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Coalition offers tools, training to address farmer stress

Coalition offers tools, training to address farmer stress

BLACKSBURG—Big issues like farm stress call for major reinforcements, and a special statewide coalition is taking on the task.

As market volatility, unpredictable weather and loss of resources in rural areas have impacted farm families, farm supporters are looking for solutions. The Virginia Beginning Farmer & Rancher Coalition is a Virginia Cooperative Extension program housed in Virginia Tech’s Department of Agricultural, Leadership and Community Education.

A Sept. 16 webinar, titled “Spotlight on Farm Safety, Health, and Wellness Toolkit for Managing Farm Stress and Mental Health,” covered the most recent resources developed for farmers and service providers by Extension’s Farm Safety, Health and Wellness initiative. Led by the coalition, the project includes several partners, including AgrAbility Virginia, Extension’s Human Development Program, Virginia State University’s Small Farm Outreach Program, the Virginia Farm Bureau Safety Advisory Committee and the Virginia Chapter of the Farmer Veteran Coalition.

Presenters shared resources for addressing farm stress and well-being, specifically related to the ongoing pandemic. The materials address several topics, including identifying and managing farm financial stress; understanding stress and grief in farm families; and improving mental health communication between farmers and farm organizations.

Dr. Kim Niewolny, director of AgrAbility Virginia and the Virginia Beginning Farmer & Rancher Coalition, said farm stress is not new.

“But how we address the issue today is pretty significant,” she said in the webinar. The coalition’s Farm Safety, Health and Wellness team’s rapid assessment of farmer stress, safety and suicide conditions in Virginia brought the scope of the epidemic into focus.

With a fresh understanding, the team identified how to best create educational resources and programs that can help alleviate, divert and uplift stressed farm families.

“This work isn’t transactional, this is all about relationships,” Niewolny shared. “We need to do more to break down the stigma of mental health in the farming community. And while it can be daunting, we also need to do better to understand and communicate how farm-related stress does not happen in a vacuum.

“Farmers and farmworkers are experiencing social and economic stressors, including those associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. Those familiar with agriculture know that it can be difficult to talk about these issues, making it a challenge to connect farmers with the support they need.”

Presenters discussed a series of tools and programs created for service providers and educators to better assist farm families in crisis. They also raised awareness of current programs led by Extension agents and AgrAbility Virginia field staff for continued education and community outreach.

Media: Contact Niewolny at 540-231-5784.