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Episode 62: Avoiding Burnout on the Farm with Alligators and Monkeys ft. Roxanne Reed

Farmers and agricultural business owners face unique pressures and challenges. Whether you’re up at the break of dawn to check the livestock barns or tied to your desk with spreadsheet work, the pressures of farming can mount into unavailable stress. 

Roxanne Reed, an advocate for mental health and well-being in agriculture and founder of Farm School on Wheels, sheds light on the ways stress can manifest into burnout and offers insights on how farmers can take proactive steps to curb burnout and maintain their passion for farming amid its challenges.

How to recognize burnout

Burnout among farmers can manifest in diverse ways, oftentimes impacting daily life and community involvement. Roxanne delineates two primary presentations of burnout that tend to make an appearance in the agriculture landscape.

Firstly, there’s the silent sufferer. This individual might retreat into isolation, becoming noticeably quieter and withdrawing from social circles and community events. 

“A lot of times, what I find is that farmers will get really quiet,” explains Roxanne. “They’ll kind of isolate themselves. They’re not as vibrant or gregarious. You don’t see them at as many community events or  things that they normally participate in.” 

This change is often the first red flag of burnout. They might recede into the background, cutting off social ties that would otherwise provide support in times of stress. 

On the flip side, Roxanne describes the “stress bunny” – those who respond to burnout with hyperactivity. 

“They might start talking a million miles a minute,” says Roxanne. “They don’t want to hear advice and they’re constantly redirecting.” 

This outward manifestation of stress keeps individuals in a continuous loop of avoidance, often diverting from meaningful conversations and pushing away from potential help. 

Whether it’s in silence or in a whirlwind of activity, it’s not only important to recognize the signs of burnout but also to know how to avoid burnout from the get-go. 

How to get ahead of burnout

To help evade burnout, especially in the demanding work of farming, Roxanne uses a memorable and practical approach to managing worries and tasks by sorting them into four distinct buckets.

1. The Alligator Bucket - Urgent Concerns

The alligator represents those middle-of-the-night worries that snap you awake – those “Did I pay the power bill? or “Do we have a seed delivery coming tomorrow?” moments. While these concerns might be immediately pressuring, they often have straightforward solutions. Roxanne suggests writing these tasks down and tackling them first thing in the morning to essentially “catch the alligators and stop them in their tracks” before they cause unneeded stress. 


2. The Flying Monkeys Bucket - Looming Responsibilities

Flying monkeys on the other hand represent the swarm of upcoming responsibilities and decisions that are constantly “pinging your mind and causing stress.” These are the tasks that fuel anxiety, such as hiring new farm staff, managing sales, or just completing daily farm chores. Roxanne suggests that these stressors are usually less daunting than they seem. It’s better to handle them right away rather than allowing them to loom in our minds. 


3. The Hatchlings Bucket - Incubating Tasks

Baby hatchlings symbolize tasks that are not yet urgent, but might “grow up” into bigger monkeys and alligators if put aside. Roxanne advises getting ahead of these by proactively starting tasks, such as organizing your finances before tax season. Consistent and regular attention to these tasks ensures they mature into manageable parts of your work routine rather than sudden surprises. 


4. The Unicorns & Rainbows Bucket - Achievements

This bucket holds the little victories that all too often go unacknowledged. Reflecting on your successes and “all the good things that happen” can reinvigorate your motivation and serve as a reminder of the value of your work, especially in challenging times. 

For more strategies on how to take back control of stress and the resources available to farmers, check out the full episode! 

Here’s a glance at this episode:

  • [00:56] Roxanne introduces herself, how she got into the agriculture industry, and more about her agritourism ranch. 
  • [03:58] Roxanne offers some tips for farmers on how to avoid burnout. 
  • [05:47] Using a metaphor of four buckets, Roxanne explains how to categorize different types of worries and tasks to manage immediate concerns. 
  • [11:04] Roxanne describes how burnout can manifest in various forms and discusses how anxiety often stems from inflating fears.
  • [15:31] Roxanne shares success stories of farmers who have been able to identify their sources of stress and implement strategies to take control. 
  • [22:14] Roxanne offers various resources and support for farmers. 


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Voiceover (00:08):Welcome to AgCredit Said It. In each episode, our hosts sit down with experts from all parts of the agriculture industry to bring you insights and must-have information on all things from farming to finances and everything in between.


Phil Young (00:27):Welcome back to another episode of AgCredit Said It. I'm Phil Young. Today we're talking with Roxanne Reed, a seasoned agritourism farmer and founder of Farm School on Wheels and Granit Training Group. She's going to give us some tips on how to avoid burnout on the farm. So welcome, Roxanne.


Roxanne Reed (00:41):Well, thank you so much for having me. I'm so excited. Yeah, farm life can be a little crazy, that's for sure.


Phil Young (00:46):Yes, indeed it can. Yeah. So before we jump in, could you tell listeners a little bit about yourself, maybe about Farm School on Wheels and Granit Training group?


Roxanne Reed (00:56):Sure, sure. So Farm School on Wheels, I essentially started it as a new and beginning farmer. I came from the finance sector, so I thought the finance world was stressful. It's nothing compared to merging that into farm life. So I started a series to help new and beginning farmers figure out the best way to get their feet planted, keep themselves sane, and avoid alligators and flying monkeys of stress if they can, and that programming has become really popular. So we're hunkered here in the heart of North Carolina, in wine country in Hamptonville, but we service and support pretty much all over the southeast region, and really anybody in the US that needs help, we're there to listen, provide tips, things that we can do to help.


Phil Young (01:42):Nice. Yeah. You said you came from the finance world. Can you share a little bit more of your background on that and then maybe your story on how you ended up here, I guess. 


Roxanne Reed (01:51):Yeah, yeah. So I spent about 20 years running around the state of North Carolina helping put money in the hands of small businesses. That was pretty much what I was doing in the finance sector. And when my husband retired from the military, got close to it, he really wanted to get out of the H.O.A and all the rules and regulations and all that and start to have more of a free life with a little bit more space. So we bought a 12-acre farm. It was a really cute homestead, loved it, bought chickens, gateway drug into farming. And so that was it, game on, right? And you know I had to fall in love with it because I've been a beach girl my whole life. We lived at the beach forever.


Phil Young (02:32):Oh, wow.


Roxanne Reed (02:32):So to get me to pluck up from the ocean and move into Amish country in the heart of North Carolina, it had to be one heck of a farm. So we were there about five years, and then once our youngest left for college, we sold everything on the coast and kind of just said, "You know what? We'll wait for that right farm to come along." And we found a beautiful 120-acre agritourism ranch that we own and operate now with two five-star Airbnbs on it, all kinds of animals, kind of a petting zoo. The good news is if you're an animal on our farm, you're really safe. You're not going anywhere. You're going to be spoiled.


Phil Young (03:09):Yeah, right. Yeah.


Roxanne Reed (03:12):That's essentially, that's what took me through it, and I wrote the series. It's crazy when I thought about it. We just passed our ten-year anniversary since I wrote the very first module, and it's amazing what we've done and what I've learned. I mean, there's so much I'm still learning.


Phil Young (03:31):Yeah, nice. Good, good. Well, I appreciate the work you do. But yeah, I guess I kind of got introduced to you through a video you did or kind of a presentation. And so I'm curious about burnout. What should farmers know about burnout? Obviously, maybe there can be a little bit of a stigma there, or no one wants to really talk about it. So what have you learned about burnout in general, I guess?


Roxanne Reed (03:58):Yeah. What I have found, and this comes from any sector, finance, farming, any of that, and also too being a military family. So once you start adding those combinations in, I know we have a lot of veterans who become farmers and their spouses are navigating that world as well. But what I find is getting ahead of it. They wait until everything's gone crazy, all hell's broken loose, and then you get into panic mode. And that's kind of what I talk about in that part of that series, is keeping the alligators under control, tackle them before they become bigger and bigger alligators, and really making sure that all those flying monkeys that are spinning around, you wake up at three in the morning, you're like, "Oh, what am I supposed to do?" It feels like somebody's throwing acorns at you like, "Hey, I'm a flying monkey. I'm coming around soon. And if you don't do something, I'm going to become an alligator."


(04:49):So what I always try to do is say, get ahead of the problem before it becomes a problem. And sometimes you just have to let it go. You just have to say, "You know what? It's out of my control." A lot of stuff is that we can't control it, and that's very frustrating. And sometimes you just have to kind of stop, pause, take a breather.


(05:09):But also too, what I find is a lot of farmers try to do it all on their own, and you can't do that. You have to call other farmers, call your networks, call your friends. I probably talked to at least six people a day trying to help me figure out stuff that I have no idea what I'm doing or I'm running into a bump or a hurdle. So that network is one thing that we find a lot of farmers don't put around themselves and they can feel very isolated.


(05:34):So that's usually where a lot of that stress point comes from. Especially men. Men are the worst about that. They really are in general, and that's something that makes a huge difference if you have a network.


Phil Young (05:47):You kind of touched on a little bit of this with, I think you mentioned alligators and flying monkeys, and I watched a little bit of your video and it kind of put that in on what you mean by that. Can you walk through the visual you mean by alligator and monkeys? And it was helpful to have you series that out. So I think our listeners will enjoy that.


Roxanne Reed (06:08):Yeah. So essentially, I say pretty much on your desk if you would, or in your farm office, you should have four buckets. And one of the things is, and I always like Post-it notes, so I keep a Post-it notepad right next to my bed. An alligator is one where I wake up at three o'clock in the morning and go, "Oh my God, did I pay the power bill? Did I forget? Did I pay this contractor? Oh my gosh, we have a delivery coming. Oh my gosh, do we have duplicate guests?"


(06:33):You start, you kind of get into that 3:00 AM spin. So what I do is I just say, "You know what? There's nothing I can do about it right this second, I'm going to get up first thing in the morning. I'm going to check my calendar, check this, check that." That's catching the alligators essentially. That's kind of stopping them in their tracks.


(06:50):The flying monkeys are all the things that you have coming at you where you're trying to figure out, how am I going to sell that product next semester or next quarter? How am I am going to find that new employee? Is my website working? Why has my Airbnb traffic slowed down? What are all these things that are pinging my mind that are stressing me out? What happens if I'm supposed to go to my child's graduation, but we have a big harvest or we're in calving season? How am I going to handle all these things? That's what a flying monkey feels like. A lot of times it's not really as big a problem as we think it is, but it feels that way in our face. Right?


(07:32):And then we have what we call the cute little hatchlings. That's the third bucket. Those are all these cute little things that when they're little, everybody loves little chicks and little sheep. And even baby alligators can be cute, but then it grows up. So we want to make sure that we're keeping an eye on these areas where we are going to potentially have things that we're going to need to worry about.


(07:56):As an example, starting to work on your taxes and preparing things and putting things in the right categories over the year so that when tax time comes, you're not panicking, going, "Oh my gosh!" And then it feels like you have a mountain sitting on top of you. So those are little hatchlings that you want to kind of keep on.


(08:13):But the one that I find that most farmers and business people in general do not pay attention to is the unicorns and rainbows bucket. And the reason is because those are all the good things that happen. You get a screaming awesome response on your Airbnb, or somebody hits you up on how amazing your tomatoes are, or whatever it might be. A lot of times we're like, “Oh!" And we love it right there in that second, but then we just move on. We don't really keep tabs on that.


(08:45):I keep some of our best comments or customer referrals, I'll keep printouts of those. So when I'm having a really crappy day, I'm like, "Oh, hey, this was good day. Let me reflect on that." It's just those little things that can help a lot when you're trying to figure out what goes in each bucket. And you literally can think, "Oh, okay, I've got two alligators in this bucket. I've got six flying monkeys. I've got a couple hatchlings. I've got things I've got to do, like get on it, Roxanne, stop pushing it to the back of the desk." And then, "Hey, it's a really nice comment from a customer. How cool is that? Let's put it up on our website or talk about it or just send them a thank you and ask them to send two friends to us if they don't mind," whatever it might be. But that's kind of how you start to separate those and always tackle the alligators and the flying monkeys first because then you can enjoy the rest of your day usually.


Phil Young (09:38):Yeah. It is funny. I have those 3:00 AM moments a lot where I'll wake up at 3:00 AM and then I'm awake for two hours, and it's usually something that's not that big a deal. And then I'll wake up and then I'll come to the office, do it, and it takes five seconds to do, but it kept me up for two hours. It's maddening, right? Yeah.


Roxanne Reed (09:58):It's like, why did I spend two hours now I'm exhausted. I'm a hot mess. And that's the one thing about letting it go. Once you identify the alligator or the flying monkey, write it down, put it on your phone, whatever works for you, and leave it alone. Get some rest, and then just say, "Hey, I'm going to pop up early and knock it out."


Phil Young (10:21):Back to, I guess the burnout itself. I mean, I'm assuming burnout looks different for everybody. Right? I mean, what happens and their maybe physical and mental state. Not everyone reacts the same to that once they hit that space, I guess.


Roxanne Reed (10:34):Right.


Phil Young (10:35):Yeah. Okay.


Roxanne Reed (10:38):And burnout, a lot of times presents itself in really different categories. A lot of times what I find is I can tell a lot of farmers and just businesses in general, a lot of owners will get really quiet. They'll kind of isolate themselves. They're not as funny or gregarious. You don't see them at as many of the community events and things that they normally participate in.


(11:04):Or you have the stress bunny who's talking like a million miles a minute. They're just talking and talking and talking and talking, and they don't want to hear sometimes what anyone wants to say or advice they want to give. They're constantly redirecting. So the burnout, I see it mostly in isolation. People kind of go quiet. You're like, "Hey, why is it I haven't seen them here or there at the farmer's market," or "Why haven't they been at the Ruritan group?" Or whatever's going on. But that's a lot of what I see with burnout, and the more isolated they get, a lot of times that's where it can become the hardest for them to get out of it. It takes more time because they're just kind of getting deeper into their own little hole.


Phil Young (11:57):Yeah. The interesting thing I think you touched on a little bit ago is you kind of mentioned the alligator. In my own life, it seems like the big scary things, your natural instinct is I'm going to wait and do that later because that seems like it's going to be hard or challenging. You're like, I don't know. But sometimes you have to do it because a deadline with it. But it's interesting how your psychology works, and I think it makes sense. Instead of fretting on it and worrying about it, you need to just do the alligator thing first and then I think your day or your week's going to be a lot better.


Roxanne Reed (12:30):Yeah. Well, and I think that's the one thing is a lot of the things, like you said, I like the comment where you said a lot of the stuff that you think is a big deal, when you really break it down, you're over-inflating what it is. And the mind can play so many tricks on us. It can really mess with us. I always tell people, and I have to remember this myself. I'm one that can very easily get put into my own little rabbit hole. I just keep going down and I'm like, "Oh my gosh." And I'm just like, "Roxanne, stop. Literally stop. This is just your mind and panic mode." It's that fight or flight mechanism that we have as humans, and once you realize what you're doing and you're panicking yourself for no reason.


(13:18):It reminds me a lot when I was a kid and we'd go out camping and it's dark outside and you got to go to the restroom. And so what are you imagining that's in the dark? You're imagining that there's bears and wolves and snakes, and somehow they all decided to have one big party and come hang out right next to your camp just in case you go to the bathroom. How realistic is that? So that's a lot of times what it feels like when our mind starts making a party of its own and we're the victim of it.


(13:48):And so we just have to really realize that, hey, our mind is literally a computer and it is going to just keep cycling and cycling, and then it's going to go squirrel, and then it's going to go over here and find another alligator. So if we're already panicked about one alligator, it's probably going to go find another one, and then it's going to go find three flying monkeys to hang out with. So it's really just knowing that's what it is. Our mind is just a computer. It's just analyzing, relaying, analyzing, relaying, and you just have to sometimes literally tell yourself, "Stop, it's going to be fine," and find a path and a redirection, even if it's just literally getting up, getting away from your desk or getting off the tractor or getting on a tractor and just going into that kind of clean mind space.


(14:35):That helps a lot too, and get some sunshine on your face. Not the farmers have a hard time with that, but you'd be surprised how many farmers spend more time in their office than they do out in the farm. It becomes more of an operation. They start to get pulled away from the things they love. And that's one of the things that I always talk about that work-life balance. It's like we're on a farm for a reason. People come here to vacation, but do I vacation on my own farm? Not too much.


(15:02):I realized not too long ago, I hadn't sat at my fire pit for six months. That's pathetic. That's crazy. So even I am sometimes bad about enjoying why we're even doing this. So I think that's part of the half of it is to say, "Hey, what happens if all of a sudden you get sick or you can't do your farm or whatever, what's the point of all this stress anyways?" So try to cut it out as much as you can.


Phil Young (15:31):Now that you've been doing this a while, do you have success stories of people you've worked with that maybe they've been in extreme burnout or struggle with it and didn't know tactics to do it? Have you heard follow-up stories from people that you've helped with?


Roxanne Reed (15:45):Yeah. It's fun actually, because a lot of us will send pictures to each other, just texts or whatever. We're out on a walk, we're hanging out with the animals. I got a picture from one of my friends. She was hanging out, having a picnic with her dog sitting on the farm, and it's kind of sharing that. So we all kind of keep each other accountable, like, "Oh, hey, how many farm steps have you gotten in today?" All these different things.


(16:11):But what started a lot of that, and that's a lot of what we teach, is let's find out what you're really worried about first. What are the stressors? A lot of it is finance. Farming and finance are tied very closely. You've got a lot of pressure overall to make it work. Then you've got the pride and you've got all these different things that you're kind of working through.


(16:33):So my thing is figure out first how to make the business function properly. Most people are just spinning in circles. They're just kind of literally a little hurricane of their own making. And the stress of that is because they don't really know where they're going, where the farm's going. Is the farm making money? Is it going to be around for the next generation? Whatever those stressors are.


(16:58):So that's typically where we start, and that's where our success stories have been the most successful. First, they find out how to ground the business, so they're like, "Hey, I hit goal. I exceeded goal. I don't have to go running around and adding six more farmer's markets to my month, which means I wouldn't be able to go to the beach with my kids or go hang out at my farm, or even go to church on Sunday," whatever it might be. So getting your finances in order, cleaning your house, which means literally getting rid of all the clutter in your head, the clutter on your farm, just cleaning it to precision to help yourself have clarity.


(17:41):And then strategic planning. Strategic planning is one of the best ways to get stress out of the way. You know what you're doing. You're like, "Hey, I'm good to go. Bills are covered." And then you start putting things on your calendars. So what's really cool is when people call and they're like, "Oh my gosh, Roxanne, I went on my first vacation, and not only did we have a blast, but I didn't even answer the phone. I had my farm nannies take care of everything. I didn't care. I knew everybody was going to be safe. As long as everybody's fed and tucked in and everybody's good to go, we're good."


(18:16):There's ways to set it up. And the other part of that is having that network, again. You cannot run a farm by yourself. No business runs by itself. So if you're going to get into this or you're trying to find a way to back yourself into some fun, relaxation, creativity, you've got to have people that you trust and you've got to stop being a control freak.


(18:38):So that's probably one of the biggest issues with burnout is you'll see people running around, "Oh, I'm so stressed, oh." It's like the farm martyr. It's like you're doing this to yourself. Stop, pause, strategize, fix the finances, clean the house. And then figure out, okay, you know what? Of this big piece of the pie, a third of this, I'm going to just focus on me. As an example, every Friday from 11 to six is my time. I'm off the farm, I disappear. I might go grocery shopping, I might go get a massage, I might go have lunch with friends. I might just drive around, do nothing, whatever.


(19:22):But you got to find that space that works for you. So that's a huge part of it. And I love too, when I hear that people are finally putting kids, weddings, fun vacation, that now is a priority. It changes the conversations where when I used to call these clients or students or friends, they're really friends at the end of the day. You become like family. And I'll say, "Hey, what's going on?" They're like, "Oh my gosh, I'm so excited. I just did my annual calendar. I got all the kids' graduations. I got this over here, Christmas here, I did this. We're doing this, and I'm so excited because the farm is doing great. We just wrapped everything around it."


(20:03):And you don't hear that a lot. Everything's about the farm, and that's where it can get unhealthy. You can't just work yourself literally into the grave. What's the point of that?


Phil Young (20:15):Yeah. And it seems like that can spiral too, where you get frustrated, you're working hard, you have all this stuff on the farm, and then you aren't able to go to weddings or graduations, and you get frustrated that you can't do that. And then it kind of just swirls because you're mad all the time, you can't do that stuff. But then you're mad you have all this stuff to do. And so it kind of just spirals until you kind of sit and look at it.


Roxanne Reed (20:37):Yeah. And also too, the other thing is for some reason, and I don't know where this comes from, but for some reason, everyone or a lot of people think that if you don't have a large business or a very large farm that you're not successful. You can be more financially successful and have better quality of life on a smaller operation that has good financials, has a clean house, and has a good strategic plan and a good team to support you.


(21:06):I could leave my farm for two weeks and not even worry or blink because you have to have the right people there to do it, and you need to make sure that you're not putting more on yourself. What is success to you? Some people say, "Oh, well, success to me is having a thousand-acre farm." Okay, that's great, but what if it consumes everything that you're doing? You get up every day and you're literally having to run to try to get to this goal, that when you get to the end of that goal and you look behind you, did you have time with your family? Did you really enjoy the process? Did you learn? What is it?


(21:42):Or is it better for you to really be okay with or comfortable with a smaller scaled down operation that you have control over and you can still have a life? So sometimes we just think, "Oh, well, Granddaddy did this, or Grandma did this. I have to do this too." And I always tell everybody, once that next generation takes over, "Hey, welcome. You're a new business." Yeah, it's your family's heritage farm, but you are the new business owner, so you set the protocol so you don't have to keep doing it the way everybody else is doing it.


Phil Young (22:14):Yeah. Good stuff. I guess any other resources you would have or shoot to people or recommend if they want to learn more about this topic or if they want to maybe get in touch with you or, yeah?


Roxanne Reed (22:26):Yeah. Well, you can always find us at and all of our series, you can go into our digital learning lab and watch anything. You can also go into the Young Beginning Farmer program at AgFirst. All of the recordings, the six part series is right there, no cost, and that's really fun. And that's actually where we talk about this module, so they can go watch that.


(22:55):But another thing, too, that's important. I wrote this down because I always want to make sure I'm saying it properly, but the USDA has a Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network that's really good. That's important. So if you're really under duress or somebody is under duress or you're a new and beginning farmer and you just are like, "I really don't even know what's out there," go check that out.


(23:19):And then there's also the Farm Aid hotline, so that's 1-800 Farm Aid, A-I-D. And then 988 is the suicide and crisis lifeline. And we all wish that it wasn't needed, but it is. In farming and with veteran farmers, but just farming in general, it is a reality. So whether you are the person or if you have somebody that you're concerned about, you can always call that hotline. They're wonderful. And then there's the 211, which is, it's kind of like a comprehensive hotline that will connect the callers to local resources. So depending on where you are in your community.


(23:58):But overall, I would just say the help is always out there. The support is always out there. Don't be scared to reach out and know that every farmer is going through the same crap together, so they're never alone. And I think that's the biggest thing is kind of getting rid of the stigma of, yeah, they walk around, we look good, we get pictures of us in the newspaper, all these different things are happening, but behind the scenes, we're all going through the same thing.


(24:27):We all have successes, failures, bombs, family issues, happy days, crappy days, whatever. So we're human. We're not robots. So just remember what you're feeling, probably your friend or your neighbor right across the street on the other farm is feeling the same thing. So go for a walk and say, "Hey, Jim. Hey, Sally, what you doing? I'm just getting off my farm because I'm about to lose my you know what." They might say, "Oh my goodness, I'm going to come out. Let's get a glass of tea and hang out for a minute." So it's just don't be scared to reach out and don't be scared to remember that we're all just humans and we got this.


Phil Young (25:03):Awesome. Roxanne, thank you for joining us. That's some rock solid advice and some good tips from you. So thank you.


Roxanne Reed (25:09):Thank you guys. It was great to be here.


Phil Young (25:11):Yep. And thanks again to our listeners for tuning in to another episode to AgCredit Said It. Be sure to subscribe to the show on your favorite podcast app so you never miss one. We'll talk to you next time. Bye.


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