Remembering a Young Farmer: From Loss to Action with the Washington Young Farmers Coalition


Warning: This episode deals with topics surrounding suicide, and may not be appropriate for all audiences.

Suicide rates among farmers and farm workers are higher than in any other occupation in the United States. We start this two-part series with the story of Justin McClane, a founding member of the Washington chapter of the National Young Farmers Coalition, who we lost to suicide in 2017.

Our hope is that by telling Justin’s story, and sharing the powerful organizing his community of young farmers in Washington State launched in response to his death, we can contribute to the effort to break down the stigma around mental and behavioral health, inspire policy change, and grow support for programs addressing the farmer mental health crisis in this country.

If you are in crisis, please call the National Suicide Hotline at (800) 273-TALK (8255).
You can also speak with someone directly at the Farm Aid Hotline at (800) FARM-AID (327-6243).

For further resources, please visit:

NFU’s webpage.

Sowing the Seeds of Mental Health-Seattle Weekly

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/dec/06/why-are-americas-farmers-killing-themselves-in-record-numbers

http://www.washingtonyoungfarmers.org/political/hb-2671/

 

Part 1 Episode Transcript

Caitlin: This episode deals with topics surrounding suicide, so it might not be appropriate for all audiences.

Lindsey: Today we are bringing you part one of a two part series addressing farmer behavioral and mental health. We’re starting with a story of Justin McClane, a young farmer and founding member of the Washington state chapter of the National Young Farmers Coalition who we lost to suicide in May, 2017. Caitlin Arnold. Now our National Chapter Coordinator was a friend of Justin’s and she is helping to tell the story. At Young Farmers, we celebrate the successes of our members and all farmers, but we also know that life and farming can be really tough. We want to tell the story for a couple of reasons. Suicide rates among farmers and farm workers are higher than in any other profession in the United States. One and a half to two times higher than in the general population in many states, according to CDC data. We wanted to address these sobering facts as a community. Talking about it is so important and we also wanted to talk about what came after Justine’s death. The Washington State Young Farmers Coalition worked with their state legislators to pass a bill that will help farmers receive the counseling and support services that they need. This is a hard story, but it’s also a love story and a community story. We hope that it will spark discussion, action, and that it will encourage all of us to check in with each other more.

Speaker 1: This is the Young Farmers podcast. I’m Lindsey Lusher Shute.

Caitlin: And I’m Caitlin Arnold.

Lindsey: Welcome Caitlin. You are a National Chapter Coordinator.

Caitlin: It’s true. I am.

Lindsey: So, before you worked with us, you actually helped organize the Western chapter, the first chapter of the National Young Farmers Coalition, the Washington Young Farmers Coalition, the WAY FC.

Caitlin: I did. The chapter started in 2010, right around the time that NYFC was forming and I got involved with the chapter in 2012.

Lindsey: And you were also farming in Washington state. What was your farm like there?

Caitlin: My last farm was my own farm business and it was in a very rural part of Washington and I grew two acres of vegetables and flowers using draft horses as our main source of power.

Lindsey: So, Caitlin, why did WAY FC, Washington Young Farmers Coalition, like why, why was that so important? What was that like?

Caitlin: So the founding members of the chapter, Chandler Briggs, Tierney Creech, Brian Estes, and Justin McClane, which are just a few, there’s definitely others. All got together in 2010 and decided they wanted to do a young farmer mixer. So they managed to pull off this huge party, had a ton of food. They cooked all the food I think. And I think around 200 people showed up that first year.

Lindsey: And, and what was that community like?

Caitlin: So our farm community in Washington is just really tight knit. We wanted a way to support each other in our farming ventures, have time to socialize and get off the farm, work on state policy and federal policy along with NYFC, and mostly just hang out together as farmers.

Lindsey: When did you first meet Justin? Was that through the coalition?

Caitlin: It was. I first met Justin in 2012. He was very tall, and handsome, and I just remember realizing how talented he was. He was a woodworker as well as a farmer. So his off farm jobs tended to be in carpentry and woodworking. I recently spoke with Tierney and Brian about Justin.

Tierney: I remember specifically that I met him that night before the next year and we were roasting peppers together for some salad or something. But we’re just like standing over by these gas stove roasting peppers for a long time.

Speaker 5: You know, he was somebody that I also got to see, you know, multiple times a year and spend really quality time with every time the opportunity came up, whether it was at a mixer or…

Caitlin: Well on so many times you guys would be like roasting a giant pig, which takes 18 hours.

Brian: Yeah.

Caitlin: And sitting around a fire.

Brian: There’s, you know, I very much associate time spent with him and this kind of like ritualized space, and a repetitive space where yeah, I can pretty much only, you know, picture him standing within 10 feet of an open pit fire and like some large piece of animal protein skewered somewhere.

Caitlin: I don’t know, I just, when I think about him or think about describing him, I just feel like he was always ready and willing to help out his friends and his, and especially like his farmer friends. Even though he, even though he was busy and had so much he needed to be doing too.

Tierney: Yeah, he was always just quietly doing what needed to be done in the background,

Brian: Like being in his presence and his company was just always so calming and like just right there, Justin was so present.

Lindsey: So you moved to New York to work with Young Farmers Coalition and this was in fact around the same time that you found out about Justin?

Caitlin: Yeah, I moved. So I moved all the way across the country from Washington state in 2017, in April. So it was a little over a month after I moved to New York. When I found out it was kind of the last thing I was, I mean, I don’t think you ever expect to lose someone that way, but yeah, it was like the last thing on my mind. I remember getting a message from another of our mutual friend saying they needed me to call them back.

Tierney: I think it was right around Mother’s Day as I was driving home from my grandma’s house. I always go and plant Geraniums in her window boxes.

Brian: Yeah. I was home in my kitchen or my living room and Chandler called.

Tierney: Somebody left a message on my phone and I listened to it and they just said, oh my gosh, I’m so, so sorry. I can’t believe we lost this person but they didn’t use his name.

Caitlin: I was in a totally new place where I didn’t know anyone and all my Washington friends were, you know, 3000 miles away but, yeah, I got that message and I just called back because, and I think I was driving and I was just like, “hey, what, are you okay?” You know, and my friend said “oh you haven’t heard” and i said “no, what’s going on?”

Brian: And he had encouraged me to sit down, and I went out and sat on our front, front step of our house has got a big stairway and I just went sat, sat on the stairs.

Tierney: So I got this message that was telling me that somebody had died and I didn’t know who it was. And so I called them right back, but I didn’t get ahold of them right away. It was a minute of just like running through my head, all of the possibilities.

Caitlin: And she said, you know, Justin died. And I just remember, I was in a parking lot. I was like driving in a parking lot. I pulled over and was just like, “What? No, you have? What do you mean?” You know? And Yeah, after we got off the phone, I just felt, yeah. So just a feeling of like shock and sadness and then like this extreme like loneliness, also.

Tierney: And he, that wasn’t what I was expecting at all. It was not one of the possibilities that I had thought through. I’m not really sure what to do.

Brian: I think I just felt really far away. Far away from Justin, far away from Chandler, even though you know I could see his face on the phone right there. And, and that, the amount of time that had elapsed since we’d, I’d seen Justin or anybody else involved with the chapter hadn’t been particularly long or anything, but it just, the distance that is there, and had been there, just became very keen.

Caitlin: And I just remember feeling like I had never felt so far from community, you know, and yeah, Washington’s a huge state, we were always spread out, but we could drive to each other. And for the first time I was like, not in driving distance of anybody that I knew. And just the, I remember just the feeling of like, how, how did we not see this or know, this, you know?

Brian: It seemed clear to me that there were things that he had envisioned and dreamed of and then set about on that had not, and were not going according to plan, and without a clear like, you know, here’s what plan B looks like. I think the other thing that I, you know, to be honest, I thought about this. I put myself in his shoes and I don’t know how similarly or different he felt this, but going out to his place was how far away from like the rest of the world the farm felt, you know, pretty sure I had the thought of like, I could not farm out here. I would not make it.

Caitlin: And I think that’s a common theme in the sense that like, like where I was farming at that same time felt so far away and it was marginal farmland. But in a place like Washington state where land prices are so high, like that is where we could afford to farm. And like Justin’s farm was where he could afford.

Lindsey: And what I know of it, Justin was like most farmers. And he was balancing running his own farm and working off farm at the same time. Yeah, he worked full time off the farm actually. And, you know, farmed in the hours before and after work.

Tierney: I know that I would get out to that end of the valley at least every other week and I would trade eggs for vegetables for him ’cause he hadn’t had time to do a big garden that year. But he also had a day job and so I would usually miss him and he was leaving giant bowl of eggs on the, on the bench, on the porch. And I would put some in that container that I brought and gave him a bag of veggies. And I just, I always think about how I, I missed him so many times that winter before.

Caitlin: So after Jackson died, I reached out to his mom, Robin.

Robin: He wasn’t feeling right. Everything was kind of really sad.

Caitlin: Justin was dealing with a lot and she could tell everything was weighing on him. He had recently split from his wife and at that point was farming alone. He had lost his off farm job as a woodworker, plus his dog had died.

Robin: We have some funny, some fun parts of the conversation. I was calling him about his first concert, Peter, Paul and Mary and The Beach Boys. And so it was a really good conversation and I am so glad. The last, the last thing I said to him before we hung up was “I love you, Justin”. And he said, “I love you too, mom”.

Lindsey: I can’t quite imagine getting that news. And the thing that is striking about all of this is just like the Justin story is the story of so many farmers in our network. And I don’t, I don’t know where the line is where you know someone’s okay or they’re not okay, because their stories are the same. In looking back on this, Caitlin, I just wonder is there anything that you could think of where Justin’s story does seem any different? Like, is there, or do you feel like you just, there was a lot going on that you didn’t, you didn’t know at the time?

Caitlin: I think that we all knew, you know, something we have talked about as a chapter since, is that we all knew that Justin was struggling, but we all thought that he would pull through it and be okay. So I think that’s the difference is that like you just said, you never, how do you know if someone, like where is that line? And we were all, I mean we were all so shocked. This is not, it’s not like we expected him to commit suicide or it made sense know, even though we knew he was struggling, we never imagined, you know, Justin’s death really brought this issue into focus for me, and I think a lot of our chapter members. You know, the stress of farming is something many farmers share. And Tierney and I talked about how different this issue is for farmers than for people in other professions.

Tierney: Yeah, there are specific stressors. We usually, we’re financially strapped, we’re dependent on the weather, we work really long, exhausting hours. It’s hard to understand, exactly, if you haven’t done that yourself and there’s isolation.

Caitlin: Yeah, I think like farming with people is hard enough. So trying to do it by yourself, it’s just like a whole ‘nother level of challenge. You know, working all day and then coming home and trying to farm in the evening hours as it’s getting dark.

Brian: Farmers are folks who are so adept at solving their own problems and doing it with a straight face, even when it’s stressful, or difficult, or traumatizing. I think that we should always be asking ourselves, how our culture can grow in new and healthy ways. I think that just striving for a different approach to that sort of stoicism is probably one that we in agriculture should be challenging and supporting ourselves towards.

Tierney: And in some cases there is a land succession piece where like this was your grandparents’ farm, and you wouldn’t just be letting down yourself. You’d be letting down generations behind you and generations ahead of you, and that can feel really oppressive and scary. And then in general like farmers are seen as like really resilient, self sufficient people who can like hold themselves together, and I think that a lot of people take that on and don’t feel like reaching, that they’re the kind of people that can reach out easily and say, hey, I need a little bit of help. Or I like, I’m going to go downtown to see a counselor. That’s not always are our mode.

Caitlin: But the thing is, even if you do want to seek out a counselor, many farmers live in rural places and it can be hard to find help nearby or take time to see people who understand what you’re going through. My farm was in a very rural part of Washington and there was only one counselor for the whole county who would drive two hours from Seattle one day a week. The lack of social services combined with a culture that tends to value self reliance over seeking help means that creating resources that are accessible for farmers is all the more important. Justin’s death really motivated us to support each other more.

Lindsey: And this is part of why Washington Young Farmers Coalition helped to pass a bill in Washington state to support farmers dealing with these issues.

Caitlin: Yeah. And that’s what we’ll be talking about next week. We have seized work to support farmers on a statewide and national level.

Lindsey: What was it like to talk to Robin and your friends about Justin?

Caitlin: It was, it actually feels good to talk about him because I live in New York now. I don’t have anybody here that knew Justin. So I don’t actually get to talk about him very often. So being able to talk to the three of them about, about him and talk about memories feels good in a way to do. Also very emotionally hard as well. I have not really talked about the moment that I heard about Justin dying very often. I think maybe a couple times I’ve talked about it, but, it is not something that I have talked about very much. I think when someone commits suicide, it’s hard to, it’s hard for the people left behind to understand, even though we may know what he was dealing with, we may know what the last conversation with his mom was like for him, but we don’t, we can’t really understand like what was going through his mind that day. So I feel like I don’t understand it still, but I feel like I am more attuned to farmers’ struggles in general and I’m more attuned to my friends, and what they’re going through, and paying attention. It’s like what Robin told me on the phone, which was to make sure that we spend time with each other.

Robin: I understand how all encompassing, you know, farming work can be. And there’s a lot of, lot of things out there that make it difficult. And I just want to say lean on each other.

Lindsey: Caitlin, what would you say to another chapter? Another group of farmers looking to support one another.

Caitlin: I think you know, our chapters, a lot of our chapters form because they want more of a social network of farmers. Farmers can understand each other in a way that non farmers can’t. We always joke that it’s really hard to date non farmers when you’re a farmer because they just don’t understand some of the, you know, time constraints, and hours that we put in. So having that like strong network of other young farmers is a big reason why a lot of our chapters got started in the first place. So what I would tell other chapters is what something, you know, the Washington chapter has been talking about a lot since Justin died, is just we need to check in with each other more. We’ve been sending, the Washington chapter has been sending group text messages to each other since Justin died. You know, not very often, but just saying like, hey, thinking about all of you, love you guys. And that’s been a big help for all of us I think. And I’m hoping that by highlighting this we can start talking about this issue with young farmers now so that they’ll have the tools and resources that they need to help them see their way through.

Caitlin: Before we go, Is there anything else you want to say that we didn’t cover, or anything you want to mention that you were thinking about leading up to?

Brian: Oh, the only other thing just in getting to talking about Justin and my experience of getting a call from Chandler was, we had, I got married two summers ago now. So I was preparing to get married that spring, and we had asked Justin to cook a pig at our wedding. I just miss him a lot.

Caitlin: Me Too.

Lindsey: Caitlin, I just want to thank you for taking on this project of retelling Justin’s story ’cause I know, I imagine it’s not been easy in some of these moments. I’m hopeful that that this story will be useful for other chapters and the knowledge that they play such an important role as a community to help one another and support each other. Next week we will have the next installment of our series addressing farmer behavioral health and we’ll be talking about the Washington state and national legislation that supports it. If you yourself are experiencing a crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK or (800) 273-8255. This episode was recorded at Radio Kingston and was produced and edited by Hannah Beal.

 

Part 2 Episode Transcript

Speaker 1: This episode deals with topics surrounding suicide, so it might not be appropriate for all audiences.

Lindsey: Today, we are bringing you the second part of our series addressing farmer behavioral health. If you haven’t heard our previous episode from last week, please go back and listen. In the first installment, Caitlin spoke with her friends from the Washington Young Farmers Coalition about what it was like to lose Justin, and some of the specific emotional challenges that young farmers face. Today we are diving into resources and solutions about the importance of journalism, policy, and community, and taking action on this issue. This is the Young Farmers podcast. I’m Lindsey Lusher Shute.

Caitlin: And I’m Caitlin Arnold.

Lindsey: So Caitlin, you reached out to Debbie Weingarten, a journalist who wrote a Guardian piece on farmer suicides in December of 2017. When did you actually reach out to her?

Caitlin: I believe I reached out to Debbie right after her article came out and I said, “Hey Debbie, I just read your article and I really struck home for me. I lost a farmer friend to suicide”. You know, I basically was really honest and just said, I would just want to talk to you. And she got back to me right away and I was shocked. I’ve never reached out to a journalist before. And so I was like, “oh, she wrote me back”, you know, it was kind of exciting. And she was just very open and available and I believe we talked on the phone pretty quickly after that.

Lindsey: I recently spoke with Debbie. I’ve known her for a long time, since she was an organizer with the Young Farmers Coalition. When she started researching the issue of farmer suicide, she was a farmer and also experiencing a lot of stress

Debbie: As a farmer, I just could not figure out how we were going to save money for like emergencies or, you know, the truck breaking down, or sending our kids to college. And just felt extremely anxious about that. And on top of the farm stress, I was in an abusive marriage. I’m new mom. I was super sleep deprived. I felt really isolated and I kind of put my finger on and realized I’m pretty depressed and anxious right now. And I wonder if other farmers are too.

Lindsey: So she reached out to Doctor Rosmann, a psychologist who specializes in working with farmers. Eventually, he connected her to other farmers experiencing depression. They began talking. How long did it take to put this story together, altogether?

Debbie: So, I mean, from the time I started researching, while I was farming, it was five years.

Lindsey: But once the research was done, it was hard for Debbie to find someone to publish the article.

Debbie: I pitched and pitched and pitched this story to so many different outlets and it was rejected so many times. I think because you know, it’s a depressing topic, you know, or sort of this general feeling like, you know, who’s really farming anymore and like is this really relevant, do we really need to spend money and space to cover this story?

Lindsey: Finally, the Guardian and the Economic Hardship Reporting Project bought it. And the story was published in December, 2017.

Debbie: And you know, the story blew up.

Lindsey: The article went viral.

Caitlin: It did.

Lindsey: Do you remember first reading it?

Caitlin: I do remember reading it. I think I actually read the day it was published and it just hit home so hard because of losing Justin, you know, not that long before.

Lindsey: Caitlin remind me when Justin died?

Caitlin: In May of 2017.

Lindsey: So this was about six months after that?

Caitlin: Yeah. Do you, do you remember reading it?

Lindsey: I remember people sharing it on social media and I was so excited to know that Debbie had written it because I just immediately trusted that it was good journalism. So many of the stories out there are sensational or sort of miss, I don’t know, miss the point on some level, and the complexity of the issues and I was just really thankful that more people were learning about this, and sharing it and thinking about it. People that are not involved in our issues, and in agriculture at all. But Debbie was able to make them care.

Caitlin: When I read it, I did also feel this, I don’t know if excitement is the right word, but it was like, it was like an opening to talk about the issue in a really different way.

Lindsey: Yeah. I was also so grateful and excited that so many people were reading about this issue. It turns out that Washington State Representative Wilcox, after he read it, he got to work on writing a bill to address the problem and Tierney and Brian, our chapter leaders and and friends from Washington Young Farmers Coalition, they heard about representative Wilcox’s bill and they decided to organize around it.

Caitlin: Yeah, my friends Tierney and Brian, you know, heard about his bill and they wanted to get involved any way that they could.

Debbie: If we had seen this bill come up, I think for those of us who knew him, it was sort of an outlet in way to like put some of that energy and that like some of those feelings and like do something about it.

Caitlin: So even though the hearing for the bill was just a week after they found out about it, WA FC chapter members did their best to help get it passed. Was that your first time testifying for a bill?

Debbie: I think it was, yeah.

Caitlin: Lindsey, can you explain briefly about testifying for bills? Like what happens and why?

Lindsey: Yeah, absolutely. When there is a hearing for a law that’s under consideration, representatives that are working to pass the bill will organize a hearing to talk about its merits, like why it should be passed. It might not be lobbyists per se, but it’s individuals that are professionals in the field. They go to testify about why their groups want a certain bill to pass.

Caitlin: So what, yeah, just tell me what it was like.

Debbie: So we didn’t have a lot of notice when we heard this bill was coming up. And then until the morning of the hearing, I didn’t think that I was going to be able to testify in person, but basically I introduced myself and I kind of talked about my own experience as a farmer and my work with the Washington Young Farmers Coalition and the National Young Farmers Coalition, and then some of the stressors that farmers have. And then talked about how we had recently lost one of our founding members and so this issue is really close to home and we were putting a lot of our energy behind this bill.

Caitlin: And do you feel like since you were new and a different voice, do you feel like they really listened to you?

Debbie: Yeah, I do think that’s true. When you see that other people who lobby and testimony, and give testimony constantly, they do just like sit up there and they’re like “Madam Chairman and members of the committee, do do do do do…” that’s their job. You can tell that it is their job. Although I will also say that even the people who are in the Capitol a lot and were giving testimony for that bill, like the Washington State Grange Association and the, the Dairy Council, almost every one of those people could tell a story about a farmer in their organization that they had lost in the last couple of years to suicide. So it was still very personal to all of them.

Caitlin: The bill establishes a working group of mental health experts and farmers who will identify strategies to address mental health for farmers specifically, and also establishes a pilot crisis hotline.

Lindsey: So, in part thanks to Debbie’s article and Washington Young Farmers Coalition, the Washington Bill was passed in mid March, 2018.

Caitlin: You know, it was a unanimous vote and we didn’t expect that. We expected there would be somebody who would not want to vote for this. And I think we were all just surprised, you know. And just so it was like, wow, this is an example of this working. Like we, we put our support out there and it passed. It was a huge victory for farmers, but only in Washington state.

Lindsey: To understand this issue more broadly, I spoke with Matt Perdue, a former farmer and current Government Relations Director for the National Farmer’s Union.

Matt: When you look at the body of research from 1992 to today, you see that farmers and ranchers, and farm workers, have a much higher rate of suicide in the general population.

Lindsey: NFU doesn’t run a crisis hotline, but he has been receiving a lot of calls from farmers reaching out for help.

Matt: We’re obviously not set up to handle those calls and so are always, you know, eager to steer those folks in the right direction either for a state based network or for an organization like Farm Aid that really provides the expertise and the support that folks need in those times.

Lindsey: And one of the people that mad refers farmers too is this guy.

Joe: My name is Joe Schroeder and I am the farmer advocate that’s on me.

Lindsey: Joe’s often on the other end of the phone when a farmer calls for help and the number of phone calls he gets every month has been going up.

Joe: If it was 65 75 when I started about a year and a half ago, this past month, we answered 151 hotline calls. You have to pick up the phone. We’ve got to do what we can for folks, but we also have to get upstream and try to figure out how to keep these folks from, you know, falling off the waterfall, essentially.

Matt: When you look at other industries, you know, like everybody’s talked about the, you know, the downturn in the coal economy and what that’s meant for coal country. But when a coal plant or a coal mine closes, that’s 40, 50, a hundred people in a single community who’ve lost their jobs and who are all going through the same thing at the same time. When a farm fails, that’s often one individual who’s lost their job, and who has also lost their lifestyle, their livelihood. You know, farms while we are, we’re seeing a lot of farms in really tough economic challenges, they tend to fail one at a time. They tend to, you know, go through these crises one at a time. There’s already this barrier in the farming community among people. You know, people are always hesitant to go out and seek that help and ask for that support. It’s just, you know, farmers tend to be very independent and very strong people and, you know, at times very proud people.

Joe: There’s a lot of complicated factors that go into a farmer’s decision not to communicate about this stuff.

Lindsey: Joe and Matt both explained that there are a lot of reasons why it can be hard to talk about this stuff. And it’s not because farmers are too stubborn or stoic to talk about feelings.

Joe: You know, it’s shame and the guilt is enormous for a lot of folks who are losing their generations’ farms. Sometimes it’s just talking to them about all the, all the issues that contributed to this, and how most of them are out of their control, if not all of them in many cases.

Lindsey: Many of them are tied to money. Who likes talking about money? Your landlord could be your neighbor and it wouldn’t be good that they know that you were struggling financially. If you live in a multigenerational farm and you are the one who has to sell off the land to make ends meet, for farmers in remote rural areas or without healthcare, treatment can also be difficult to access or afford.

Joe: And we try to make sure they understand that we talk to farmers all day everyday in this situation.

Lindsey: When farmers called Farm Aid, Joe does his best to put those personal issues into perspective. Many of these problems are not their fault and they are not alone.

Matt: Honestly, I mean, when you look at the larger economic forces going on, that are not a failure of an individual person in many cases, but really a failure of our system.

Lindsey: When people ask you like why, why now? Like why are we seeing an increase in farmer suicides? What is your answer to that?

Matt: So I think the economic forces at play here are, you know, can be understated. I think when you look historically, we often see at least a spike in, concern over farmer mental health when the farm economy is in really rough shape as it is now. You know, we’ve had a 50% drop in net farm income over the last five years. Over half of our nation’s farms are actually going to lose money in 2018, are projected to lose money in 2018, so the economic challenges there, you know, can’t be understated.

Lindsey: And Joe sees the same trend, that the economics of farming are directly linked to farmers in crisis.

Joe: I do think that we, that the rise in the number of calls is an indicator and the first. wasn’t comfortable saying that when I started, and even for a while because I didn’t want to extrapolate just the numbers that we were getting and apply that to the argument that we’re making that we are in a farm crises. So we did a lot of work over the last year and a half to survey all the other organizations who offer these services, all the other hotlines and to test the theory. The theory being that the increase in the number of calls was representative of an accelerating crisis. So what we heard back from folks all over the country, but especially in the Midwest, that it was an indicator.

Matt: But it’s also far beyond, you know, the big picture economics of it, you know, and know very well the, just the extreme amount of labor, and the social isolation and, you know, just the stresses of weather, and disease, and market. But I think the real reason why I ended up working so much on this issue here for National Farmers Union is because it was a growing concern for our membership and continues to be. So as we continue to hear those calls from our folks, we knew we had to do something, we have to do something meaningful. So you know, focusing on the Farmer and Rancher Stress Assistance Network in the Farm Bill is a piece in that.

Lindsey: The National Farmers Union helped to get the Farmer Ranch Assistance network into the Farm Bill and the National Young Farmers Coalition was really happy to support it too.

Caitlin: And so this is similar to the policy Brian and Tierney worked on in Washington.

Lindsey: Yeah. But this legislation isn’t exactly new. This piece of the Farm Bill reauthorizes the Farm and Rancher Stress Assistance Network, which was actually written into the 2008 Farm Bill. But the Washington bill and the Stress Act are similar. They both establish hotlines and support services.

Caitlin: So what does the Farm and Rancher Stress Assistance Network do as part of the new Farm Bill?

Lindsey: Well, it provides funding for state and regional based programs to provide services like hotlines, community education, training and support groups, outreach services, you know, a whole menu of things. Places that have these types of services experience fewer suicides than those without them. They are proven preventative measures.

Caitlin: And what else still needs to be done?

Lindsey: Matt reminded me that although this is one of our big wins together, it’s not going to go anywhere if it doesn’t have money. There are many bills like this that are passed in the Farm Bill, the measures authorized, but they never receive any money.

Matt: So we’re at this moment right here where we can celebrate this win of resurrecting this program. But it’s also in many ways kind of a call to action.

Lindsey: We want farmers involved in policy that supports them, but these stories are also a call to action on a more personal level.

Caitlin: Totally. We don’t always have to wait for big policy changes to make something happen. You know, being able to connect with Brian and Tierney for this episode and talk about the power and importance of having a farmer community just like made a real impression on me.

Lindsey: So you work with our chapters all across the country as the chapter coordinator outside of policy. What, what can we do?

Caitlin: Yeah, that’s a really good question. What I was gonna say earlier about the article, I was going to say that when I read it, it really sparked for me like wanting to do this work with NYFC and with our chapters, specifically. And I hadn’t really thought of, I had not thought about it before in that way. Like I knew that I wanted to support Washington because they were my friends and we all lost our friend. But I hadn’t specifically thought like, “Oh, this is something I could do in my role with NYFC”. Like NYFC could be like a way bigger voice on this issue and we should be. What I want to say to our chapters is that, through my role here, I want to specifically support chapters around farmer behavioral health. I’m not sure what that looks like quite yet, but I know it’s something that NYFC wants to work on. I want us to work on the policy side really strongly, obviously, but I also want us to think about how we can be supporting our chapters on a community level.

Lindsey: This is a hard episode, Caitlin. Right? And I know it’s hard for you personally in doing a lot of these interviews and you know, talking to Justin’s mom and your friends, and like going through all of this. I mean it, Justin’s death, I think for many of us brings up this whole realm of farming that’s like really scary, right? And real and it, it brings us back to like the risk and the very real stress that our farmers are facing. And obviously that’s not all of it, right?

Caitlin: Yeah. I think it’s so important that this is, feels more out in the open and I, at the same time, I want to make sure that as we’re having these conversations alongside, we are also celebrating like what it means to be a young farmer right now. And, you know, all of the good that comes along with that. And I hear that so often. Like despite working 14 hour days, I love my job. I feel like if you farm, you do it because you love it and you don’t want to do anything else. And I think this episode, yeah, these were so hard to record and talking about all this stuff is, is difficult to wade back into. But I’m so glad that we did it because I think it will open conversation in new ways.

Lindsey: Yeah. Debbie said something similar in our conversation.

Debbie: I think the agricultural community is so strong. And if we come together, I think, you know, a lot of good can happen.

Lindsey: This story is a story of so many things, right? It’s like the story of like a campaign that’s succeeded and young farmers organizing together. It’s a story of like risk and loss and the challenges of being alone on a farm and being an entrepreneur. But it’s also like one of the things that I appreciate about this story is that it, you know, it’s a reminder to me of just how connected the farm community is. Like across so many other types of differences of scale, or production type, or age, or political affiliations, or whatever. It’s like the understanding of what it is to be a farmer and that reality, I mean that, that binds us all in this way that is in my mind, like very special and very rare.

Debbie: I think that I do think all the time because I am the boss or whatever, how best to take care of the people that work with me. Whether that means like, you know, giving more time off during the crazy middle of the season and you know, sacrificing a bed to the weeds. Yeah. I am just always trying to think about how to make this a fun, pleasant way of life because when it’s good, it’s so good. I feel like there’s this new openness, and understanding that we need to talk about this stuff. And I have felt that shift quite a bit in the past year. I’ve seen a lot of really vulnerable posts, that I’m not sure I would have seen, you know, a couple of years ago from farmers, from men. You know, I’m really encouraged.

Caitlin: We’ll have a link to Debbie’s article and lots of other important info in the show notes. If you yourself are experiencing a crisis, please call the national suicide prevention lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK or (800) 273-8255.

Lindsey: Thanks to everyone who helped us with these episodes and was willing to share. Tierney Creech, Brian Estes, and all the members of the Washington Young Farmers Coalition. Thanks to Debbie Weingarten and Audra Mulkern and for your incredible reporting on this issue. Matt Perdue of the National Farmer’s Union. Thank you for your work and for speaking to us and Joe Schroeder of Farm Aid. How do you do it? Thank you Farm Aid. Special thanks to Robin McClane, Justin’s mom and thanks to you Caitlin for bringing this story and doing incredible reporting. You can take action to make sure that the Farm and Stress Assistance Network receives full funding by texting “farm crisis” to 40649, and we’ll connect you with your members of Congress. You can also reach out to our team directly. Just email Caitlin Arnold. She’s c-a-i-t-l-i-n@youngfarmers.org. Let’s keep talking about this. If you have other resources to share or feedback on this episode, join the conversation on our Instagram @youngfarmerspodcast. You can also email Caitlin directly at Caitlin, c-a-i-t-l-i-n@youngfarmers.org. If this meant something to you, please take a second to review us in iTunes or share these episodes with a friend. This episode was recorded at Radio Kingston. It was produced and edited by Hannah Beal. Talk to you next week.

 

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