Meet the Modern Farmer Working to Integrate Farmer Wellbeing

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Bethany Klapwyk’s teenage years were atypical for the average teenager. Five months after being prescribed a retinoid acne medication, she remembers falling through a traumatic period of health issues.

“My body didn’t look like me anymore and I just wanted to die,” she says. “I couldn’t digest my food. My immune system seemed non-existent: I was constantly on extended hospital visits to deal with things like parasites and tonsillitis.

It has been more than a decade since these issues first surfaced. But Klapwyk, who began volunteering and working on several farms in North America several years later, says farming gave her the environment she needed to start healing. The integration of wellness and somatic therapy methods – a form of therapy that connects body and mind through various practices, often involving movement – ​​also played a role in her transformation. This explains why she sought to use her own farm, Zocalo Community Farm, located an hour west of Toronto, as a model and resource to help her agrarian colleagues think holistically about their health.

“There aren’t enough farmer-by-farmer support services, and that makes sense because farmers don’t have the ability to… they run a farm,” she says. “I felt called to do this work and keep the welfare of farmers on the agenda. This Really breaks my heart when people haven’t been exposed to the idea of ​​taking care of their bodies and they’ve continued to push themselves beyond their limits.

[RELATED: Shining a Light on Farmers’ Mental Health Challenges]

To research stressed the need to give greater priority to the welfare of farmers. Farmer reports experience climatic mourning have surfaced, while recent scientific studies have shown that farmers are exposed to extreme weather events are vulnerable to mental health impacts such as depression, anxiety and prolonged emotional distress. The current COVID-19 pandemic has also contributed to the declining mental health and well-being of farmers around the world.

Armed with a number of course diplomas in Somatics, Trauma Resolution, Breathwork and Yoga, Klapwyk offers a 10-week wellness program that explores topics such as the body awareness, manual labor, emotional well-being, sexuality, protest and community building in the agricultural world. All of his programming is informed by methods and schools of thought that Klapwyk says have transformed his own health and well-being. Ultimately, this allowed him to run his farm more efficiently. She seeks to do the same for other members of the farming community.

Farmers participate in movement practice at one of Zocalo Farm’s retreats.

For Klapwyk, her personal practice involves regularly checking in on her body and how she feels. This plays a role in determining how she can modify her day or workload to meet her needs. Sometimes, if she’s spinning in her thoughts, she’ll seek formal and informal support to talk about it. She also often incorporates some type of movement like dance or yoga into her day so that negative or excessive energy can leave her body. In a labor-intensive job like agriculture, she believes in the power of somatic work and movement.

“It’s about going beyond the nuts and bolts, the technical skills of agriculture,” she says. “Mental illness, trauma or stress will eventually manifest as physical pain. Respecting a mind-body connection is the key to prevention. You cannot exclude the body from therapy or if you want to improve your life.

Since 2016, his farm has also been the location of several summer and autumn wellness retreats. At these events, farmers can connect and work with various professionals such as acupuncturists, naturopaths, massage therapists, yoga and tai chi trainers at a discounted rate. The intent of these events, Klapwyk says, is to give farmers an extra boost to access certain resources they normally wouldn’t have the time or money to spend. In her mind, farmers need a middleman to bridge the gap, as she recognizes that many welfare professionals are unrelated to agriculture and don’t understand the farmer lifestyle and types of associated stressors.

It’s something Klapwyk intends to build on. In the future, she hopes to gain certification as a Registered Somatic Therapist while exploring other courses to add to her credentials. She says she would also like to open a space that farmers can visit more than once per season. She envisions a place where farmers can relax, be pampered, and access any holistic health support they need. If that dream comes true, Klapwyk says, she imagines it will result in more efficient and resilient farms and, in turn, stronger food systems.

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