Navigating Financial and Mental Health Crises

Progress report for LS20-336

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2020: $299,959.00
Projected End Date: 03/31/2022
Grant Recipients: Rural Advancement Foundation International - USA; The Land Loss Prevention Project; The National Center for Appropriate Technology
Region: Southern
State: North Carolina
Principal Investigator:
Laketa Smith
The Rural Advancement Foundation International - USA
Co-Investigators:
Savi Horne
Land Loss Prevention Project
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Project Information

Abstract:

PROJECT INFORMATION

The purpose of the Navigating Financial and Mental Health Crises project is to reduce the loss of farms and lives by researching and testing culturally-responsive information and information delivery that addresses the combined financial, land tenure and mental health issues faced by farm families in severe financial distress. At the time the project began in April 2020, we could not have foreseen how the coronavirus pandemic would cause us to adapt to how this work would move forward. What we are doing  – the project scope – remains unchanged, but how and when we carry out project activities have shifted. For example, the initial timeline of the project was slowed significantly as we pivoted and regrouped in response to widespread shut-down, including farmers having market channels shut down. We had to re-think our strategy at every phase of the project, from project management team activities, receiving IRB certification and approval for the data collection instruments and protocols, conducting participant interviews, to results dissemination. We made the needed adjustments and are proud to report the project is proceeding successfully. 

Project Abstract:

 This project is a collaboration between experienced farm financial, legal and mental health experts and farmers who have experienced fiscal trauma to research the ways in which farmers facing crisis access and process information. Our work is to examine available resources, identify gaps, and to adapt or develop new materials that support farmers in crisis, as well as identify the most effective methods to disseminate these resources via work with our farmer partners, through direct service to farmers, our partner organizations, and through broad publication online. 

The project works with partners in NC, VA and TX to research effective communication and intervention on financial, mental health and land tenure issues in farm decision-making in White, Indigenous and African-American farm communities. Our approach is unique in that it addresses these issues together, and explores the experience of farm financial stress as financial trauma with the goals of building culturally-appropriate resources, aid farmer decision-making skills, and to enhance the ability of farm families to move beyond crisis. Forty-five farmers or farm families who have experienced farm financial crisis will be interviewed to determine the information needed, how they were able to access information during the crisis, and if there were impediments to information access. Farmers are being identified from the direct services of RAFI, referrals from Farmer Collaborators, and leveraging relationships with organizations that serve farmers

The data collected from the interviews will be used to create evaluation criteria for existing materials on farm financial and mental health stress to identify those that match the needs and form participants described in the surveys. The project team will then prioritize adaptation or development of additional materials to address needs.

The results of surveys will be disseminated through professional and popular publications and presentations at professional conferences. Identified, adapted or developed materials will be disseminated to farmers through presentations at conferences and through a specific page on the ATTRA web site.

The partner organizations bring to this project decades of experience with farmers in financial and mental health stress. Research & materials development and testing will take place in a context of ongoing services for farmers in crisis.

Project Objectives:

 

Objective

Task

Time

Objective 1

Identify specific information and information delivery needs of farmers in crisis

 

1.1

Literature review on financial crisis effects on mental health

Apr – Jun 2020

1.2

Meeting of project leadership team to develop shared understanding of the dynamics of farm financial and mental health crisis, and develop the interview focus and questions

May 2020 – Dec 2020

1.3

Identify farmers to be interviewed

Jan 2021 – Jun 2021

1.4

Schedule and administer 45 interviews

Jan 2021 – Jun 2021

1.5

Transcription and analysis of interview results

Jan 2021 – Aug 2021

1.6

Review of interview Results

Sep 2021

1.7

Development of resource evaluation parameters and prioritization

Apr 2021 – Jun 2021

 

 

 

Objective 2

Aggregation and evaluation of existing materials on farm financial and mental health crisis

 

2.1

Aggregation of existing materials

Apr 2020 – Dec 2020

2.2

Identification of materials for evaluation

Apr – Jun 2020

2.3

Review of materials based on developed evaluation parameters and priorities

Jul 2021 – Sep 2021

2.4

Identification of appropriate materials, and prioritization of materials for adaptation or development

Oct 2021

2.5

Adaptation or development of materials

Oct 2021 – Dec 2021

 

 

 

Objective 3

Testing of identified, adapted, developed materials

 

3.1

Focus group with farm families from interviews

Jul – Aug 2021

3.2

Focus group with direct service providers

Jul – Aug 2021

3.3

Analysis of Focus group results

Aug – Sep 2021

3.4

Revision and re-prioritization of materials

Sep – Nov 2021

 

 

 

Objective 4

Dissemination of results of interviews and focus groups

 

4.1

Development of paper for peer-reviewed journal

Aug 2021- Oct 2021

4.2

Development of project report of findings for agricultural advisors

Jan 2021 – Mar 2022

4.3

Development of project report of findings for agricultural attorneys

Jan 2021 – Mar 2022

4.4

Development of project report of findings for mental health practitioners

Jan 2021 – Mar 2022

4.5

CLE Presentation to NC Bar Association, American Agricultural Law Association

Nov 2021

4.6

Presentation to National Farm Viability Conference for agricultural financial advisors

Oct 2021

4.7

Presentations to farmer groups including NC Commodity Association meetings, the NC Small Farmer & Minority Land Owners Annual meeting, Southern Farm Show, Farm Progress Show, USDA 2501 program-related events, and the NC Sustainable Agriculture Conference.

Nov 2021 – Mar 2022

 

 

 

Objective 5

Dissemination of Identified, adapted or developed materials

 

5.1

Posting of materials on ATTRA web site

Jan 2022

5.2

Posting of Materials on partner websites

Jan 2022 – Mar 2022

5.3

Presentation to Nottoway tribe members

Jan 2022

5.4

Use of materials in direct service assistance to farmers in crisis

Jan 2022 – Mar 2022

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Martha Calderon - Producer
  • Leroy Hardy - Producer
  • Russ Vollmer - Producer
  • Stephan Walker - Producer
  • Dorathy Barker - Producer

Research

Materials and methods:
  • Project Design: A research team working in conjunction with farmer collaborators is developing a list of possible farmer participants. Farmer collaborators are establishing trust ties and contact with participants. A purposive sample of 45 NC, SC or VA  farmers who have experienced farm financial crisis will be recruited through RAFI-USA, and other members of the leadership team. 15 White farmers, 15 Black farmers, and 15 Native American farmers will be surveyed and interviewed. Farmers will be contacted via phone to screen and schedule interviews. Interviews will be recorded through Zoom, and farmers will connect to the Zoom via phone or internet. Interviews will be transcribed for data analysis. All research procedures are approved by the NCSU IRB. 
  • Materials and methods: The project involves a mixed-method design, collecting quantitative survey data and qualitative interview data. The quantitative survey involves both screener questions and a battery of questions to ascertain race, land ownership, type of farm, current resource sources, and financial and mental health challenges. Quantitative data will be analyzed based on descriptives and basic statistical analyses. The qualitative interview protocol is semi-structured with 4 sections: farmer background, what happened during fiscal crisis, resources to confront crisis, and post-crisis reflection. Transcripts from interviews will be uploaded and coded in Dedoose. We are employing a flexible coding schema with 40 codes across a set of coding categories, analyzing for convergence and divergence across racial groupings in terms of resources for addressing fiscal crisis and mental health challenges. 

 

 

 

Research results and discussion:

Participant interviews continue to be conducted through June 2021. To date, 10 interviews have been completed. We are on track to have completed the remaining by June 30, 2021. Qualitative data Results will be coded and analyzed now through Fall 2021. Quantitative data will be inputted and analyzed through Fall 2021. At that time research results will be written for publication in academic and professional journals and websites. Currently, preliminary results are demonstrating the role of informal and formal networks as a key access point for resources, and their function as a resource for addressing mental health challenges. A scholarly paper, based on preliminary data, will be presented at the 2021 meetings of the Rural Sociological Society by two of the project’s participants (Smolski and Schulman).

The project is led by a leadership team comprised of 5 farmers and 2 collaborating organizations (Land Loss Prevention Project and National Center for Appropriate Technology). 

  • Results and discussion: 
    • Participant interviews continue to be conducted through June 2021. To date, 10 interviews have been completed. We are on track to have completed the remaining by June 30, 2021.Qualitative data Results will be coded and analyzed now through Fall 2021. Quantitative data will be inputted and analyzed through Fall 2021. At that time research results will be written for publication in academic and professional journals and websites. Currently, preliminary results are demonstrating the role of informal and formal networks as a key access point for resources, and their function as a resource for addressing mental health challenges. A scholarly paper, based on preliminary data, will be presented at the 2021 meetings of the Rural Sociological Society by two of the project’s participants (Smolski and Schulman)

The project will be led by a leadership team comprised of 5 farmers and 2 collaborating organizations (Land Loss Prevention Project and National Center for Appropriate Technology).  Note that NC Agromedicine Institute (NCAI) was initially on board as a partner organization. However, Robin Tutor-Markam of NCAI has had to shift her role from representing NCAI as a project subaward  to serving as an advisor. She continues to be deeply committed to the project, and has been instrumental in pulling together a highly skilled team to provide some of the research functions.  

 

Participation Summary
10 Farmers participating in research

Educational & Outreach Activities

4 Online trainings
3 Webinars / talks / presentations

Participation Summary

328 Farmers
36 Ag professionals participated
Education/outreach description:

This project is ongoing; production of educational materials and dissemination related outreach activities will  begin in Fall of 2021, during which materials such as factsheets, trainings (many likely online due to the pandemic), published articles, webinars or workshops, and a website. 

During the first year of the project, through a project description on RAFI-USA’s website and through continuing engagement with stakeholders, we have been identified as a go-to resource for information on farmer mental health and farm stress. In Spring of 2022, the project team participated in 3 online trainings on fiscal trauma. In Summer 2020 the Research Team working group completed IRB required training.  In July of 2020 we hosted a webinar called “The Trauma of Betrayal in Farm Loss” and gave presentations in November 2020 on farmer stress and mental wellness at Prairie View A&M University’s Civil Equality for Minority Farmers Conference. In October 2020 we facilitated a webinar on the role of the Black church in promoting mental health in rural communities as a part of a NC Work Group for Preventing Suicide in Rural Faith Communities. Feedback from farmers / farm families, agricultural services providers and other attendees across the southern region and across the country affirmed the need for this project.

Learning Outcomes

5 Farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness as a result of their participation

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

Sustainable farm management requires clear information management and decision-making. Sustainable agriculture often substitutes information management and knowledge for the use of chemical or other inputs, such as monitoring of pest/predator dynamics or emergence of new market opportunities. In extreme stress, farmers are unable to access and process this information and make clear, appropriate decisions. By providing information designed for the moment of crisis, and designed for how farmers in crisis can access and process information, to assist them in addressing the crisis situation in a holistic way, addressing financial and mental health issues in concert, this project will increase the ability of producers to act in ways that improve the financial, environmental and social outcomes of their farms.

Moments of financial crisis can lead to positive transitions toward sustainable production and marketing, but severe stress often results in decisions with negative, even catastrophic medium or long term impacts on the farm or family. While farmer suicide is the most drastic, negative decisions can include investment in high-risk enterprises, dangerous work practices, self medication or other destructive actions.

Financial crisis, whether driven by economic conditions or natural disasters, can be an important moment of change for farm families. This project contributes to future farm sustainability by creating culturally appropriate and trauma sensitive resources to farmers who may see no way forward in their farm operation. The materials developed through this project will provide the resources needed to farmers and those who deliver services to farmers that may preserve the well-being of farmers and the viability of their farms. 

Farmers who have options, access to information, and support can access higher-value markets, innovate lower-input production, tap into direct or local markets and achieve other steps toward increased financial, environmental and social sustainability. However, critical to positive outcomes is addressing the underlying drivers of financial and mental health crisis that limit the ability of the farmer and farm family to process information, envision a positive future and make positive, well-considered decisions.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.