Fight mental health problems with nutrition. Numerous studies prove the correlation between malnutrition and behavioral problems, mental health issues, and even criminality. It makes sense: the more malnourished you are, the more your body literally struggles at the physical level, and the more problems you will likely have in other areas. And conversely, the more deeply nourished you are, the sharper your mind is, the happier you are, and the easier you are to get along with. The absolute highest and best nutrition comes from picking perfectly ripe produce growing just steps out your backdoor. While companies should not dictate what diets employees eat, encouraging them to grow their own food will ensure they are getting much higher nutrition.
As a part of my series about the “5 Ways That Businesses Can Help Promote The Mental Wellness Of Their Employees” I had the pleasure of interviewing Marjory Wildcraft, founder of The Grow Network, a movement of over half a million people who are growing their own food in an effort to stop the destruction of the Earth that’s being caused by unsustainable farming practices . National Geographic featured Marjory as an expert in off-grid living, and she is featured in “Who’s Who in America” for her work in building deep community resilience, restoring heirloom genetics in gardens and livestock, and encouraging a return to natural medicine across the nation. She has hosted Mother Earth News’s online “Homesteading Summit.” Marjory also hosts the annual Home Grown Food Summit, which reaches hundreds of thousands of viewers every year.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive into our discussion, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
My first degree is in electrical engineering, and I was an expat living in Hong Kong working for Motorola for many years. While in Asia, I met a man named Robert Kiyosaki, who taught courses on financial wisdom. This was long before Robert became famous for his book, “Rich Dad, Poor Dad.” Moving back to Austin, TX, I was inspired to create a very successful money management business structuring high-yield limited partnerships investing in real estate. If you are going to be successful in real estate, you will be using “OPM,” which is also known as Other People’s Money. I got very curious about the financials of my biggest “partners,” Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Luckily, from reviewing their business models, I foresaw what would be the 2008 financial crisis, and I did it in time to unwind those investments before the crash. My investors are still thanking me.
But I could see that 2008 was not “it” — there was more to come. The world was headed into a giant global reset on a scale never seen before in human history, and it would affect every single person on the planet.
I spent many months and years looking deeply into how our world would change and what would be most needed. I understood that we would be entering a period that would be extremely difficult. I especially wanted to find something that regular people could do to empower themselves, contribute to positive change, and help the stability of what would be a very tumultuous time.
Something so simple and humble emerged as the solution to so many of the problems we face today and will be facing for the next decades.
That solution is backyard food production.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
I was working in my tomato patch one June when I got bitten by a venomous copperhead snake. The thought of going to the hospital didn’t even occur to me. We successfully treated it at home. From years of growing my own food, I have a strong immune system and an extremely healthy body. From years of working with herbal medicines, I trust my ability to heal. I knew the hazards of my region and could identify what would kill me and what wouldn’t, so I was prepared. I have a loving family and community support. We successfully treated the snakebite with plant medicines I had grown myself. I was back on my feet quickly. I honestly didn’t think that much about it about it except that I was upset at having missed a couple of days of work. But the story got around, and soon I had radio and TV producers calling me and asking me to come on air and tell the story. I was surprised it was a big deal. But people were really interested in knowing that you could do that.
What advice would you suggest to your colleagues in your industry to thrive and avoid burnout?
Do what you love and don’t ever compromise on that. Even if a great change looks scary, if your heart says “yes” then it will all be fine. Usually, it comes out better than you expected.
If you get tired, rest. Honor that rest is a vital part of your process and whatever else needed your attention will be fine for a while without you.
At the end of each day, review what you’ve done, and even if it wasn’t what you thought you should have completed, feel satisfied because you did your best.
What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?
The way to create an amazing culture is to start with A players. How do you do that? Create a company that A players thrive in.
- Be very clear about your purpose and have it be a super important reason for coming to work every day. At 2:00 a.m., you can shake any one of my team members from their sleep and ask them why they go to work, and they will tell you “we are stopping the destruction of the Earth via homegrown food.” After that, you’ll probably get a slew of other unprintable words for getting them up in the middle of the night.
- Manage by objectives. Everybody on my team knows exactly what they are doing, why, and how it fits into the bigger picture. Every year, we make a plan for 10 to 12 objectives for the company to accomplish with an approximate timeline. Every quarter, we pull from the annual plan to set quarterly objectives. And every week, we check on the progress. Really getting good at setting SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-based) objectives takes a good 4 to 8 quarters to get good at, but that skill is well worth the pain. The thing I’m most proud of right now is that, despite 2020 being so chaotic, we met every one of the goals we decided on back in November 2019. I believe the stability of our work life has been an anchor for all of us this year.
- Cut out all the BS. Have every meeting be purposeful, and let the intended accomplishment be well understood so everyone comes prepared. Have clear, structured agendas for regular weekly team meetings so essential communication gets done quickly.
- Don’t do anything that is “make work.” If some “make work” is required, say for governmental compliance, then outsource it. Your core people are too valuable and should only work on important things.
- Always work on streamlining processes. Continually reevaluate if a process can be done more easily or cost effectively, or if it could be automated with software, etc.
- Do your best to match people with what they love doing so their work is more like play.
- Create an environment with acceptance of failure. We are constantly trying out new things, developing new products, and innovating. We know that only 1 in 10 of our marketing campaigns is likely to be successful. We always debrief failures and say, “What can we learn from this?” I also let my team know that mistakes are inevitable given the speed with which we are moving and changing. I’m not happy about mistakes, but I am forgiving.
- Have fun, and never take yourself too seriously. I mean, we really are working to stop the destruction of the earth that’s being caused by unsustainable farming practices, but do we think we are going to stop the destruction of the Earth completely and instantaneously? LOL, no. But we do hope to be at least a small part of the success story in the end.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
I love the quote from Francis of Assisi, “Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.”
That quote encapsulates the entire journey of the creation of The Grow Network. I started from a handful of sand in my backyard more than a decade ago because I knew it was necessary. Encouraging backyard food production is not a sexy enterprise, as the prevalent perception is that it is for migrant workers or doddering retirees. But I knew how essential it was to our collective future and that it would have to go mainstream at some point. I did what I could by first creating teaching videos, and then a blog and newsletter. Then I developed an academy with step-by-step certifications, all the while building a community of like-minded people who live the lifestyle. Similar to Jack Ma in his founding of Alibaba, when I look back, the journey is littered with thousands of mistakes. And like Philip Knight in the creation of Nike, I’ve been on the edge of the abyss many, many times — facing bankruptcy, facing disaster, facing complete annihilation countless times. Yet through it all, against impossible odds, I’ve managed to create an organization that is having an impact.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. As you know, the collective mental health of our country is facing extreme pressure. In recent years many companies have begun offering mental health programs for their employees. For the sake of inspiring others, we would love to hear about five steps or initiatives that companies have taken to help improve or optimize their employees’ mental wellness. Can you please share a story or example for each?
- Address the fundamental cause of distress and get your employees into a program that teaches them basic skills of how to grow food and make medicine. Many of the mental health problems we are seeing come from the insecurity of not knowing if you’ll be able to feed your family. Everyone has now experienced empty shelves at the grocery store. There is a deep, unspoken stress that comes from the betrayal of our systems to provide basic essential needs. Even though things are better now, at some gut level, everyone is aware that the food supply chain is extremely vulnerable and in the process of breaking down. This kind of stress is not being addressed openly. It will not be alleviated by meditation, breath work, counseling, social justice, inclusion, or inspiring speeches from leaders. I know because, more than a decade ago when I first saw and understood what was going to happen (what is happening now), I could not sleep, I had panic attacks, and I could not be consoled. My health plummeted, my relationships deteriorated, and I was on edge all of the time. The way out of that deep, dark hole is to take positive action. Being able to grow your own food is incredibly healing on so many levels. One of the saving graces of this situation is that you do not need an industrial governmental military complex to provide your basics. You can create food directly from the Earth. I have taught all of my team how to grow half of their own food in a backyard-sized space in less than an hour per day. My team is strong and confident. We all have a deep sense of security, and while we are certainly aware of what is going on in the world, we have valuable skills to help our families and our communities. Get your employees trained so they can also have that deep sense of security via backyard food production, and most of the mental health problems will be dramatically reduced.
- As a leader, you need to demonstrate stress relief. I have a podcast where I interview CEOs, executives, and other high-powered professionals. These are talented men and women who have bootstrapped impressively large companies into existence, are managing hundreds or thousands of people, and have budgets in the tens to hundreds of millions of dollars. I interview them because they are also growing their own food in their backyards. They can obviously afford to buy anything they want, so why do they grow their own? Every single one of them says it is for the stress relief. These super-busy, high-octane, high-demand people who spend an average of 45 to 60 minutes per day tending their gardens, hanging out with their chickens, raising rabbits, or working in their orchards. All of them have told me they intentionally don’t take any electronics with them. This is their decompression time, which they know is essential to maintaining their incredible work ethics. They love breathing the fresh air; being grounded with their hands in the dirt; and the honest pride that comes from producing something real, tangible, and delicious. You, as a leader, will gain even more benefit from producing your own food than your employees will!
- Create a corporate green initiative that truly has an impact. So many people are filled with despair at the destruction we are doing to the Earth. Commercial agriculture is the largest destructive force on the planet. Backyard producers use 80% less water, use almost no fuel, send less to landfills, have lower food waste, and sequester carbon. The City of Austin, TX, gives cash incentives and free training to their employees and residents to have a flock of chickens in their backyards. Why? It’s a solid business decision. Chicken owners send much less waste to the landfills, and it’s a net cost savings to the municipal waste budget. Get your company to truly take care of its employees with a tangible, real impact on improving this planet we live on, and everyone will feel better.
- Change company policy to support mental health. Make your company policy to allocate time toward backyard food production. The improvements to your company’s bottom line are tangible and similar to the famous policy Google has of an allowance of 20% of time to go to side projects. Even if you don’t allocate specific company hours toward growing food, it can be strongly encouraged by providing a company benefit of training and support on backyard food production. At my company, The Grow Network, it is our company policy that everyone spends an hour per day producing, preparing, or preserving their own food. With so many employees now working remotely, at least an hour per day has become available on almost everyone’s schedules. Change your company policy to strongly encourage employees to devote some time every day to the stress relief and personal empowerment of growing food in their backyards.
- Fight mental health problems with nutrition. Numerous studies prove the correlation between malnutrition and behavioral problems, mental health issues, and even criminality. It makes sense: the more malnourished you are, the more your body literally struggles at the physical level, and the more problems you will likely have in other areas. And conversely, the more deeply nourished you are, the sharper your mind is, the happier you are, and the easier you are to get along with. The absolute highest and best nutrition comes from picking perfectly ripe produce growing just steps out your backdoor. While companies should not dictate what diets employees eat, encouraging them to grow their own food will ensure they are getting much higher nutrition.
These ideas are wonderful, but sadly they are not yet commonplace. What strategies would you suggest to raise awareness about the importance of supporting the mental wellness of employees?
I have launched a media campaign and we are approaching 30+ TV, radio, print, and podcast interviews every month to bring awareness to this issue. We distribute informational and inspirational videos every week on 25+ news outlets, social media platforms, and large online communities. I am actively seeking companies that want to work with me to track and quantify the tangible benefits such as reduced sick leave, lower health care costs, and greater employee retention, so we can provide real-world cases for other businesses to follow.
I have a book coming out in May 2020 with a major publisher. When I first met my literary agent, I told her I had a New York Times Best Seller. She rolled her eyes and told me, “No, Marjory, you don’t. You have a good book, but it’s a backyard-food-production book. It will never be a best seller.” I explained, “But there will be economic turmoil and tremendous changes. People will need something tangible, uplifting, and productive that they can do. This book will help fill that need.” That was back in 2018.
When I saw the Fed pumping $250 billion into the repo markets last September, it was the sign to get the book proposal done. Of the 18 publishers who bid on the book, at least five of them said they saw the book as a New York Times Best Seller.
So, I’m doing everything I can to get the word out. And I deeply appreciate the opportunity Authority Magazine is giving me to reach you.
From your experience or research, what are different steps that each of us as individuals, as a community and as a society, can take to effectively offer support to those around us who are feeling stressed, depressed, anxious and having other mental health issues? Can you explain?
Meaningful work helps tremendously with depression and anxiety. Help them to get a raised bed garden going. Or help them set up a flock of laying hens to collect the eggs. Teach them how to make compost. Get them to help volunteer in organizing a local food co-op. Even just growing herbs on a windowsill is empowering. True story: I know a depressed man whose life was saved and completely turned around by him starting to take care of an aloe vera plant.
Habits can play a huge role in mental wellness. What are the best strategies you would suggest to develop good healthy habits for optimal mental wellness that can replace any poor habits?
- Cut back on the amount of negative news you consume. Most news (not Authority Magazine) is heavily sensationalized toward the negative. Their motto is, “If it bleeds, it leads.” Don’t subject yourself to that. Cut it out completely. You won’t miss anything, because if something really important happens, someone will tell you.
- Wear a rubber band on your wrist. Whenever you notice yourself complaining about anything, stop the complaining and pop the rubber band for a small sting on the wrist. Shifting yourself out of a pattern of complaining will increase your overall optimism.
- Wear a bracelet or other item to remind yourself to breathe deeply. For me, I often wear a silver bracelet, and when I hear that “clink” sound on the desk it reminds me to take a big breath in. Every cell in your body needs oxygen, and we so often forget to breathe. Shallow breathing leads to nervousness. So set up a trigger to remind yourself regularly to get lots of oxygen, and you’ll feel so much better.
- Set up a regular time to call a good friend or family member. For example, I call my brother every Sunday afternoon. I have a list of close friends and family that I like to keep in touch with regularly.
- Do some volunteer work every week. Helping others is the best way to stop focusing so much on your own issues, and it feels so good. Volunteering can be a lot of fun. I could not believe it when I found out that cat shelters actually need people to snuggle and play with kittens. How cool is that?
- Make music, dance, and sing, especially when doing household chores. Choose songs with uplifting lyrics.
- Don’t make major decisions late in the day or when you are tired.
- Not only should you stop and smell the flowers, but you should learn about them, too! They may be edible and/or medicinal. And every bit of self-reliance is empowering.
- Get some physical activity outdoors every day. Sunlight works wonders for the soul. Improving or maintaining a good fitness level engenders confidence and lifts your spirits.
Do you use any meditation, breathing or mind-calming practices that promote your mental wellbeing? We’d love to hear about all of them. How have they impacted your own life?
- My backyard farm is my sanctuary. I work from home, and it is so delightful to break from the screen every hour or so to feed the chickens, check on the rabbits, water something, or nibble a garden treat. Getting outside, fresh air, grounding, and a break from the computer for just a few minutes every hour makes a huge difference in my overall well-being.
- Of the many octogenarians (and older) that I’ve interviewed, the primary advice they give for staying vibrant in old age is to “keep moving.” I am working on a purple belt in Shotokan karate. It’s a great workout and continual development of mind/body mastery. My karate family is a fun social outlet that has zero connection to work and is a great way to unplug.
- I meditate every day for two hours or so. Often, I go into the realm of “no-space and no-time” (also known as “the void”) to work on manifesting resources needed for the company. It’s the most important thing I do every day. I often get answers to questions and reconnection to my purpose. I also find the courage to ride through the rough times, like months of negative cash flow or receiving that letter from an attorney of an incompetent vendor.
- I surround myself with positivity. Just as you are what you eat, you are also what you think. I love inspirational quotes and have my team post new ones daily on our website.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story?
Oh my gosh! Just one? I have been deeply impacted by thousands of books and teachers. I’ve needed to learn so much: how to attract and retain A players, digital marketing, product development, homesteading skills, handling the media, simple and effective company processes, permaculture, how to manage a remote team, botany, legal issues and contracts, manifestation techniques, rotational grazing of livestock, internet technology, herbal medicines, membership retention strategies, meditation, nutrition, accounting and finance, storytelling, soil building, artificial intelligence trends…. Gosh, the list goes on and on. Books allow me to surround myself with the best minds that have ever lived, and I am deeply grateful for the time those authors and editors took to share their work and knowledge.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Well, I’ve gone ahead and done just that — I’ve created a movement of people who are dedicated to stopping the destruction of the Earth via homegrown food. Whenever I have one of “those days,” I ask myself what else could I do that is more meaningful? But it always comes back to this — empowering people to grow their own food is the most important work I can do.
I do have a suggestion for others who are looking for deeply meaningful work. Most people do not realize that we have lost more than 90% of heirloom varieties of vegetables. Those extremely useful food crops are now extinct. All those varieties were the painstaking work of years, decades, and in some cases centuries of careful selection by home gardeners. The Victory Garden movement was the last big push for homegrown food, and after that we focused on college educations, plastic, and color television. Without the vast army of home growers to produce, harvest, save seed, and replant year after year, all those beautiful food sources are now gone. Forever.
To rebuild that kind of diversity again (which will be essential for human survival in a changing climate) we need to re-create the regional fairs and festivals that recognized and honored home growers who developed or innovated in creating resilient and delicious food crops. Local fairs rightfully unleash the power of competition and pride of production. Local organic farmers do not have time to do the necessary experimentation. But backyard gardeners, even though we have smaller spaces, have the luxury of being able to experiment and play. And when you have come up with something amazing, most people want and need a place to show off! Regional fairs are a way for the entire community to recognize accomplishments, exchange ideas, and see what is working.
We need to create a movement to get these regional fairs going again.
What is the best way our readers can further follow your work online?
Sign up for The Grow Network newsletter at https://thegrownetwork.com/signup. We publish twice a week with all kinds of resources for growing food and making medicine. I am especially active in the forums working with the community as we are doing all kinds of experiments, sharing resources, and generally having a lot of fun. Tag me @Marjory Wildcraft in the forums to get to me directly. Even if I don’t respond to all of them, I do read every comment.
Thank you for the time you spent sharing these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!