Vermont pilot links farmers to peers during stressful times

June 16, 2022 GMT

COLCHESTER, Vt. (AP) — A state-sponsored nonprofit is starting a farmer peer support network to help Vermont farmers deal with stress and address their mental health needs.

The program being created by Farm First aims to connect farmers to listen to one another, and to share what they’ve learned based on their own experiences, Vermont Public Radio reported. It’s also an entry point for farmers to talk with one of Farm First’s mental health professionals, the station reported.

Farming is among the occupations at significantly higher risk for suicide, according to a report from the Vermont Department of Health earlier this year. Vermont’s farmers have faced the pandemic, inflation, high fuel prices, industry consolidation, climate change, family and weather challenges and continue to feel stress.

“This opportunity of having a peer network will be one that’s going to have huge benefits for people like me who, maybe don’t have time to see a therapist regularly, or can’t find a therapist who really understands the very real demands of farming,” said Valerie Woodhouse, co-owner of Honeyfield Farm in Norwich, who is one of the inaugural farmer peers. “Getting instead to talk to people who get it and have been there and have real tangible advice — that’s where I think a lot of change can be made for farmers.”

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The Vermont program is considered a pilot, funded through a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said Farm First program manager Karen Crowley. The nonprofit recruited farmer peers and provided them with some initial paid training, including in recognizing stress and how to help de-escalate situations through active listening.

Farm First is trying to recruit another group of farmer peers to start training in the fall, said Leanne Porter, the training coordinator. Eventually a web portal will be set up so that farmers can contact those peers, she said.