By Ray Atkinson
According to a recent AFBF research poll, rural adults and farmers/farm workers are experiencing more stress and mental health challenges than they were a year ago, and they are seeking care because of increased stress. But an overwhelming majority of farmers said that availability and accessibility would be an obstacle if they were seeking help or treatment for a mental health condition.
J.E.B. Wilson, a South Carolina farmer and Farm Bureau member, saw the impacts of chronic stress mounting on farmers and the people in his community, and he decided to do something to help.
“I’m a fifth-generation farmer. I’ve had a lot of friends coming up through the YF&R program who are facing a lot of stress. So, mental health is important to me,” Wilson said.
In 2020, Wilson worked with South Carolina Farm Bureau and Clemson University Extension to create SC AgriWellness, a program that brings mental health services into farmers’ homes. Administered by First Sun EAP, it makes counseling services available to South Carolina farmers and their families free of charge.
“We serve as a lifeline for farmers who feel like they’ve been left out. I hope we change attitudes so when farmers are in a bad situation, they will call knowing someone out there is willing to help,” Wilson said.
In January, SC AgriWellness was named a recipient of the McNulty Prize Catalyst Fund, given to organizations that demonstrate significant momentum and are poised to create meaningful change. A partnership of The McNulty Foundation and the Aspen Institute, the Catalyst Fund awarded SC AgriWellness an unrestricted grant of $20,000 to help address mental health issues in rural and farming communities in South Carolina.
“We plan to use these funds directly for counseling services for farmers. We’re really excited about that,” Wilson said. “The McNulty Foundation provides a lot of publicity for its Catalyst Fund recipients. It has a strong network of political allies who see these types of projects and can help promote and emulate them.”
In addition to the mental health services SC AgriWellness provides for farmers and their families, the program also offers many other types of resources and support.
“SC AgriWellness is more than just a hotline,” Wilson said. “It also funds Clemson Extension to provide Mental Health First Aid training for Farm Bureau field agents and others in agriculture. And it’s not just focused on mental health. It’s a true EAP hotline,” he says.
SC AgriWellness can provide critical estate-planning resources for farmers who want to pass their farms on to the next generation. The program can help find care for a family member in another state who needs nursing home care. Families who have a child who aspires to be the first to attend college can access SC AgriWellness to get referrals to school counselors who can help guide them through the process. It also offers marriage counseling and Christian counseling for anyone who requests those services.
J.E.B. says that SC AgriWellness would not have gotten off the ground without Farm Bureau’s grassroots organization structure that allows members to bring ideas to the state board and drive them up through the process.
“Farm Bureau has always been there to help. They have the resources and supportive staff to help make a difference,” Wilson said. “I encourage everyone in agriculture to be part of this organization. When you talk with Farm Bureau, they take action to make things happen.”
Ray Atkinson is a director of communications at the American Farm Bureau Federation.
J.E.B. Wilson and his fellow Catalyst Fund recipients will participate in a special virtual event, Emerging Solutions for a Resilient Future: A Rapid-Fire Dialogue on Strengthening Communities, on Wednesday, Feb. 16, from 12-1:30 p.m. EST. Register for this free event here.