EASTON, Dad. – The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture has 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 farmers’ mental health or recognize if a loved one is facing a potential crisis.
Emmaus farmer Kegan Hilaire says it is a critical time to talk about farmers’ mental health.
“They call it the ‘July blues’ in agriculture, where everything is harvested, everything is planted, everything is prepared for fall, the first weed,” says Hilaire, who is also a consultant at the Rodale Institute. “So everything on the farm is more difficult now.”
There are stressful decisions, coupled with no control over the weather or changing prices.
“A lot of hours on a tractor. A lot of time away from family,” said Landis Zimmerman, a farmer in Bradford County. “It can really wear you out.”
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 someone with training and experience in agriculture.
“They know what the problems are, so you talk to a friend,” said Shannon Powers, the press secretary for the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture. “We get calls from farmers, from their neighbors, from relatives.”
“What I see is that most of it comes from farmers who are in debt,” says Dr. Drew Smith, the COO of the Rodale Institute and a farmer in Montgomery County.
Smith says going organic reduces factors beyond your control, which can be helpful for the mind.
“All of our research… shows that organic systems are more profitable than conventional systems, and so we think organic farming is a possible solution to the depression and in many cases leads to suicide in the farming community,” Smith said.
Most farmers agree that it is essential to have a network to discuss the issues they face.
“You’re having a bad day harvesting lettuce, call me while you’re washing and I’m probably having a rough day harvesting zucchini,” Hilaire said.
Powers says there’s an opportunity to connect in a few weeks; Ag Progress Days in Penn State is a huge event with farmers from all over PA.