Navigating Financial and Mental Health Crises

Final report for LS20-336

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2020: $299,959.00
Projected End Date: 09/30/2022
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:
Savi Horne
Land Loss Prevention Project
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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 1

Identify specific information and information delivery needs of farmers in crisis



Literature review on financial crisis effects on mental health

Apr - Jun 2020


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


Identify farmers to be interviewed

Jan 2021 - Jun 2021


Schedule and administer 45 interviews

Jan 2021 - Jun 2021


Transcription and analysis of interview results

Jan 2021 - Aug 2021


Review of interview Results

Sep 2021


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



Aggregation of existing materials

Apr 2020 - Dec 2020


Identification of materials for evaluation

Apr - Jun 2020


Review of materials based on developed evaluation parameters and priorities

Jul 2021 - Sep 2021


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

Oct 2021


Adaptation or development of materials

Oct 2021 - Dec 2021




Objective 3

Testing of identified, adapted, developed materials



Focus group with farm families from interviews

Jul - Aug 2021


Focus group with direct service providers

Jul - Aug 2021


Analysis of Focus group results

Aug - Sep 2021


Revision and re-prioritization of materials

Sep - Nov 2021




Objective 4

Dissemination of results of interviews and focus groups



Development of paper for peer-reviewed journal

Aug 2021- Oct 2021


Development of project report of findings for agricultural advisors

Jan 2021 - Mar 2022


Development of project report of findings for agricultural attorneys

Jan 2021 - Mar 2022


Development of project report of findings for mental health practitioners

Jan 2021 - Mar 2022


CLE Presentation to NC Bar Association, American Agricultural Law Association

Nov 2021


Presentation to National Farm Viability Conference for agricultural financial advisors

Oct 2021


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



Posting of materials on ATTRA web site

Jan 2022


Posting of Materials on partner websites

Jan 2022 - Mar 2022


Presentation to Nottoway tribe members

Jan 2022


Use of materials in direct service assistance to farmers in crisis

Jan 2022 - Mar 2022


Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • Martha Calderon - Producer
  • Leroy Hardy - Producer
  • Russ Vollmer - Producer
  • Stephan Walker - Producer
  • Dorathy Barker - Producer


Materials and methods:

Project Design:

  • The research team solicited participation from 57 potential farmer informants. Eight did not meet the selection criteria, 19 did not respond or decided not to participate. We did not complete interviews with Native American farmers due to several challenges encountered with outreach and recruitment that have been outlined in a previous report and within the final data report. 
  • The research team successfully completed 30 interviews with farmers in NC, SC, and VA who experienced farm financial crises. This included 15 White farmers and 15 Black farmers. The interviews were conducted and recorded over Zoom or phone. Interviews were transcribed for data analysis and all research procedures were approved by the NCSU IRB. 
  • The research team successfully completed 2 focus groups with Black and White farmers from NC, SC, and VA. The focus groups were conducted and recorded over Zoom or phone. Focus groups were transcribed for data analysis and all research procedures were approved by the NCSU IRB.

Materials and Methods:

  • The project involved a mixed-method design, collecting quantitative survey data and qualitative interview data. The quantitative survey involved 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 was analyzed based on descriptives and basic statistical analyses. The qualitative interview protocol was semi-structured with 4 sections: farmer background, what happened during fiscal crisis, resources to confront crisis, and post-crisis reflection. A focus group protocol was developed based upon preliminary results with questions on farm stress and economic hardship in their community and how farmers navigate those challenges, what organizations they trust with these challenges, use of the internet to access resources, role of farmer-to-farmer networks, and what they would like to say to the USDA. 
  • Data analysis was conducted using descriptive statistics outputted with STATA and the development of a resource feedback spreadsheet. The data analysis resulted in the final data report, “Farmers’ Perceptions of Information and Resources Navigating Economic Hardship and Stress.” The report included a description of project background, methodology, results, summative recommendations, farmer interview screening questions, interview questions, as well as selected graphs. In addition to the final data report, the project team also created the following materials:
    • a community report infographic based on major findings and recommendations of the study
    • a two-page legal accompaniment to the data report regarding deeds
    • a podcast produced by NCAT summarizing the study and major findings
    • a blog post produced by NCAT on the role of alleviating farm stress as a support for farmer productivity 
    • a new NCAT webpage, “Farmer Wellbeing”, that includes an interactive map of farmer stress and wellbeing service providers across the country as well as all the SARE project developed materials listed above
  • Currently, Black farmer transcripts from interviews are uploaded and being coded in Dedoose. We are employing a thematic coding schema with 11 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:

Through the analysis of the qualitative and quantitative interview data of 30 farmers who have experienced financial crisis, the project research team developed a data report that outlines the major results and recommendations. Here is a summary of the major results and findings based on the project objectives:

Objective 1 Identify specific information and information delivery needs of farmers in crisis 

  • The project team developed a set of quantitative and qualitative interview questions based on a shared understanding of farm financial stress and mental health crisis The project team identified, screened, and interviewed 30 farmers over the course of the project. The results were analyzed and compiled in a final data report.
  • The recommendations point toward collaboration between organizations, importance of farmer-to-farmer, the role of farm service providers as facilitators, and culturally-relevant resources as key ways to support farmers navigate farm stress and economic hardship.

Objective 2 Aggregation and evaluation of existing materials on farm financial and mental health crisis 

  • The project team reviewed existing materials on farm financial and mental health crises. However, a major finding of the farmer interviews was that farmer-to-farmer or farmer-to-farmer service providers were much more valued resources for those experiencing financial and mental health stress. Therefore the original intent of identifying and adapting existing resources to be more useful to farmers did not prove to be as relevant as anticipated.
  • Based in part on the results of this project, the Southern Ag Exchange Network and FR-SAN NC are expanding what services are included in their resource directories to include financial and legal resources. Therefore, the work this project began continues in the Southern region. 

Objective 3 Testing of identified, adapted, developed materials

  • The development of an evaluation framework based on report recommendations is currently ongoing in conjunction with the aforementioned development of a resource directory. This framework, derived in part from work on this project, will be employed to understand the current state of farm service provision. After that step, it will then become possible to develop evidence-based materials for supporting farmers to navigate farm stress and economic hardship. 

Objective 4 Dissemination of results of interviews and focus groups

  • In August 2022 the project team completed the final data report published by NCAT on the “Farmer Well Being” website. 
  • Thus far the project results have been shared at the following events and conferences:
    • July 2021 ‘Black Farmer Survival: Navigating Hardships to Achieve Resilience’ Presentation at the Annual Meeting of the Rural Sociological Society, Virtual
    • November 2021 ‘Navigating Financial and Mental Crises’ Presentation at the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association Annual Conference with Laketa Smith, Robin Tutor-Marcom, Dorathy Barker, Diamond Bynum, Leroy Hardy, and Scott Marlow, Virtual
    • January 2022 ‘Black Farmer Survival: Navigating Hardships to Achieve Resilience’ Presentation at the Operation Spring Plant Annual Conference, Raleigh, NC
    • February 2022 ‘Working With the Community for Equity Based Research in the Sociology of Agriculture’ Presentation at the NCSU Equity Research Symposium, Virtual
    • March 2022 ‘Navigating Farm Financial Stress & Mental Health Crises’ Presentation at the Rural Advancement Foundation International Come to the Table Conference, Virtual With Laketa Smith, Robin Tutor-Marcom, and Diamond Bynum
    • May 2022 ‘Black Farmer Survival: Navigating Hardships to Achieve Resilience’ Presentation at the Joint Annual Meeting of Agriculture, Food, and Human Values and the Association for the Study of Food and Society, Athens, GA
    • May 2022 ‘Black Farmer Survival: Navigating Hardships to Achieve Resilience’ Presentation at the South Carolina State University Beginning, Farmers, Ranchers, and Veterans Conference, Virtual
    • August 2022 ‘The Power of Bridging and Bonding: Black Farmers in the Southeastern US’ Presentation at the Annual Meeting of the Rural Sociological Society, Westminster, CO 
    • September 2022 ‘Black Farmer Livelihood Strategies to Mediate Financial and Emotional Stress’ Webinar for Virginia Tech’s Center for Food Systems and Community Transformation 
  • Based on the data report, some of the key results included:
    • Measures of long and short term financial and emotional stressors showed a range of responses and differences by race of the farmer informant. For Black farmer informants, responses revealed a consciousness of the history of discrimination against family members in or Black farmers in general. White farmers tended to have higher scores than Black farmers on questions measuring stress and economic hardship and they discussed feeling excluded from support resources because they were small-scale family farmers.
    • Delivery of information directly from fellow farmers, family, and church were reported as preferred sources, especially about stress management. Responses to questions about preferences for resources and information on farming practices, farm finances, household finances, and stress management showed a mixture of positive and negative feedback about government and community organizations, and lower perceived access to financial and mental health services. The data also showed some race-based differentiation in how certain information sources are used and accessed. 
  • Based on the data report, some of the key recommendations included:
    • Teams-based and networking existing organizations: Attempt to  operate as teams and form networks that rely on existing strengths to reinforce overall service provision.
    • Expansion of financial and mental health services: Results from this study point toward a need to expand financial and mental health services for small-scale family farmers and their households.
    • Facilitation and translation: Resource providers play an important role as facilitators and translators of information for farmers.
    • Recognizing positionality: Farmers have different historical and contemporary experiences.
    • Farmer-to-farmer, faith-based, and community organizations: Results demonstrated a role for fellow farmers in providing information and resources for the problems confronting farm households.
    • Comprehensive toolbox: The farm is a complex organization integrating farming practices, farm finances, household finances, family relationships (male and female members of the farm household and division of labor), and legal rules and regulations.
  • Analysis of the data is ongoing, with a manuscript currently under development on the role of a Black Agrarian frame in the livelihood strategies Black farmer informants relied on to navigate farm stress and economic hardship. Other publications are also planned, such as a comparative article of frames and livelihood strategies. 

Objective 5 Dissemination of Identified, adapted or developed materials

  • All materials produced through this project have been added to a new webpage on NCAT ATTRA’s website, “Farmer Wellbeing”. The data report and community report infographic will also be made available on RAFI-USA’s website and available for farmers and farmer service providers to access.


Participation Summary
30 Farmers participating in research


Educational approach:

Based on the approved IRB protocol and community-engaged design of the project, the goal was to provide all farmers in the study with information about accessing mental health sources, as well as refer them to other resources if requests occurred. This led to farmers being connected with mental health, financial, and legal resources to support them. As such, the project operated as both research and outreach.

Educational & Outreach Activities

2 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
1 Journal articles
4 Online trainings
3 Webinars / talks / presentations
2 Other educational activities: Podcast episode and blog post summarizing project study and results

Participation Summary:

328 Farmers participated
36 Ag professionals participated
Education/outreach description:

The project is completed. The following is a description of outreach activities that were completed over the course of the project. 

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. In January 2022, the project team presented preliminary project results to Operation Spring Plant. In Spring of 2022, the project team participated in 3 online trainings on fiscal trauma. In August of 2022, members of the project team recorded and released a podcast episode summarizing the big takeaways and lessons learned from the project. In September 2022, members of the project team presented a webinar on Black farmer livelihood strategies for Virginia Tech’s Center for Food Systems and Community Transformation. 

Feedback from all the outreach activities from farmers / farm families, agricultural services providers and other attendees affirmed the need for this project. This has made the project an important networking tool, connecting team members with other organizations working on farm stress. 

Learning Outcomes

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

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

An overall goal of agricultural sustainability is to ensure that farmers remain farming on their land. And while one side of this project focused on how financial and financially-caused mental health crises can cause severe stress, loss of farmland, or (in the worst case) loss of life, the other side of this project focused on what resources, information, or support will help a farmer successfully navigate a crisis. Making it to the other side of a financial or mental health crisis not only can result in a farmer staying on the land. Financial crises can also be an important moment of change for farm families and can lead to positive transitions toward sustainable production and marketing. 

The project outcomes may also have significant impacts on economic and social sustainability. One major finding from the project was that farmers preferred receiving information from fellow farmers, family, or faith communities. This led to our recommendation of identifying and resourcing existing farmer-to-farmer networks and farmer-led community-based organizations to provide social support for improving farmers’ wellbeing. 

Severe stress caused by financial or mental health crises can also make it much more difficult for farmers to make sound financial or business decisions that impact the economic sustainability of their operation. Our recommendation to address this includes more team-based networking of existing resource providers that can address the comprehensive practices, finances, family relationship dynamics, legal concerns, and regulations that contribute to a farm’s economic sustainability. No single organization or service provider can take it upon themselves to provide all the resources and information a farmer may need. Therefore existing service providers must overcome segmented and siloed service provision to give farmers the comprehensive support required.

 Through an internal evaluation of the project team, 100% of respondents agreed that if the recommendations of the project were implemented, it would help farmers move beyond financial and mental health crises.


Based on the internal evaluation, the project team had two major recommendations if the project was continued. The first recommendation was to increase the number of farmer informants. And the second was to recruit a broader response from racial and ethnic groups, specifically Native American and Latinx farmers.

Information Products

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.