consuming if we let it. I find I’m more efficient and productive on the farm when I have to be somewhere else after work. Likewise, some jobs can take forever if there is no deadline to complete the evening.
The reality is that outside family support is and will continue to be increasingly difficult to find. In the last six months two of our local agricultural entrepreneurs have decided to take early retirement and David Sheane who was brilliant at repairing anything metal or steel whilst building race cars has sadly passed away.
With calving, lambing and sowing now complete, I am very much looking forward to renewing friendships and finding new challenges. The worst of Covid lockdowns have not affected life on the farm but life outside the farm gate has changed.
A reluctance to meet others still holds people back, along with a good habit of taking a break from the farm for an hour or two.
A visit to the supermarket (or the discussion group) doesn’t really count. Although you can chat and have dinner, it’s still ultimately part of the job and you’re probably just chatting with other farmers who may reinforce each other’s personal worldviews (and how everyone is targeting us farmers! ).
I’m always happy to meet non-farmers and hear their views on farming, farmers and everything else. With the current debate surrounding the environment and food production, it’s always good to get a sense of what non-farmers think and maybe have a different perspective without the need for Twitter or Facebook to anger and polarise.
Few farmers spend time listening to consumers and their thoughts on food and food production. In fact, many farmers rarely go to supermarkets to buy groceries.
Despite the challenges of running a farm and family commitments, I believe the benefits of non-agricultural interests far outweigh the downsides.
As summer approaches, opportunities to do things outside of the farm increase, but we must look for them. It usually just involves a little local research.
We should strive to find a balance between work and free time, otherwise burnout will become a major problem for many farmers, even the most financially successful.
Angus Woods is a drywall builder in Co Wicklow.
https://www.independent.ie/business/farming/comment/angus-woods-off-farm-social-activities-are-vital-to-stave-off-the-mental-and-physical-dangers-of-isolation-41584385.html Angus Woods: Social activities off the farm are essential to stave off the psychological and physical dangers of isolation