Progress report for ENE20-160
Problem and Justification
University of Maryland Extension (UME) is concerned and sensitive to the current stress level of farm families as it relates to their well-being and the viability of the farm. Sustained distress affects a farmer’s ability to cope, make sound decisions, and adopt new practices associated with their health, finances, regulatory, and production practices. Reports from the USDA, popular press, Centers for Disease Control, farm nonprofits, and universities recognize that farmers and farm families are experiencing high levels of stress, mental health, and even suicide. Locally, agricultural service providers are aware of this situation as they meet with farm families. Agricultural service providers are a trusted resource for farmers yet lack the skills and training to support their clientele on this personal issue.
Solution and Approach
Service providers do not have training or skills in the health and wellness field. This training is not meant to teach counseling but to educate service providers on how to be a first responder in a sensitive and often uncomfortable situation. By gaining skills to identify stress and have a conversation with farmers, service providers will be better prepared to work with individuals and families who are experiencing high levels of stress. Providers will gain the ability to effectively communicate about stress, analyze situations, provide resources and suggest solutions. The approach for this educational program will be through webinars, face-to-face workshops, online content and a statewide forum. Moderated discussion groups will continue the conversation, provide ongoing support, and share new resources. A self-study online module will be created for new employees who missed the face to face training can, at minimum, gain awareness of the issue and knowledge of resources.
Milestones and Performance Target
This project will educate 150 agriculture service providers about farm stress, mental health, communication techniques, available resources, and financial risk management. Project milestones will include a preliminary statewide forum for agencies to discuss rural health and resources, followed by five statewide trainings annually, and three annual webinars. Additionally, the project will create a list-serve of participants and an online discussion group to provide up to date information and resources. The current website will be enhanced as fact sheets, videos and resources are created and shared. Learning objectives for the training are: Understanding the impact of stress on our bodies; Confidence to identify signs and symptoms of stress; Confidence communicating with someone with stress; Understanding warning signs of suicide; Promoting mental health resources for farm families; Creating personal and farm finance goals; Managing farm financial statements; Promoting legal resources for farm families; and Negotiating contracts and debt management. Ninety agricultural service providers will communicate with farm families and educate 1350 farmers about these topics.
Ninety agricultural service providers will communicate with farm families and educate 1350 farmers about the resources and tools in the area of mental health and wellness. These service providers will also educate farmers in the areas of personal and farm finance goals, farm financial statements, legal resources for farm families and negotiating contracts and debt management resources.
University of Maryland Extension (UME) has hosted a statewide forum and cosponsored four workshops on communicating and managing farm stress for agriculture stakeholders. Attendees reporting intending to use the gained knowledge to support farmers but also requested the workshop to be offered to agriculture service providers.
A recent survey of UME winter production workshops participants, (517 farmers and agriculture professionals) found that 43% reported higher stress levels than last year and 34.7% reported high levels of stress (7 and higher out of the 1-10 scale). The respondents reported financial (52%) and regulatory (41%) aspects of farming contribute the most to their stress. Not properly addressing high levels of stress can lead to a number of health issues.
Sustained stress affect farmers’ ability to cope and make decisions to adopt agricultural, financial, and legal practices to address their situations. By providing comprehensive training for agriculture service providers the proposed project will increase knowledge and skills in understanding and managing stress, communicating and providing resources for farmers under stress, and providing financial and legal management to address stressors Providing farmers with ways to manage stress, the proposed project will provide solutions to sustain economically farms through these stressful times.
This project will equip 150 agricultural providers with skills and knowledge to support farm families in times of distress. The learning objectives include: Increase providers ability to identify signs of distress, communicate with someone experiencing distress, and provide resources and tools to manage stress on the farm. Approximately 60% of the providers will utilize the knowledge and skills to reach an estimated 1,300 individuals resulting in increased well- being of farm families.
Conduct a fall (2020) forum for service providers and agencies to discuss farm stress and rural health – 1 day in Annapolis, MD. Attend forum and provide discussion. Gain knowledge and sharing of the current farm and rural health situation and sharing of resources and materials available within and outside the state.
For the past two years, the University of Maryland Extension developed and delivered educational sessions related to farm stress and mental health. We learned that some of our stakeholders and organization partners wanted to learn how to serve the farming population dealing with multiple stressors.
Educational sessions were targeted to increase understanding and build skills among Maryland’s agricultural services providers. This capacity-building professional development program aims to help our farming population decrease stress by building resilience.
Due to COVID-19 restrictions on group meetings, we decided to conduct an online program planning forum held March 26, 2021. The purpose was to engage Maryland agricultural services providers in telling us how best to provide professional development educational programs that would help them build capacity with the farming population they serve.
Over 42 invitees participated in a 2-hour session with two presentations and facilitated breakout discussions on five topics. At the start, they identified these top 4 observations about farmers in the past year: Anxiety, Financial Worries, Depression, and Burnout.
After the forum, they were invited to complete a short survey. Over two-thirds (69%) preferred 1-5 hours of professional development done virtually and in person held mid-week.
Participants were asked to rate their preferred topics for professional development on a scale of 1 to 10 (1 is the lowest and 10 is the highest). The results are listed below along with the mean score:
1. Physical and Mental Health (8.69)
2. Stress Management (8.46)
3. Financial Well-Being (7.77)
4. Legal and Regulatory (7.33)
Participants were asked to comment on this topic and provide feedback during the breakout sessions:
“Reflecting on the meeting - please continue to tie these resources together, so that people understand the interconnection of physical and mental well being with farm/financial/legal stress levels. It will reduce the barriers for people who need mental help but who still feel the stigma. Wrap all these topic areas into all outreach so if they say they need legal resources but are also curious about mental health resources, they get it all as a package.”
“Great information. We need to continue to make the information sources available to ALL farmers, producers, growers, landowners, especially our non- traditional, female, veteran and beginning, new agriculturalists and conservationists. Including their families, relatives, friends and others.”
Conduct 5 statewide trainings annually for service providers – Western, Central, Southern, Upper Shore, Lower Shore (10 total - 5 training (2020-2021), 5 training (2021-2022)). (150 service providers * estimated 60% plan to share * 15 farmers each (based on service provider survey see beneficiaries and their interest section) = 1350 farmers. Attend face to face workshops, provide a certificate of completion. Gain ability to identify stress, symptoms of stress, communicate with someone experiencing stress, warning signs, resources including mental health, financial goals, debt management, regulatory and contract negotiations.
This activity was delayed due to COVID - 19 restrictions for in person meetings by UMD as well as Ag Service Provider organizations. During this time curriculum was created along with out reach items including a newsletter.
Planning is underway to have 5 statewide trainings in April of 2022.
Service providers will participate in follow up webinars – 3 each year (6 total). Web-based follow up to the face-to-face trainings. Focus on ability to identify stress, symptoms of stress, communicate with someone experiencing stress, warning signs, resources including mental health, financial goals, debt management, regulatory and contract negotiations.
December 2021 webinars were offered to broad audiences. This action step is for ag service providers that have been through the one day training and have developed skills beyond the average participant. These will be planned after the first round of ag service providers have been trained.
Service providers will access online materials and resources including a proposed online discussion group to continue conversation, share resources and share experiences. 600 Individuals (website hits will be measured). Reference website, find additional resources, and stay connected to the discussion and issue of farm stress management. 6/30/2022 and beyond
Service providers will include information on their website, advertisements and/or articles in their newsletters distributed to farmers, farm families and other clientele. 10 organizations will share with lists of 1,000+ individuals. Print and web-based media. Share knowledge learned to other providers, farmers and partners.
Selfpaced, online module will be created in year 2 as curriculum and workshops are completed. This will provide training materials for professional development and new employee onboarding. 10 organizations will use the webbased module for training.
As the in person curriculum and activities have been created the team discusses this online program. Following the first round of in person trainings the team will modify the program as needed from feedback and audience comments.
Milestone Activities and Participation Summary
Educational activities and events conducted by the project team:
Participants in the project’s educational activities:
Performance Target Outcomes
Performance Target Outcomes - Service Providers
90 agricultural service providers will communicate with farm families and educate 1350 farmers about the resources and tools in the area of mental health and wellness. These service providers will also educate farmers in the areas of personal and farm finance goals, farm financial statements, legal resources for farm families and negotiating contracts and debt management resources.
Additional Project Outcomes
The project team created an introductory video about the project. The team also created a Farm Stress Management Flyer that succinctly describes it's focus on mental and physical wellness, and the main principles of its approach.