Community Agriculture Alliance: Growing stronger together in the ag community
For Steamboat Pilot & Today
Rocky Mountain Farmers Union’s newest program, AgWell, promotes well-being in agriculture by cultivating resource networks and support systems in agricultural communities. Helping farmers, ranchers, agricultural workers and their families feel seen, valued, connected, healthy, and fulfilled. AgWell began December 2021 offering training on stress management and well-being, along with workshops on supporting others in agriculture.
Farm stress is beginning to reach levels that were seen in the 1980s farm crisis, especially in the West where drought and aridification have been a growing challenge. In addition to volatile markets, increasing costs of production, and cost of living. Many farmers and ranchers express the sentiment, “you must love it, it’s not something you do for the money. You do it because it’s who you are.”
The identity a farmer or rancher carries can be exceptionally hard to change in comparison to other individuals needing to change careers. All these variables add up to a growing number of farmers and ranchers feeling like they are alone and struggle to keep going.
Routt County’s local Rocky Mountain Farmers Union chapter is a support network for farmers and ranchers to talk policy, education and community. AgWell hopes to strengthen this support network with tools like active listening skills, understanding the signs of stress and crisis, and how to make referrals to mental health organizations. Basically, the program teaches and encourages checking in on a neighbor or friend when noticing something is off.
Every Monday, AgWell offers “Coffee and Connections” at the Community Agriculture Alliance. While local farmers and ranchers drop off their weekly products they can take a quick break to chat, learn about available resources, and connect with their peers.
Since starting “Coffee and Connections”, farmers and ranchers have laughed, cried and learned about the role AgWell is playing in reducing stigma and sharing local, regional and national resources. This effort will help inform other AgWell initiatives in the future as to what helps people feel heard and supported to keep doing the work they’re doing.
Farmers and ranchers are the backbone of our communities providing the food, fuel and fiber that sustains us all. Michelle Townsend, owner of Hayden Fresh Farms expresses, “We’re not so worried about competition because it’s tough for everyone. We understand that we all have highs and lows and each of us need to support each other.” Everyone needs a little help sometimes, and most people struggle to ask for it. That’s why AgWell aims to address stigma by normalizing conversations about the highs and lows on the farm because sometimes we need to be pulled up by more than just the bootstraps.
Learn more or get involved at AgWell.org or reach out to Dakotah McGinlay directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you know someone, or are struggling with mental health, call 988 for 24-hour confidential crisis support. If you’d like to speak with someone who has a cultural understanding of agricultural challenges, call 1-800-FARM-AID or 1-800-327-6243 available Monday-Friday 7 a.m. – 8 p.m. for support. Visit aamhpforhealth.org to request free vouchers to speak with agricultural aware mental health professionals. Keep up with AgWell’s resources and well-being tips on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
Dakotah McGinlay is the AgWell Program Assistant
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