massage for farmers health

Amidst the bins of heirloom tomatoes, jars of wildflower honey and baskets of fresh eggs, a young woman relaxes in a massage chair, a therapist working out the tension in her lower back. A farmer’s market might seem an unlikely place to launch a massage practice, but that’s exactly what Lydia Sivel-Irons (pictured) did. She markets directly to farmers, gardeners, landscapers, carpenters, mechanics and other people engaged in challenging labor, throughout her community in western Massachusetts.

‘A culture of hard work’

New Hampshire native Sivel-Irons grew up on a farm and lived in what she calls “a culture of hard work.” The philosophy in the farming community was that if you’re not in pain, you’re not working hard enough, Sivel-Irons says. “But people shouldn’t have to lie in bed all day on Sunday,” she adds.

At Hampshire College, Sivel-Irons pursued her interests in body mechanics and agriculture, writing her final thesis on ergonomics and agriculture. After graduation, she created a workshop series based on that dissertation. “I went to farms and taught about safety, and I always end the workshops by saying the best thing workers can do is find a good massage therapist,” she says.

In 2011, Sivel-Irons got her massage license and began doing pro bono chair massage at farmer’s markets. When she opened her massage practice, The Flexible Farmer, the following year, locals were already familiar with her and her practice quickly flourished. “You might think you’d have to convince [farmers], but it only takes one or two people to have the massage experience and spread the word,” she says. “Because I had been doing workshops, I had some ready-made clientele, [and] I set myself up as an expert in ergonomics and farm safety,” she says.

Massage keeps farmers flexible

Just like those who work in offices or other nonphysical jobs, farmers’ health problems include upper back issues, repetitive stress injuries and other conditions. Sivel-Irons explains that farming is a seasonal activity, so she considers the time of year and what is happening agriculturally at the time, when tailoring sessions.

“When the ground is frozen, farmers do a lot of crop planning or driving to market, [while] during harvest season, the crops get heavier as the months progress,” she says. “Also, I treat the body like farm equipment. I tell them, ‘The body is a machine and here’s how it works.’ I’m talking their language.”

Even though Sivel-Irons is well-known in her area, she continues to market her practice through membership in a local business-networking group, which she says is very good for word-of-mouth referrals.

“I also put up flyers in feed and tractor supply stores and at landscaping businesses,” she says. “All my staff is medically [massage] certified, so I market to doctors and clinics that may have patients with chronic pain issues that massage could help.” 

Sivel-Irons believes her success comes from following her passion. “I always wanted to be of service to those who grow our food,” she says. “Farming doesn’t have to be a crippling career.”

About the Author

Phyllis Hanlon has written nonfiction articles and book reviews as well as human-interest stories, profiles and award-winning essays. Her specialty areas include health and medicine, religion, education and business. She regularly delights in the joys of massage.