The Post: Occupational Therapist and co-owner of Seaview Farms
The Post Holder: Susan Chestnutt
An interest in helping people and in the environment led Susan Chestnutt into her dual career as an Occupational Therapist and farm owner.
Give a brief outline of your career to date.
I qualified as an Occupational Therapist (OT) in 2016 from Coventry University, I completed MSc in Human Animal interaction at University of Stirling in 2018. My OT career has been varied from adult learning disability, to judicial system and mental health. I am currently working within the Paediatric team. The other part of my working life is as co-owner of Seaview Farms, which I set up in February 2020 with my fiancé Shay.
What was your favourite subject at school?
I loved Home Economics, I still love to learn to cook new and adventurous meals. I think my interest in food science and the origin of our food is what planted the seed for me going down the pathway of the farm. We initially were motivated to produce nutrient dense foods for ourselves and this then became our business.
How did you get into your line of work?
I always wanted to help people, I would have been a nurse only my older sister is a nurse and I was determined to do something different. Occupational Therapy is perfect for me as I am such a people person. Occupational therapy is holistic, we treat the person within their environment in a person-centred manor. In some ways this absolutely mirrors our farm approach of producing food in a holistic management system that is unique to our environment and situation.
Is this what you always wanted to do?
I feel I am well suited for both OT and being a farmer. At Seaview Farms we strive to educate our customers about the health benefits of the food they eat if they source this from regenerative farms. In a lot of ways this is something I have learned through OT, I can help people help themselves, by giving them solutions to their problem whether it is an adaptation or an informed care approach.
Was there any particular essential qualifications or experience needed?
I completed a three year degree with many placement opportunities throughout to help me gain the skills I needed to become an OT. I also went on to MSc level which focused on the health benefits for humans in the use of animal assisted therapy but this also taught me to think critically and make decisions for myself. To become a farmer, I do not think I could do it without the mentorship from both of my parents. Farming is not a job it’s a lifestyle and I was am so fortunate to have been brought up surrounded by hard working farmers.
Are there alternative routes into the job?
There is no easy route and I can see that the experiences in other countries as an OT have really led me to where I am today. I do however recognise that there is a lot more help and encouragement to become an OT than there is to become a farmer.
What are the main personal skills your job requires?
Being able to interact with people and with my patients and actively listen to their challenges and problems in order to help them. As a farmer who sells direct to customers through farmers markets I need to be able to be approachable and relatable to our customers so they can get to ‘know their farmer’ and trust me.
What does a typical day entail?
It is definitely easier to help out more on the farm in the summer for example feeding livestock before or after work. I am able to check on the chickens or pigs prior to going to my OT job. When I see children in school I will do different clinical based activities with them including sensory integration approach with is a very holistic therapeutic intervention. I will have conversations with parents and teachers to help them learn techniques to help their little ones become more independent. When I get home I usually cook dinner and help with the animals.
What are the best and most challenging aspects of your job?
The best aspect of my job is the variability, the different people I get to work with including teachers and parents and also all the little children I get to build relationships with over time and see them grow and develop. The challenge has to be time management, from market stalls at the weekend to clinic rooms during the week there isn’t much time for life admin, which really isn’t much fun anyway.
Why is what you do important?
Helping children to improve their independence and functioning is giving them life-long skills and this is what makes my OT job so meaningful. I get great job satisfaction when I can see the progress the little ones can make with a supportive team around them.
What advice would you give anyone looking to follow a similar career path?
When you go through university they can teach you many skills but if you like working with people and have a passion to help people you will make an amazing OT. I think with farming family/team support is essential.
If you weren’t doing this what else would you do?
I would be a food critic, I would love to be involved in the restaurant industry but I don’t think I could stand the heat of the kitchen.
What is the one piece of advice would you give yourself on your first day?
Don’t sweat the small stuff! Rome wasn’t built in a day and you don’t have to always be the expert. My first day as an OT I felt useless, I didn’t know how to fill my time. Everything comes with experience and take all the opportunities offered. Likewise, with Seaview Farms, the first time we got pigs they escaped and the first market we went to we felt like amateurs!
Describe your ideal day off?
They can be few and far between at the moment between wedding planning and running the business. We are one of 18 farms taking part in this year’s Bank of Ireland Open Farm Weekend, which takes place from June 17-19, which has kept us busy. It will be great to welcome visitors back on farms for the first time in a few years.
What is the key to any successful job search?
Confidence and don’t underestimate yourself. I often listen to podcasts and audio books, the topics I gravitate towards are holistic therapy, natural living and healthy lifestyles which I think is a similar focus to my work as both OT and farmer. I think it’s about making sure your values align with what you spend your time doing.
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