CHIPPEWA FALLS, Wis. — Women farmers and landowners wear multiple hats and juggle various responsibilities, often providing key emotional support to family and community members. For many, the winter months bring additional stress, taking a toll on mental health.
On Feb. 17, from 10 a.m. until noon, Wisconsin Women in Conservation (WiWiC) will partner with Farm Well Wisconsin to provide a two-hour virtual training to help women learn to recognize someone in need and respond intentionally and effectively, without putting their own mental health at risk. This small-group interactive session is free to all women landowners, farmers and conservation professionals in Barron, Dunn and Polk counties.
“Mental health is a topic that impacts everyone. For better or worse, women often take on the role of providing emotional support for their families and extended networks – acting as counselors, confidants, and mediators,” says Chris Frakes, director of Farm Well Wisconsin. “It is vital to learn the skills needed to carry out those roles more effectively and to learn how to set boundaries that protect your own wellbeing.”
A recently released poll from American Farm Bureau Federation suggests that a majority of rural adults (52%) and farmers/farm workers (61%) are experiencing more stress and mental health challenges than they were a year ago. Younger rural adults are more likely than older rural adults to say they are experiencing more stress and mental health challenges than a year ago, and they are more likely to say they have personally sought care from a mental health professional.
“I think mental health is a concern in many communities, but especially rural areas. In the past few decades, a lot of things have changed for us – from the vitality of our Main Street businesses to the opportunities we have to make a living close to home. A lot of people are struggling and that isn’t a comfortable thing to talk about,” said Lauren Langworthy, of Blue Ox Farm in Wheeler, who is a WiWiC Conservation Coach, mentoring other women in the region. “Farm prices, access to health care, corporate consolidation, even opportunities to learn and socialize – there are many bigger trends that are changing rural life. Farmers can be especially independent and self-driven people and it is easy to feel powerless when you find yourself struggling – even if none of it is your fault.”
Farm Well Wisconsin works in Southwestern Wisconsin to develop and offer resources that support the health and wellbeing of farmers, farmworkers, and their families. The group believes that farming well depends on taking care of our bodies, minds, emotions, and relationships. Rural communities lack enough mental health professionals to meet the need, especially during times like the pandemic and tough economic downturns. “Ordinary people can help fill the gap,” says Frakes.
Participants will explore the “COMET” method, which stands for Changing Our Mental and Emotional Trajectory. This program aims to change the trajectory of someone in a vulnerable space, and headed towards crisis, back towards a place of wellness. The workshops, led jointly by FarmWell and WiWiC facilitators, will be in a “Learning Circle” format, encouraging peer-to-peer interaction among participants. They will practice being a person who says or does something to offer support, care, or a referral and causes a positive change.
“Neighbors helping neighbors is a deep-seated rural value. We do not hesitate to assist our neighbors when they are impacted by a house fire, but when we notice that a neighbor is struggling with stress or depression, sometimes we are unsure,” says Frakes. “COMET believes in the power of everyday interactions. By learning a simple, effective strategy for engaging with people who are stressed, we can make a difference.”
Wisconsin Women in Conservation is a state-wide collaborative effort led by the Michael Fields Agricultural Institute in partnership with Wisconsin Farmers Union, Renewing the Countryside and the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES). A three-year multi-faceted project funded by the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), WiWiC brings together Wisconsin women landowners to connect and learn about conservation practices, resources, and funding opportunities. The group offered 17 Zoom workshops and 5 Field Days across the state in 2021, involving over 1300 participants. According to WiWiC’s sources, there are about 1200 women landowners and farmers in the Polk, Barron, Dunn region. About 100 are currently participating in WiWiC NW Region events.
WiWiC team members reached out to Farm Well Wisconsin to lead COMET trainings after becoming aware of the need for mental health resources while facilitating their conservation education events.
“WIWiC is a partnership project between several organizations that work with farmers. Groups like Farmers Union have deep roots in farming communities and extensive networks in rural areas. It’s important that we offer our community the tools needed to have healthy conversations and support our neighbors, or ourselves, in times of crisis,” said Langworthy, who is also employed by Wisconsin Farmers Union in Chippewa Falls as Director of Special Projects. “Without some guidance and a few tools, it can be so hard to have difficult conversations about people’s struggles without feeling like you might “’make things worse.’ We aren’t used to talking with each other about our deep personal struggles. However, if we can be there for our community – armed with a few good tools – we can make a world of difference for a neighbor in need.”
Mariann Holm, of Holm Girls Dairy in Elk Mound, is another WiWiC Conservation Coach. She believes the farmers of today are experiencing “stress upon stress.”
“Farmers are usually very grounded people. Literally. Maybe it is because they have healthy doses of time outdoors and exposure to nature. It could be that they accept the seasons and cycles of life and understand that many things are outside of their own control. Historically, the rural communities they call home have been small but vibrant places where, despite hardships, neighbors knew and understood each other. Today, we are faced with increased pressures of consolidation within the marketplace, unseasonable weather events and now – a pandemic and supply chain disruptions. Stress upon stress. Fewer farmers on the landscape. Isolation. Even the most grounded farmer is being impacted,” said Holm. “The good news is that we can create a community of care for ourselves. Yes, it can include experts, but each one of us can support and care for a neighbor in everyday meaningful ways. COMET training reinforces this idea.”
COMET training attendees will come away from the workshop with a concrete, actionable set of skills that will increase their confidence in reaching out to friends, family members, and acquaintances who are in a vulnerable space. Through robust discussion, and one-on-one roleplay, attendees learn how to hold space for someone who is struggling, and to set aside their concern that they must know all the answers or how to “fix” the other person’s problem.
The trainings are organized by region to facilitate community among neighbors, but are welcome to all women farmers, landowners, and conservationists. Space is limited and events are not recorded to encourage story-sharing among participants. Registration is FREE but necessary to obtain the Zoom link. More information and registration is at WiWiC.org.
Northwest COMET Training, Feb. 17, 10 a.m.-noon
Polk, Barron, and Dunn Counties
Southwest COMET Training, Mar. 3, 10 a.m.-noon
Vernon, Crawford and Grant Counties
Southeast COMET Training, Mar. 17, 10 a.m.-noon
Walworth, Racine and Milwaukee Counties