Connecting farmer's health with their identity
LandLogicSM was born in the hallway of my parent’s home as I studied the aerial photo of our family’s generational farm. The sturdy red barn, weathered windbreak and glistening blue pond never fail to remind me of the peaceful, wide-open spaces and the family closeness that defined my picturesque childhood. That picture also reminds me of a time when my father was in a deep depression and struggling to manage the harsh realities of sustaining a small farm operation amid the 1980s farm crisis.
Almost every farm has a photo like ours and a similar attachment to the land. What if, I thought, agricultural producers could connect with tools that used that attachment to improve their mental health instead of suffering in silence like my dad?
While my parent’s story took place nearly 30 years ago, their struggle is not unique. According to the Mountain Plains Mental Health Technology Transfer Center (MHTTC), agricultural producers are at a growing risk of debilitating behavioral illness and ultimately suicide when compared to their urban counterparts. Mental health deserts in our most rural or impoverished counties perpetuate these disturbing disparities as well as the cost of services and gaps in insurance coverage.
In addition to structural barriers, there are significant cultural obstacles for farmers and ranchers accessing the behavioral health system through its traditional channels. Stigmas are high, mental health literacy levels are often low, and existing care approaches do not adequately consider the nuances of agricultural life and culture (MHTTC).
One approach to address these health disparities is to take existing evidenced-based interventions and adapt them to farm life. A growing body of research shows culturally adapted interventions have the potential to improve client engagement and treatment outcomes (Marsiglia, 2015).
The LandLogicSM training equips providers to creatively incorporate the land into clinical treatment for the agricultural population.
Is the land really that important?
Yes. Consider the following statistic. American farmers and ranchers self-reported that financial stress, the state of the farm economy, farm or business problems, and fear of losing the farm as the top four stressors in their lives according to a 2022 American Farm Bureau Federation poll. The land is at the center of each of these commonly presenting stressors.
Now consider how many farming families proudly display an aerial photo of the land in their home or barn office. It is a common source of great pride, accomplishment, legacy and identity.
To respect a farmer is to acknowledge his or her connection to the land.
What is this connection?
As a descendant of five generations of farmers, I experienced what Dr. Michael Rosmann calls the agrarian imperative, an innate connection to land that drives agricultural producer’s industriousness, resilience and determination to protect it at all costs. Farmers take great satisfaction in producing quality food, overseeing the lifecycle of crops and carefully tending to livestock. Farmers and ranchers endure this difficult life because they love what they do (Rosmann).
Legacy is another common motive for those in agriculture. For my dad, the fear of losing the family farm is what drove him to despair.
Understanding how one is connected to the land could literally save lives.
How do you suggest incorporating the aerial photo into therapy?
The aerial photo is the tangible representation of the agrarian imperative and with context and cultural humility can provide a clinician a gateway into the understanding an agriculturally based client regardless of presenting concerns.
One way to incorporate the unique land of the client is to respectfully ask if client and clinician could work together to create individualized learning experiences incorporating the client’s land into his or her healing. This request alone communicates cultural humility and offers the opportunity to build therapeutic rapport.
Additionally, the land on which they struggle and experience joy also offers the opportunity to access emotions through the five senses. Those engaged in agriculture have high sensory acuity. They must to survive. Therefore, creating tailored experiential exercises incorporating the land to address the presenting concern has the potential to positively impact outcomes.
The LandLogicSM training explores this further.
What do the farmers think about incorporating the land into therapy?
Out of 95 respondents from the agricultural community, 83% want to see LandLogicSM pursued. This overwhelming statistic supports Dr. Rosmann’s notion that the agrarian imperative is an important avenue of behavioral research explaining the motives and risk taking of people engaged in agriculture. I wholeheartedly agree.
Research looking at retention rates and outcomes needs to be pursued as we simultaneously develop a national network of clinicians trained in LandLogicSM.
Ultimately, LandLogicSM allows mental health professionals to harness the innovation, industriousness, and creativity of agricultural producers as they solve their own problems, ensuring the health and vitality of future generations.