Why today’s topic of Cultivating Resiliency Among Women in Agriculture? Becoming a social worker in rural America was greatly influenced by growing up in a farming family in the Red River Valley in Northwest Minnesota. My Dad was a third-generation small crop producer, and my Mom played a critical secondary role in our family operation. My husband is a fourth-generation small-crop farmer and I have followed in my Mom’s footsteps providing support in our agricultural operation.
By growing up in this environment and as a clinical social worker with extensive mental health training and 20+ years of experience, I am heavily influenced in my work with farming and ranching communities. It was not far into my career that I observed and experienced first-hand the stress, burnout, and resiliency among those who have a primary or secondary role in agriculture. Until the last five years or so, this was an unspoken and sometimes disastrous occurrence in agricultural families. Much has been done to destigmatize mental health needs in stoic, strong “backbone of America” professions and agriculture is one such proud tradition in our country where it has taken decades of social awareness to recognize and address the critical mental health and well-being of our agricultural businesses and farming families. Efforts are only recently emerging that are finally noticed, openly discussed, and addressed.
For the past 5 years I have been involved in many projects to promote resiliency among women in Ag. It is a journey that I am humbled by, grateful for, and do not take for granted. My efforts primarily focus on prevention strategies and suggestions for women in the farming and ranching sectors and policy work on the local, state, and national levels. At this point in my life, I want to give back to the Ag-community who has given me so much. I also want to honor my parents who fostered my love of helping others by walking alongside them during difficult times. This blog is dedicated to my Dad who passed away from cancer 8 years ago and my Mom who is the kindest, bravest, faith-filled, most compassionate and loving person I know.
Over the past several years, across the nation, there has been an uptick of services and resources for male farmers and ranchers due to concerns about chronic mental health issues related to occupational stress and suicide rates. This recognition and call to action is long overdue and I will continue to advocate for ways to close gaps and address barriers for men in Ag. Progress still needs to be made regarding limited mental health services by trained professionals who understand the Ag-related community, as well as addressing the damage of inadequate health insurance coverage to allow for more early prevention and intervention services while decreasing the stigma related to seeking behavioral healthcare services.
I applaud the concerted effort by rurally-focused national and state organizations, university extension agencies, and primary and behavioral healthcare organizations to meet the needs of male farmers and ranchers. However, there is still much work to be done to accomplish an equitable, inclusive environment that welcomes, promotes, and actively seeks agribusinesses and farming families into the everyday practices of today’s behavioral healthcare advancements. What is critically obvious is that somewhere along the way, women in Ag were forgotten. If I had to guess why, it may have to do with the myth that farming and ranching is a male-dominated profession or from an underestimation of the impact of stress and burnout on women with primary or secondary roles in farming, ranching, or an Ag-related profession. Many women in Ag are the primary caretakers in raising children and managing households and work off-the-farm jobs to help ends meet in a challenging economy. This is my own reality wherein I commute during the academic year to teach at a local university. In addition, I have a small training and consulting business and through that work women in Ag across rural America have shared their stories with me about needing to work in community jobs as another source of income and to provide health insurance for their families. Juggling it all, taking on these necessary multiple roles can be stressful and exhausting.
For those of you reading this who have similar lives, please know that I see you and I have compassion and empathy for you. I know some of the struggles you experience in supporting an Ag-related lifestyle. You are not alone! Yet, if you feel isolated or if you have not focused on how to “fill your empty cup” to reduce stress and emotional pain, here are a couple of practical suggestions and examples for you to consider:
- Connect with a friend or family member who cares about you unconditionally and who will help you process your stress by listening to understand and then respond.
- Create a resiliency-focused wellness plan that may include physical, social, emotional, recreational, or spiritual components. For example, part of my plan includes playing Pickleball a couple of times a week with friends, which is an activity within the physical and social domain areas of healthy living.
- Reframe your negative, defeating self-talk that we all have and empower yourself with realistic messages. In our industry we do not have control over certain things, such as the weather, commodity prices, or equipment malfunctions but we do have control over our thoughts and internal messages.
- Meet your basic needs by eating healthy, drinking water, exercising, and getting enough sleep each night.
- If, at any time, you feel overwhelmed and in need of immediate support, contact your local behavioral healthcare provider or call or text the National Suicide & Crisis LIFELINE at 988.
In addition to these suggestions, there are examples of women in agriculture on social media platforms promoting the health and wellness of female farmers, ranchers, and those in the Ag- related industry. If you get a chance, check out Stephanie Schmidt, https://actforag.com.au/meet- steph/, or the efforts of the Upper Midwest Agriculture Safety and Health Center, https://umash.umn.edu/resiliency-programs/ .
My involvement in addressing the health and wellbeing of women in Ag greatly increased in 2018 when I was approached by two dedicated, passionate women in Ag to be part of the Cultivating Resiliency for Women in Agriculture Project. The project offers free webinars, virtual coffee chats-, and podcasts that focus on addressing stress, health, and wellness among women in the farming and ranching professions. I want to explicitly state that all are welcome to participate regardless of gender, role in your farming/ranching operation or the profession in general. It is an honor to be the primary facilitator of the monthly virtual coffee chats which are meant to mimic a group that gathers at a local café, sits around a table together, and enjoys conversation and fellowship. For more information on the project, check out this website, https://umash.umn.edu/cultivating-resiliency/.
Another way to build one’s resiliency is to attend an in-person Women in Agriculture conference. In February 2023, as a speaker and presenter at Purdue University Extension Division’s 2023 Women in Agriculture -Conference, it warmed my heart to see women in conversation about stress, self-collaborative care, wellness, well-being, and resiliency among those in the health and agricultural fields while laughing together in an energetic and invigorating place and space. It reminded me of the power of connecting with others to fuel resiliency and I hope to participate in more such opportunities and encourage you to seek out your own, as well. I am grateful to my parents, my husband, and my entire family for supporting me in my educational journey to become a clinical social worker, professor, and stress and wellness researcher who focuses on the well-being of the farming and ranching community. My journey goes on to address the ups and downs of an Ag- related life and offer thoughts, ideas, and resources that may help others. I invite you to reach out, comment, or simply stay tuned for more blogs.
Be bold, be well ~ Dr. Brenda