Protecting Your Body on the Farm

On Sunday, June 25, we hosted an educational farm workshop titled “Protecting Your Biggest Asset on the Farm: Your Body” led by Jamie Davis from A Way of Life Farm. This is the second year we have hosted this informative workshop to teach farmers (and others) best practices for protecting crucial parts of our bodies from injuries related to tedious physical work. Jamie, a native of Polk County, NC, shared his background with injuries, along with tips for caring for one’s body.

“I grew up playing lots of sports; I played soccer pretty intensely all the way through high school and college,” Jamie reflected. “The last couple years I was playing I had a lot of mysterious leg and arm pains. I went to doctors and no one knew what was going on.”

Like many people, Jamie expected to have a stronger and healthier body after dedicating years to athleticism and physical activity. However, the pains lingered and he quit playing soccer. Eventually, Jamie found relief as he explored yoga and learned about the Alexander Technique.

“For about a year and a half, I worked on my body a lot,” he said. “Slowly those pains went away and did not return, and that was the beginning of this continued journey.”

The Alexander Technique is a tool Jamie brought to life at this workshop, promoting health through awareness, activity, conscious rest, and establishing good eating habits. This technique prioritizes improving posture, mobility, and alertness for ease of chronic pain.

“I believe in sustainable farming,” explained Jamie. “When you think of sustainable farming you probably think of ecological sustainability, social sustainability, and financial sustainability. However I like to think of this as less of a stool and more of a four-legged table — with that fourth leg being personal sustainability.”

When asked what kind of pain they hoped to alleviate, workshop attendees mentioned common issues such as chronic back pain, shoulder and neck pain, and discomfort from bending over for long periods of time.

“In 2009 we moved onto the farm,” Jamie told of himself and his wife, Sara Jane. “We just dove straight into it and over the next few years we started having some troubling pains. We never really considered personal sustainability when we started farming. Now we’re always trying to figure out how we can make things easier and improve our quality of life.”

Jamie is one of many people, farmers and otherwise, who have discovered ways to manipulate the body in order to avoid long term pain and discomfort. In this workshop he demonstrated how to be aware of your body, postural adjustments and stretches, ways to support your body at rest, and what the diet of a physically active person should look like.

“It’s about doing the same things in a different way,” Jamie explained as he led the group into various stretches to aid with common pains associated with farm work. After learning and practicing stretches for common areas of chronic pain, Jamie discussed how to use the Alexander Technique to adjust bodily movements that contribute to these pains.

Jamie showed attendees how to move when performing farm tasks such as tilling. “Exaggerate movements,” he suggested. “Make them more of an aerobic activity, like a dance.” With squared shoulders and a straight back, Jamie then highlighted the importance of keeping knees bent and flowing through movement. Attendees also learned to consider using the body like a spring, bouncing when moving. This habit, when practiced consistently, prevents the tightening of muscles which occurs when the body is stiff.

Jamie led the group outside to an arrangement of tools and materials from which they identified ones most commonly used. These tools included a weed sprayer, shovel, wheelbarrow, dolly, buckets, and a mock crop row to demonstrate transplanting. This portion of the workshop was dedicated to learning how to use these tools mindfully. Jamie briefly touched on the Alexander Technique once more and emphasized keeping muscles loose.

Attendees watched and listened as Jamie expanded upon how to “do the same things in a different way.” When lifting a weed sprayer, for example, he recommended taking the time to dip into a half lunge and lift the sprayer onto the knee before shifting it onto the back. By adding steps to a simple action, the group learned that injuries can often be prevented.

These steps require attention to one’s own body however, and knowing the limits that the body has established. While one can use exercise to expand upon bodily limitations, it’s crucial not to overexert any part of the body that may be experiencing pain while working or exercising.

We thank Jamie for leading this workshop, as well as everyone who came out to our Community Farm to learn!

SAHC’s Farmer Education Workshop Series is funded in part by a grant from The Community Foundation of Western North Carolina. This material is based upon work that is supported by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture, under award number 2016-70017-25341  for Farm Pathways:  Integrating Farmer Training with Land Access. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.