EASTON, Pennsylvania – The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture recently added mental health as a topic of discussion at its events, in addition to offering new resources. Among them: free training for people to learn about the mental health of farmers or to recognize if a loved one is facing a possible crisis.
Emmaus farmer Kegan Hilaire says this is a critical time to talk about the mental health of farmers.
“They call it the ‘July blues’ in agriculture, where everything is harvested, everything is planted, everything is prepared for the fall, the first flesh of the weeds,” said Hilaire, who is also a consultant at the Rodale Institute. “So everything on the farm is more difficult right now.”
There are stressful decisions, coupled with no control over the weather or price developments.
“Lots of hours on a tractor. Lots of time away from family,” said Bradford County farmer Landis Zimmerman. “It can really wear you down.”
The state Department of Agriculture recently launched a toll-free hotline that people can call or text 24/7. The number is 833-897-AGRI (2474). The expert is a person with training and experience in agriculture.
“They know what wrestling is, so you talk to a friend,” said Shannon Powers, a press secretary with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture. “We’ve had calls from farmers, their neighbors, family members.”
“What I see is that a lot of it is coming from farmers in debt,” said Dr. Drew Smith, chief operating officer of the Rodale Institute and a Montgomery County farmer.
Smith says going organic decreases factors beyond your control, which can be helpful in mind.
“All of our research…shows that organic systems are more profitable than conventional systems and that is why we believe that organic farming is a potential solution to depression and in many cases leading to suicide in the farming community,” Smith said.
Most farmers agree that having a network to discuss the issues they are facing is essential to overcoming them.
“You have a bad day harvesting lettuce, call me while you’re washing and I’m probably having a tough day harvesting zucchini,” Hilaire said.
Powers says an opportunity to connect will present itself in a few weeks; Ag Progress Days at Penn State is a huge event with farmers from all over PA.