'Everybody has miserable moments': Island 'farm mama' talks about life beyond Instagram filters

Farmer Sally Bernard wrote a blog post this week called Farm Mamas: Stop trying harder about some of the challenges she faces in spring time on her family's organic grain and livestock farm in Freetown, P.E.I.

'It's intense and I don't know that everybody quite gets it'

This is one of the lovely light filtered photos that Sally Bernard writes about in her post. (Barnyard Organics/Facebook)

Spring is not the season of sunshine and budding trees and warm breezes, at least not if you are farm mom, Sally Bernard.

She wrote a blog post this week called Farm Mamas: Stop trying harder about some of the challenges she faces in spring time on her family's organic grain and livestock farm in Freetown, P.E.I.

Sally Bernard writes about getting an average of 5 hours of sleep per night when things get busy in the spring. (Submitted by Sally Bernard)

Bernard owns Barnyard Organics in Freetown, P.E.I., and is also the unelected agriculture critic in the shadow cabinet of the P.E.I. Green Party.

'A good heaving cry'

In her post, Bernard jokes about the stereotype of farm women in social media — "rosy-cheeked, denim-clad, happy women with their hands in the soil, making a difference in the world, maybe even a baby on their back."

"That I live some enchanted life with four, dancing, perfect children and hens that peck peacefully at my passing by as I sing hymns and toss glitter feed into the air."

She admits to feeding into the image with some of her own posts with "lovely filtered light photos and clever hash tags".

Sally Bernard says juggling four kids and a farm can be challenging. (Barnyard Organics/Facebook)

The reality, she said, is much different.

"To know that a good heaving cry is not only good, it's necessary this time of year," she wrote in the post. "That feeling like dropping all the balls is also going to happen. That the weather will be cold and miserable and seeds will rot in the ground."

'Things are not always smooth and wonderful'

One of Bernard's intentions with the post was to offer comfort to other farm women, in the same shoes, or in this case, rubber boots.

"At least within the small organic community, there are a few young women farmers with young kids who, I think, look up me and my husband and think we're doing some amazing things," she said.

"I just wanted them to know that we have our down times and things are not always smooth and wonderful."

Sally Bernard and the four kids moving a fence on the farm. (Barnyard Organics/Facebook)

Instagram, she says, is not reality.

"Because I had heard from a couple of women over the past month feeling stress about this not working or that not working," she said.

"And I was thinking, I hope they know that everybody has miserable moments."

Sally Bernard admits she posts beautiful photos and generates clever hashtags while crying over something unrelated because social media is part of her job. ((Barnyard Organics/Facebook)

An onslaught

Spring is a busy time on the Bernard farm.

"There's a lot of pressure and you're still just waking up from the hibernation of winter and it's an onslaught," she said.

"It's intense and I don't know that everybody quite gets it."

Bernard suggested spring is even harder than harvest time.

"There's this joke about harvest widows, that the men are always in the field in the fall and we don't really see them until harvest is over," said Bernard. 

"But I don't think that people think about it in the spring so much because spring is so happy and lovely and new life and pretty flowers."

"I find it much harder than harvest because everything has to happen and everything is pushing you." 

The Bernard children getting some hands on lessons on the family farm. (Barnyard Organics/Facebook)

Struck a chord

Bernard's post has struck a chord, not just with farm women and the response has been much bigger than she expected.

"I thought it would resonate with a few people, I didn't know it would resonate with as wide of a circle as it did," she said.

"Spring can be hard for a lot of people and a lot of moms are doing a lot, whether it's farm-related or not."

Sally Bernard describes spring as an onslaught of activity after the hibernation of winter. (Barnyard Organics/Facebook)

She also appreciated the comments on the post from women, also farmers, who are going through the same thing, or did years ago, and made it through.

"It's reassuring in a way," said Bernard. 

"You know it, but it's good to hear it."

Advice from mom

Even some advice from her mom.

"I actually wrote a note to my mom last night saying, just in case you read the blog, I just want you to know that I'm okay," said Bernard.

"And then I put in brackets: although being a farm mom yourself you know that with a good night's sleep, there's a new perspective the next day."

She admitted she didn't fully understand how her own mother juggled life on a farm and raising a family.

"It is certainly eye opening now having four little kids and also trying to run part of the farm myself, it is an eye opener every day," she laughed.

Sally Bernard also runs a Rent the Chicken business on P.E.I. (Nancy Russell/CBC)

'It's OK to let it all go'

Bernard admits she doesn't have a helpful list of "a farm mama's tips on how to survive the spring."

But she does have one key piece of advice: "It's OK to let it go. You don't have to do it all."

Sally Bernard says social media sometimes makes farm living look more glamorous than it really is. (Barnyard Organics/Facebook)


Nancy Russell has been a reporter with CBC since 1987, in Whitehorse, Winnipeg, Toronto and Charlottetown. When not on the job, she spends her time on the water or in the gym rowing, or walking her dog.