Americans from all walks of life are struggling to cope with an array of issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Fear and anxiety about this new disease and what could happen is sometimes overwhelming and can cause strong emotions in adults and children.
But long before the pandemic hit the U.S., farmers and ranchers were struggling. Years of falling commodity prices, natural disasters, declining farm income and trade disputes with China hit rural America hard, and not just financially. Farmers’ mental health is at risk, too.
Fortunately, America’s food producers have proven to be a resilient bunch. Across the country, they continue to adopt new ways to manage stress and cope with the difficult situations they’re facing.
Here are few examples:
In Oklahoma, Bryan Vincent and Gary Williams are part of an informal group that meets on a regular basis to share their burdens.
“It’s way past farming,” said Vincent, a local crop consultant. “It’s a chance to meet with like-minded people. It’s a chance for us to let some things out. We laugh, we may cry together, we may be disgusted together. We share our emotions, whether good, bad.”
Gathering with trusted friends has given them the chance to talk about what’s happening in their lives, both good and bad.
“I would encourage anybody — any group of farmers, friends, whatever — to form a group” to meet regularly, said Williams, a farmer. “Not just in bad times. I think you should do that regardless, even in good times. Share your victories and triumphs with one another. Support one another.”
In Michigan, dairy farmer Ashley Messing Kennedy battled postpartum depression and anxiety while also grieving over a close friend and farm employee who died by suicide. At first, she coped by staying busy, fixing farm problems on her own and rarely asking for help. But six months later, she knew something wasn’t right.
Finding a meaningful activity to do away from the farm was a positive step forward.
“Running’s been a game- changer for me,” Kennedy said. “It’s so important to interact with people, face-to-face, that you don’t normally engage with. Whatever that is for you, do it — take time to get off the farm and walk away for a while. It will be there tomorrow.”
Rich Baker also farms in Michigan and has found talking with others to be his stress management tactic of choice.
“You can’t just bottle things up,” Baker said. “If you don’t have a built-in network of farmers, go talk to a professional. In some cases, that may be even more beneficial because their opinions may be more impartial.”