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Mental Health Resources for Farmers
Episode 111st September 2022 • AgriSafe Talking Total Farmer Health • AgriSafe
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Carey:

Welcome to the Talking Total Farmer Health podcast from AgriSafe Network. At AgriSafe, we work to protect the people that feed the world by supporting the health and safety professionals, ensuring access to preventative services for farm families and the agriculture community.

Carey:

Hello everyone! I’m your host, Carey Portell, and our topic today is mental health resources for farmers (and producers) that are available specifically in Wisconsin… BUT, even if you don’t live in Wisconsin, I hope you listen in and understand that your state also has resources out there for you, that can directly help with mental health, as well as other stressors such as finances, floods, or disasters. So stay tuned, and at the end, we will share some national resources that might be of help. And if you only take a small message from this episode, let it be this: you are a valuable member of your community… and help is out there, you just have to look. Now let’s get started.

Carey 1:04

Today we have Karen from Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection on the Total Farmer Health podcast. Welcome, Karen. We're so glad to have you here today.

Karen 1:14

Thank you so much. Yes, I'm Karen and I am the Farmer Wellness Program coordinator in our farm center in Wisconsin. So I have the privilege and honor of helping farmers access mental health resources in and throughout our state.

Carey:

Oh, that's perfect…So now Karen actually has a background. On a personal level as a dairy farmer. So we'll have you go into a little bit about that as well because you can probably tie that in to your career choice.

Karen:

Absolutely. Yes. I grew up showing dairy cattle and in fact, that's how I met my husband at the local county fair. And he eventually, after college, bought into his family, dairy farm and farms with his two brothers and their families. And so I am very close to an active production agriculture farm. So when we're talking farm stress and farm culture, I understand that firsthand.

Carey:

Yeah, I bet you do. Now, was that kind of a driving factor to enter the career field that you're in now?

Karen:

I always wanted to be in agriculture and in our food system because of the importance to food and just that whole feeling of feeding people right and taking care of our country and people. And so that was such a calling for me to be in our food system. And so I started out of college actually at a meat packing facility and decided that that maybe wasn't my calling in agriculture. And so then I came to the State Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, but on a marketing communications end, then into a cheese plant, because I really wanted that hands on experience of how food is made and the cheese plant. And I did all their public relations communications, so marketing of cheese products and then decided to stay home and raise our three children. And then I got into the wellness. So how this all marries together got into wellness and fitness, which then got into mindfulness and taking care of our full selves.

Carey:

Absolutely. God, I love hearing your story about all the different just the different paths that you were taking unintentionally, I guess, and then got you to this very juncture in your life, where now you're combining your background in farming, now your wellness and fitness, and now you're bringing that to the State Department of AG to help our farmers.

Karen:

It was a great opportunity when I saw that job posting and it was called Farmer Wellness Coordinator. I thought it said my name on it and I was so excited to apply for it and then to learn that Wisconsin is really ahead of some other areas in creating programs. We have counseling vouchers that farmers can access, counseling at no charge to them. Not only do we have the vouchers, we have a network of nearly 250 providers that have come to us that have some sort of background knowledge, interest in agriculture, so they can create a better relationship to help that farmer through some of our mental stresses. And so that was really neat. And then we have tele counseling. So many of our farmers can't take 3 hours to come in from the barn, get changed, go into town, have that appointment, get back. That's 3 hours of their day. Farmers don't have that sometimes. And so tele counseling, they can do it in their barn. They can do it at their house, in their truck, in their tractor. So just giving them programs like that to access mental health resources is so important.

Carey:

I think, you know, one of the silver linings of the pandemic is that it brought telehealth to the surface, especially for our farmers, because there's so. They are so mindful of their privacy and mental health. They don't want everybody to know, hey, I'm going to seek help or I'm having trouble in my life. So I think that pushing the telehealth is really started to come to the forefront to our farmers. The only obstacle, I guess, that they have is not everybody has their broadband to be able to access that telehealth.

Karen:

The great news is in the mental health world, telehealth can be a phone call. And that's what I love about it, because I tell farmers, you don't have to go on a video chat, you might not be comfortable with that. But if you can talk on the phone and I hope that that then will break down the barrier and if in-person is better for them going forward, that they've already had that first conversation. And sometimes when I talk to farmers, they call me and and I've gotten I don't know why I'm calling. I don't know how to tell you this. And I said, let's just talk, get a conversation. I want to hear about you, about your farm, about things you're experiencing. And then we'll look at that next step because it can be just a listening ear sometimes.

Carey:

Yeah, that's so you make it more of a relaxed environment for them and maybe not so formal so they can open up and feel a little bit more comfortable.

Karen:

Right. And just knowing I've talked to some farmers and they're like, I will drive an hour as long as I can talk to a counselor that is milked a cow.

Carey:

Yeah.

Karen:

And just so they can sit down and that person knows they've walked a mile in their shoes. Right. They understand. And so that's really important to me, is to connect the farmers with someone that they're comfortable with so that they can help them through a stressful time because that conversation might save them and in fact, it might save their business.

Carey:

Yeah, absolutely. You just hit on that because I was looking at your title. You have a lot of titles in your your name tag. So I was going to ask exactly what does that mean? What do you do for the farmer? So that's one thing that you do is help them connect them to resources. What else goes along with the trade and consumer protection?

Karen:

Sure. So at the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, we also we're a big regulatory agency. So I being in the Wisconsin Farm Center, I'm a non regulatory which can be kind of challenging in the line of work I'm doing because right we have regulatory right, we're regulate, we're licensing and doing all that sort of stuff in our agency. And then you have our little world and how do I trust a government agency? Why do I want to tell them? My problem is they give me my dairy license, right? There are farm inspectors, our milk inspectors. So it it is a challenge. And so I like to tell people all of our services are free and confidential. We actually have a numerical system. When a farmer comes in, I talk to them, but I create their client profile with a number. So if there was an open records request from someone in the state that's looking at our program, they don't get any names, they get a number. And so that's really, really important for me to assure those farmers that we're only here to help. And the other things that my team works on, that I get to work with some amazing people and they help farms through transitions. They are financial consultants giving people a non-biased look at their business mediation. If it comes to that point and we need to mediate between a farmer and maybe it's an US agency program, something like that, they can be that mediator and we have volunteer mediation, so we offer much, much more than just the farmer wellness. But what we've found is they're all linked together, right? Absolutely right. Their stress in succession and transition. Yeah. And sometimes people are coming to that under stress. The business isn't doing well or the next generation is ready to take off, but the older generation is not ready to leave a lot of that. So it all comes together. So if we can work as a team and help the farmers, it's it's better for them. And Wisconsin relies on our state agriculture. It's important to our economics here in Wisconsin and every single citizen of the state. So the more we can do to help them, the better.

Carey:

Yes, I love that. You know, when a farmer comes to you, they they are having struggles or having anxiety. But you actually go a step further and dig down to find actually what the root cause is of that. So maybe it is financial and you have the resources to say, hey, here's a place that I can send you to get some financial guidance or disaster relief that will, in essence, then relieve the whole reason why they were calling in the first place.

Karen:

Correct. And that's what we have found as we've developed these programs. I started in July. So when I came in these programs, a great group of people had developed these programs, and then I got to take them to the next level. So my first phone calls taught me a lot of how everything was interrelated and how we had to work as a team, and that team approach could best serve those farmers. So it's awesome to take a farmer who has having stress, help them get some counseling because. Right, just that person can give them some clarity, right? For their business decisions. Then they can take off with one of our transition planning specialists and take the business where it needs to go. So it's so interconnected and we just have to understand how it all works together and how important we always take care of from the neck down, I like to say, but the neck up is our biggest asset and we tend not to take care of it very well.

Carey:

I agree. And I really think that that clarity piece is what they're truly striving for because they come to you because they just can't figure out what their problem is or how to get around it. So having someone to help find that clarity just makes the path so much easier and then all the rest just kind of falls away. I mean, I think that's fantastic…

Carey:

Alright, we’re gonna have a quick break and then we’ll be right back!

Carey:

On Talking Total Farmer Health, we talk about the health and safety of the people who feed the world. Do you want to hear more from us? Join us for National Farm Safety and Health Week! September 19th through the 23rd. We’ll tackle some of the most common health and safety issues in agriculture. In our webinar series you’ll hear experts on mental health, roadway safety, heat and smoke protection, confined space grain bin entry, sexual harassment, and much more. Register now by visiting our website www dot agrisafe dot org slash nfshw. That’s www dot agrisafe dot org slash nfshw. Check out the show notes for the link.

Carey:

Going back to like your health and fitness and mindfulness or have you been able to incorporate your experience with that into helping the farmers? And then if so, how are how are they kind of responding to that?

Karen:

So we haven't incorporated full yet mindfulness, but we do a podcast called Rural Realities, and I was able to tap into a speaker who is a professional coach, and we did a whole episode on positive mindset and gratitude. And so I've been using some of those things with farmers to talk about how when we're in such a state of stress and we focus on the negative rate we all get to that day, and don't you ever just sit and spin on something and it's that one negative thought you had in your head. And how we can take that negative, give it some attention, but then let's focus to the positive. I talk about walking in the barn. You see that one sick calf? What did I do wrong? What? What's going on? Why? Why can I not take care of my animals when you should have looked at the other 25 healthy ones and been like, look at all those great things I did, and they're happy and I'm feeding them well and they're going to grow in to be productive animals and all those good things. But we sit and spin on that one negative and it's just something that our minds are programmed to do, right? It's this whole fight or flight concept, right? We go to that negative. So the second podcast we did was unhealthy default settings. It dives into that fight or flight and how we spend so much time. And once we're in fight or flight, we don't think clearly we take away that whole reasoning, that whole function that the front part of our brain is ready to do. And we take it because our cortisol levels are going up and and we're having that stress. So it's a really interesting mind body connection. And then what can we do sometimes to help that mind body? Right. Yoga, mindfulness, a workout. Maybe it's just a quick walk. Maybe for us, our parlor is on top of a hill, so maybe it's just saying, let's walk really fast up that hill, burn off some energy, get those lungs pumping, take a deep breath and refocus.

Carey:

Yeah. Get some clearer thinking.

Karen:

Right. So I do like to talk about and I need to incorporate them more, but it doesn't have to be a full workout regimen. It's the little things that we even have access to, especially because we live and have space on our farms.

Carey:

Right? Absolutely. So in kind of wrapping up, is there anything else that you really think is detrimental that we need to tell our audience before we close?

Karen:

I think farmers, the biggest thing they need to know is they're not alone. And I know our farms are ingrained for generations and sometimes things change, right? Pandemics happen things out of our control, market conditions that we've never expected. Gas prices, fertilizer prices, these are all things that we're going to be facing in the future. And we need to realize we're not alone. It's okay to reach out. It's okay to talk to someone who's maybe not as close to the situation and help you think through it. There's nothing wrong in asking for help and talking to someone. And I hope through all of this education and as we go through change or maybe there's a trauma that's happened on the farm that we really open our minds to reaching out and using those resources that people are all working so hard to keep our farmers happy and healthy.

Carey:

Yeah, I agree. I think sometimes the key is to finding that person who is not emotionally involved in the situation to have an outside look in and just kind of open up and like give you that clarity because they're not so emotionally involved that they can give an unbiased opinion. So. Man, we I really thank you for coming with us today and giving our audience such a look at what you guys are doing in Wisconsin and just helping the mental health of our farmers. So thank you so much for being a guest on the Total Farmer Health Podcast. We look forward to talking to you soon.

Karen:

You're welcome. Thank you so much for having me. And every farmer out there, you're important.

Carey:

Alright, so before we end, I want to go ahead and share some national resources that can help you out, in a number of different situations. First, check out your state 2 1 1 website. 2 1 1 helps you find local resources including income assistance, family support, meals, clothing, utility assistance, disaster services, and more. Now for this next part we have a long list of a variety of types of resources. If you hear something that you want more information on, check out our show notes for links to these resources. A few other resources include the Livestock Forage Disaster Program; the Livestock Indemnity program; the emergency assistance for livestock, honeybees, and farm-raised fish. There’s also the emergency livestock relief program; the emergency loan program; the disaster set-aside program; the emergency conservation program; and the emergency forest restoration program. And there’s still more: there’s farm aid; the non-insured disaster assistance program; the tree assistance program. And there is the Farmers’ Legal Action Group; the AgrAbility Project for farmers living with disabilities; the Farmer Veteran Coalition; the Inter-tribal Agriculture Council; Out in the Open’s Heart Program for health equity and access for rural L G B T Q plus individuals; the National Immigrant Farming Initiative; and the Women, Food and Agriculture Network. And more. These resources are just the tip of the iceberg. Remember, help is out there. You just need to look. All right, everybody, that’s all for today. Thank you again for tuning in to another episode. Be sure to subscribe to this podcast to hear more from AgriSafe on the health and safety issues impacting agricultural workers. If you’d like to suggest topics, or have a story you’d like to share, contact us by email at INFO AT AGRISAFE DOT ORG, and title your email “T T F H Podcast.” To see more from AgriSafe, including webinars and our newsletter, visit w w w dot agrisafe dot org. This episode was created by AgriSafe Network. Script arranged by Laura Siegel, hosted by Carey Portell, edited by Joel Sharpton, with special guest Karen Endres.