All of us want the bounty of farms when we’re ready to buy produce and other products from farmers. We may not realize that getting food to market is stressful and can be harmful to farmers and farm workers.
May is one of the busiest months of the year, as farmers are in their fields. Planting plans can be disrupted by equipment breakdowns, storms that bring weather delays, and changes in expenses for seeds, fertilizer and fuel. The stressors of much to do in a short period of time, long days working, and constant problem solving, can take a toll.
The mental and physical health of farmers, their families and other relationships can suffer. Under pressure, some farmers experience injuries leading to even more stress. Most farmers find a way to handle the demands of spring farming. Some may need additional support.
The University of Maryland Extension (UME) has created educational outreach and programs in the area of farm stress management focused on topics related to the signs and symptoms of stress, communicating with someone with stress and resources for families. Farmers, and those who work with farmers, can access this information on the UME website or attend some of the upcoming programs.
Over the winter Maryland farmers were asked about COVID-19 impacts on their farm. Over 400 farmers responded with over half (52%) stating that their day to day activities have not changed while their stress level and health concerns increased by 66% and worker/personal safety increased 58%.
UME reached out to Keith Ohlinger of Porch View Farm LLC in Woodbine MD to ask him about stress management and mental health in the farming community. Ohlinger has participated on a number of boards statewide and has been an advocate for this topic identifying its importance as a subject not of stigma but of conversation. Ohlinger identified farms as a very special issue because of the multi layers of family, farm and business operations. He mentions farming sometimes feels like a constant fight with weather, restrictions and other external factors beyond your control. Many farmers don’t have time to take a break, step away from the farm or seek the medical care they may need.
There has come to be more discussion and awareness about this topic and Ohlinger agrees that the stigma behind mental health is a barrier that needs to be changed. This is a topic that is affecting the agriculture and rural community and there needs to be a major shift for change. Ohlinger suggested focusing on compassion and being a listening ear for those that may be struggling. It may also be necessary to suggest seeking a professional that they can speak with.
For more information about farm stress management please check the UME Farm Stress Management website at www.go.umd.edu/farmstressmanagement and to join the farm stress contact list go to https://go.umd.edu/fscontact. This list will keep you updated on state and national information and educational events related to this topic.