“How are you really doing?”: Social Sustainability of Beginning Farmers

Project Overview

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2020: $14,797.00
Projected End Date: 08/31/2022
Grant Recipients: The Ohio State University College of Social Work; The Ohio State University College of Social Work
Region: North Central
State: Ohio
Graduate Student:
Faculty Advisor:
Michelle Kaiser
The Ohio State University College of Social Work


No commodities identified


No practices identified

Proposal abstract:

“How are you really doing?”: Social Sustainability of Beginning Farmers is a two-year project focused on conducting a needs assessment and two community asset maps related to mental health, social supports, and external stressors of beginning Ohio farmers. The combination of a needs assessment and asset map approach will allow us to consider systemic issues in beginning farming that contribute to stress. Social sustainability is one aspect of sustainable development and focuses on the social well-being of a community (e.g., a place or a profession like farming). Social, economic, and environmental sustainability can work together to achieve equitable, viable, and quality standards of living. The project will be implemented by a graduate student during an internship with the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA) under the supervision of Ohio State University’s College of Social Work (OSU CSW).

The needs assessment will involve 500 OEFFA participants and 27 graduates of their Heartland Farm Beginnings training and support program. We will administer an email survey of validated measurement tools to assess farmer stress and related factors, followed by in-depth semi-structured interviews with 15-20 beginning farmers. Farmer input will drive the project process through meetings with OEFFA’s Begin Farming Advisory Council (BF Council) and the engagement of two beginning farmer key informants as project consultants.

Findings from the needs assessment and asset maps will inform resource development during the second year, with the input of farmer key informants. Depending on findings, efforts may include enhancing existing sources, improving mental health literacy or self-efficacy, or possibly developing new resources to meet the unique mental health and stress management needs of beginning farmers. Resources will be piloted and evaluated at key events such as OEFFA’s Heartland Farm Beginnings program, and OEFFA’s annual conference. For individuals who participate in intervention activities, pre-and-post-assessment methods will be used to measure effectiveness.

As a result of the project, mental health needs and assets will be identified among the beginning farmer community in Ohio, and awareness of farmer mental health will be bolstered. Resources will be compiled to benefit beginning farmer mental health. Farmers will gain coping skills and increased knowledge of available resources. Project findings and policy recommendations that support the social sustainability of beginning farmers will be disseminated through OEFFA and the Ohio Food Policy Network (OFPN). Most importantly, farmers will experience improved quality of life that boosts productivity, profitability, and sustainability.

Project objectives from proposal:

We expect a variety of both learning and action outcomes. By the end of Y1 (year 1), we will have identified the mental health needs of beginning farmers in Ohio, including the prevalence of anxiety, depression and high stress levels, and the contributing factors (LO1). We will have identified assets that contribute to the well-being and sustainability of beginning Ohio farmers including social networks and organizational resources in their communities (LO2). Through relationship-building and outreach, we will have increased awareness about mental health among beginning farmers in Ohio (LO3).

In Y2, as a result of the development (AO1) and dissemination of resources (AO2), farmers will have increased knowledge of mental health resources available (LO3). Through participation in outreach workshops, farmers will gain coping skills such as stress management (AO3). Farmers will experience an improved quality of life (AO4). Project findings and resources will be disseminated, nationally, to catalyze work that supports farmer mental health (AO5). New collaborations will be formed between OEFFA, OSU CSW and beginning farmers in Ohio (AO6). Project findings will be used to leverage future funding opportunities for continued work in this arena (AO7).

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.