Impact of COVID-19 on Agriculture

Let’s Keep Talking About Mental Health

Viewpoints / The Zipline September 30, 2020

Credit: avi_acl/CC0 

If you had asked me five years ago if we in agriculture would be talking so much about mental health, I probably would have said no. But in just a few short years, the stresses bearing down on farmers and ranchers have become too great to ignore. From low prices to bad weather, from too much work to not enough helping hands to get it done, farmers face levels of stress that would throw anyone for a loop. And I’m glad we’re talking about it, because it’s just not necessary or helpful to try to get through these stressful times alone.

Switching gears for a moment: If you had asked me five years ago if I would be podcasting, the answer would have been, well, maybe just a puzzled look. But a little over a year ago, staff at the American Farm Bureau Federation came to me and said, “You should do a podcast!” The more they explained how popular podcasts were becoming, and the more I tuned in and started subscribing and listening to a few of them, the more I realized this could be another great way to reach audiences with information about agriculture. I was a little nervous; I’m usually the one on the other side of the microphone, answering questions instead of asking them. But I love to talk.  I could talk to a fencepost. The more I realized that hosting a podcast was the same as just having a conversation, the more comfortable I became.

If you feel you’re burdened by stress and need help, talk with someone.

We launched Farmside Chat one year ago, with my good friend Sonny Perdue, U.S. Agriculture Secretary, as my first guest. Shortly after that, Secretary Perdue started his own podcast and I was honored to be a guest for one of his episodes.

Why am I talking about my podcast after beginning this column talking about farmers’ mental health? For my most recent episode of the Farmside Chat podcast, I sat down with two guests who are playing important roles in addressing farm and rural stress. Chad Vorthmann, the executive director of Colorado Farm Bureau, shared his commitment to raising awareness that stress and the risk of suicide are a huge problem in rural America. Chad pointed out that the suicide rate in rural America is about twice that of other areas. He serves on the American Farm Bureau’s Rural Resilience Sounding Board, a group of Farm Bureau members and staff who are working on this issue in their communities and states and guiding our efforts at AFBF.

In our conversation, Chad shared that he had friends who had lost loved ones to suicide, and it seems that, unfortunately, more and more of us are able to say the same. Chad and I talked about the fact that farmers and ranchers are “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” people, and how that strength can be a weakness in the face of overwhelming stress. That’s why we’re talking about it and trying to get more farmers and ranchers to open up and get help, whether it’s just someone to listen or professional counseling.

I greatly appreciate Chad’s dedication to working on this and the time he spent with me on Farmside Chat.

This episode of Farmside Chat also includes my conversation with Tara Coronado, a young farmer in California. Tara’s enthusiasm for agriculture is nothing short of amazing, and you can hear it in her voice. I could’ve talked with Tara all day about her story of coming back home to the family farm and starting her own vineyard, but what I really wanted to talk about was her #MentalHealthMonday campaign on social media.

Tara’s story of anxiety when her dad was seriously injured and then grief after the tragic loss of her grandpa’s life, on top of the “emotional rollercoaster” of farming, is both extraordinary and something that ordinary farmers and ranchers can relate to, because don’t we all have things happening in our family lives that are just layered on top of the farm stresses we’re already struggling to handle? “Once I started talking about it…I had no idea how helpful that was going to be,” she said. Tara talked about that feeling we all sometimes have, that no one else understands what we’re dealing with. But once we start talking about it, we find out that so many others are feeling the same way.

My conversation with Tara—on a tough topic—was uplifting, and I thank her so much for sharing her story. And I thank her for lending her voice and using social media to help people see it’s OK to talk about mental health. You can learn more about Tara and her work on her blog.

I don’t think we planned for the one-year anniversary of Farmside Chat to coincide with an episode on rural stress and mental health, but I can’t think of a more perfect way to commemorate one year of conversations about agriculture, because just talking about this issue is such an important part of the solution. Of course we’ve talked about a lot of other issues, as well, but if launching a podcast where we’ve talked about rural stress helps one person who is feeling lost, it has been more than worth it.

We’ll keep talking about mental health and other issues on Farmside Chat. I hope you’ll join us and listen.

As we do with every communication on rural stress, I want to say that if you feel you’re burdened by stress and need help, talk with someone. If you’re not comfortable talking with your friends or family, call your local Farm Bureau. They’ll find a way to help you. Look up resources online. You can find a lot of resources on our Farm State of Mind website. Just know you are not alone. And if you know someone who seems to be struggling, don’t wait for them to ask for help. Reach out and see how they’re doing. Let them know you want to listen.

Thanks again to all of our guests over the past year on Farmside Chat, and especially Chad and Tara. I look forward to another year of meaningful conversations about American agriculture and the wonderful people who grow our food.  

Zippy Duvall
President
twitter.com/@ZippyDuvall

Vincent “Zippy” Duvall, a poultry, cattle and hay producer from Greene County, Georgia, is the 12th president of the American Farm Bureau Federation.

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