(KMAland) — Ongoing economic conditions and the COVID-19 pandemic continue to take a toll on farm families and others in local communities.

The Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, through the Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network grant program, has awarded nearly $7.2 million in investment funding for the North Central Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Center. The effort is a 12-state collaborative that will create and expand stress management and mental health resources and services to agricultural producers and stakeholders in the North Central region.

University of Wisconsin-Madison Extension Agent Katie Wantoch says in her state, there a couple discussions coming up seeking input from farmers on how the network can help.

“Wisconsin’s approach is really focused on how mental health and financials kind of impact a farmer. In our first year we’re really looking at getting some discussion with farmers and seeing how we can learn from them and how they interact with mental health providers and get some input so we can educate those mental health providers to know some of that background, so they don’t have to spend the first half hour in their discussions with farmers talking about things that they maybe don’t know, such as the common stressors of farm. People don’t really expect and know those things if they haven’t been from a farm background and so that’s some of that curriculum that we’re trying to provide to not only farmers, but also the mental health providers.”

Two focus groups in Wisconsin will gather input, and similar efforts are being conducted across all 12 states within the network. Wantoch says the effort is all about education health care providers to understand the aspects of farming.

“Farmers experience stress, we all know that, stress is a part of our daily lives. It’s when it gets to a point that it’s impacting your business, we want to know what that is and how that affects you so we can educate other mental and health providers. If They don’t grow up on a farm, they’re not familiar with farming, they just don’t know some of those stressors and that’s really what we’re trying to provide, so that they can kind of almost skip that section and say hey, I’ve got a farmer coming in to meet with me. This is probably what they’re going through and what they’re experiencing, how can I help them.”

Additional resources are available online on the Extension Website

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