I watched in horror a video on social media in which a farmer wrapped his preteen son in bale wrap. The child was in the machine!
Later that week I coaxed an elderly man holding his electric saw down off a 25-foot extension ladder. At a lavender farm, I encouraged the owner to stop giving city children rides in the tractor loader.
These were mistakes and pranks that could have cost lives.
The farm is already a busy place. As activity escalates, especially at harvest time, we often do things in the interest of time. That rush to the field, pen or processing floor could be deadly for ourselves or someone we love.
I was raised in a go-go-go environment. There were a lot of accidents. We worked hard, and equipment and bodies broke down from fatigue. During those busy times I often marvelled at the family playing softball on a Sunday during harvest who by the end of the season had still finished more acres in less time.
There is a lesson in that observation. Time is important. While many farm families such as ours were saving time in the doing — the other farm family was banking it.
Likely at no other period in recent history has the need to be together been so strong. Families are grieving and wanting to see mom and dad, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, grandchildren and friends. Many may be thinking: I wish we had spent more time together or I wish I could hug mom just one more time. I know I do.
As harvest looms, the shortage of help, the slowing of the supply chain creating deficiencies in almost everything from parts to pop, and the infliction of dramatic weather all contribute to a sense of urgency. A need to ‘get things done’ in haste blinds farm families to the value of taking time to prepare.
Although the sense of urgency is understandable, it can be costly and preparedness is critical.
There may be, in the middle of harvest, a lockdown or a shortage of things deemed essential to getting the job done.
If you were to write down all that you must have to successfully harvest, what does that list look like? Does it include key people, time to rest, extra food, parts and fuel, a contingency plan if a person becomes ill, servicing all equipment thoroughly ahead of time, a planned surprise gift or event for the staff at the conclusion of reaping or the backup of medical or mental health consultations? Will there be time, joyfully given, for staff and family to walk away from the field if a family member has a short window to drop in or a senior is allowed family visits?
And what of those little humans who bring us such joy? What is the plan for their comfort, safety and need for interaction? Ensuring that we carve out time to play, even during harvest, keeps balance in the child’s life and in ours. This is banking time.
Banking time is like fuelling the reserve tank. Not only have we created special memories and left our family and staff feeling valued, but we also then have a little extra alertness to give our work. This too saves lives.
A fatigued body can misfire. It could be not seeing the child zip out in front of the truck, getting too close to the edge of the ditch or forgetting to shut equipment off. A misfire could include simple things like missing a meal or ignoring that grinding sound. A fuelled mind and body appreciates the importance of banking time together and alone.
Time alone to sort out our day and our priorities is equally important for men and women. Everyone needs a break and that day off when time is being banked might look like a split shift. The one in the field, be that mom or dad, might find a raft of youngsters cast upon them for a short period as the individual running the command centre seeks reprieve. Be flexible.
Most important is the alone time for introspection and observation. Answering the introspective question of: How am I doing? And the observational question of: What is going on?
How you are doing is really a deep dive into your needs to keep going. What is going on is a deep dive into the interplay of all that is happening. Both need time, your time at harvest to ensure the health and safety of all.
Time is our most valuable currency. We can fool ourselves into thinking that the world ends because of a softball game on a Sunday, but that is not true.
What is true is that in Canada the majority of farm fatalities for men and women and boys and girls are rollovers, entanglement and suffocation. For those very old and very young, there is the added risk of being run over. Safety equipment is critical but so is common sense, training and education, appreciative leadership, respect, preparedness, good food, play and banked time. This we can do.