This article first ran in the Traverse City Record-Eagle Ag Forum.
Above photo: Farmers face many challenges, and you can help simply by purchasing local food. (Photo by Dan Meyers)
Local farms are a staple of the community, and they enrich Michigan’s environment, economy, and community. Each day, Michigan farmers work tirelessly to ensure their produce, crops, and ani
mals are healthy. Taking care of expansive properties, animals, and crops is a difficult task, and the mental health aspect of such responsibilities is not fully appreciated or dealt with, resulting in increased levels of farm stress throughout Michigan.
Farm stress is the accumulation of stressors that farmers face, resulting in higher rates of mental health issues and even suicide among farmers. Some of these stressors include changing trade policies, loss of farmland, unpredictable weather, increased costs, and more. (Imagine if your family income was suddenly at great risk just because a heavy frost happened to arrive while cherry blossoms are budding.)
To help combat the issue of farm stress in our community, we must bring mental and behavioral health providers into the conversation surrounding farmers and farm stress. Groundwork has been working to ensure that behavioral health professionals are engaged in culinary medicine work and understand the influence of food on our physical and mental health. Culinary medicine aims to blend cooking and food with the science of medicine to help prevent mental health issues and disease. Farmers can be better supported and helped by behavioral and mental health professionals through increased awareness about farm stress.
In addition to increased conversations about farm stress with our behavioral health professionals, community members also can help make a difference for local farmers. Local food systems help to connect food producers and consumers, allowing for increased direct-to-customer sales. Some examples of local food systems would be the Sara Hardy Downtown Farmers Market Farmers or farm to school programs. Local food system programs such as farmers markets and others directly support farmers and allow for increased local sales, helping to alleviate some of the financial stress farmers face. Increased support at farmers markets also keeps food dollars in the local economy and circulating through local businesses.
In addition, supporting local farmers has direct benefits to the environment and the economy. Local farms often have reduced greenhouse gas emissions and high animal welfare standards.
Farmers are valued members of the community and should be supported by both community members and the healthcare system—continued support and discussions about mental health are vital. When we work to alleviate the stressors that farmers endure, stronger and more resilient communities become built in the process.
Farm stress serves as a clear example of how mental health, nutrition, and agriculture are all interconnected and influence farmers and the broader Michigan community. Increased education about the intersection of nutrition and behavioral health will have far-reaching and positive effects for the future of Northern Michigan and our local farmers in combating farm stress.
Kirsten Berkey is entering her senior year at Michigan State University, where she studies in the James Madison program and is double majoring in Social Relations and Policy and Comparative Cultures and Politics. Kirsten is also in the Honors College at Michigan State University. Kirsten has worked as a student assistant for Dru Montri, Director of Government and Stakeholder Relations, for the past four years and received a nomination for the 2021 MSU Student Employee of the Year Award in that position. During her time working at MSU, Kirsten has helped support the university’s efforts to combat farm stress through increased conversations with state legislators and projects aimed to increase awareness around the intersection of agriculture and mental health. [email protected]