This op-ed first published in the Traverse City Record-Eagle’s Agriculture Forum.
Summer is here, which means local farmers are busy tending to delicious fruits and vegetables in northern Michigan! The berries are sweet and the vegetables are crisp — every bite filled with nutrients and flavor. While communities get to enjoy the rich simplicity of all this fresh produce, farmers dedicate tremendous labor and time to bringing it to our tables.
Farmers perform more daily activity than nearly all other workers, according to a study by the Centers for Disease Control. In the 2005-2006 survey, farmers along with fishermen and foresters out-worked 22 other occupations. Activities included most steps walked per day, most steps per minute, greatest amount of time spent performing moderate to vigorous activity and more.
“Metabolic Equivalents (METs)” classify the amount of energy required for a person to complete an activity. These measures can be assigned to a range of tasks, from running a 10-minute mile (9.8 METs) to sitting on the couch (1 MET).
So how about farming tasks? Depending on the intensity of the work, farming can have a higher MET value than some exercise activities. Tasks include harvesting, washing and packing produce, weeding, planting, seeding, heavy lifting, crop maintenance and delivering products.
In the busy summer months, long hours in the heat are demanding. Recent high temperatures and fluctuating air quality in Michigan have made farming conditions difficult. Farmers report starting extra early with more labor-intensive tasks before heat and humidity rise.
I spoke with two sustainable northern Michigan farmers to gain insight into the demands of their work. Greta Jankoviak is half of a two-farmer operation at Harvest Thyme Farm in Cheboygan, which grows a variety of fresh produce. She reports harvesting five to 10 crops a day and clocking 15-hour workdays up to seven days a week. Nearby in Wolverine, Tracey Sloan at The Dirt Road Farm details a similar commitment. As a single-farmer operation that primarily produces fresh cut flowers and a rotation of other crops, Tracey is tending seedlings by 6:30 a.m. and continues until dark. With general exercise recommendations for adults starting at 150 minutes of moderate activity per week, local farmers are certainly not needing to schedule additional exercise into their calendars!
Though the energy invested in farming is taxing, Tracey says this is part of the work’s beauty: “It is important to realize that [farming] is a reciprocal relationship. What I give in physical labor and care is returned to me with a beautiful product that people love, and I’m also treating the earth with respect and gratitude.”
This reciprocal relationship is one of the many reasons that local farming is a pillar of communities. Both Harvest Thyme Farm and The Dirt Road Farm place high value on long-standing relationships with customers and sell their crops at local farmers markets or farm stands. As farmers invest time and physical energy into the land through hands-on methods, it results in an outpouring of sustainable, community connection that goes far beyond the kitchen table.
Looking to get fit? Get farming!
Shannon Youngerman is pursuing a master’s degree in dietetics and nutrition at the University of North Carolina and in 2023 took part in a public health internship with Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities.