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May 27, 2024 13 mins
For more than 35 years, Farm Aid, with the support of the artists who contribute their performances each year, has raised more than $70 million to support programs that help farmers thrive. Farmer Services Network Manager Alexandria Ward to talks about their potentially life-saving health initiative aimed at helping ALL farmers in distress. FARM AID’s MENTAL HEALTH HOTLINE is 1-800-FARM-AID.  Find out more at
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Welcome to Get Connected with Nina delRio, a weekly conversation about fitness,
health and happenings in our community onone oh six point seven Light FM.
Good morning and thanks for listening toget connected, and happy Memorial Day weekend.
It also is the last weekend ofMay, which is Mental Health Awareness
Month. Mental health is a majorconcern for all types of workers in the

farming and agriculture industry. For morethan thirty five years, farm Aid,
with the support of artists who contributeto their performances each year, has raised
more than seventy million dollars to supportprograms that help farmers thrive. Farm Aid's
Mental Health Hotline aims to provide aidto farmers nationwide, and our guest is
Alexander Ward, farmaid's Farmers Services NetworkManager, to talk more about their potentially

life saving health initiative aimed at helpingall farmers in distress. Alexander Ward,
thank you for being on the show. Thanks for having me. It's great
to be here. The website isfarmad dot org and that hotline number is
one eight hundred farm Aid. Theyalso have an online assistance form as well,
farm Aide. Alexandra has been aroundfor a really long time. I

think for the average person, youknow about the concerts Willie Nelson and Young
and John Mellencamp every summer, whichis kind of the cherry on the cake.
What does farm A do year round? What's going on behind the scenes.
Yeah, great question. We didstart at nineteen eighty five, so
it has been a while and wedo a lot of other work. But
my primary area of expertise or workis our Farmer Resource Network, which is

a companion to the farm Maide FarmerHotline. The Farmer Resource Network or the
FRN, and the hotline we provideresources for farmers and support. So the
hotline, any farmer can call us. We're open from nine am to nine
pm Eastern Time, Monday through Friday. All of our hotline operators are familiar

with farming and rural communities and differentWe come from different backgrounds, which I
think is a strength to our teambecause we have different areas of knowledge,
different networks, and we can askeach other questions. Of course, the
Farming Hotline is confidential, but weshare information amongst ourselves so we can provide
the best support for farmers who reachout to us. So let's talk about
the farmers who might call. Firstof all, what are we defining as

a farmer. We're talking family farms, we're talking big corporate farms. Who
are you speaking with? Well,anybody can call the hotline, and the
resources we collect are for all farmers, but farming does specifically advocate for family
farmers, which is a pretty broadcategory, right. That's it could be
agriculture, could be livestock, couldbe anything in between. Oh, absolutely,

Yeah. We actually get a lotof calls from livestock farmers as well
as vegtable producers on the hotline,and we get a lot of calls from
small to mid size farmers. Well, let's talk about mental health with farmers
specifically. So it's been documented peoplein agriculture they have so much stress because
there's so much that's out of theircontrol. It's impacted people in so many

ways. There's the weather, there'spesticides, there's pricing, all these things
that weigh on people. Oh that, yes, you hit the nail on
the head. I think. Alsoanother element of farm stress is the identity
of the farmer. It's a verypersonal thing choosing farmer as your career path.
It's also a lifestyle. It's attachedto your personhood. Seeing failing or

feeling like you're failing as a farmercan be very shameful and also confusing if
that is your identity. Like theoption to stop farming doesn't really feel like
an option, which is why situationscan get really dire. One of the
reasons why. And there's also thatethic. I think that farming is a
very independent profession, self reliant.It is, yeah, especially, I

mean it doesn't have to be,but it does come from tradition, a
sort of a background of this resiliency. They need to be able to,
you know, find for yourself anddo everything on your own. But we
try to tell people that's not youdon't have to do everything on your own.
You're not alone. You have communityand you should lean on it and
trying to strengthen that. And thereare really beautiful ural communities as well.

We're speaking with Alexandra Wards. She'sfarm AIDS Farmer Services Network Manager. You
can find out more about farm aidat farmad dot org. Their hotline number
is one eight hundred farm aid.You're listening to get connected on one oh
six point seven Light FM. I'mNina del Rio because mental health Alexander two
has been sort of a topic we'retalking more about. Has that sort of

idea of I need to be selfreliant no matter what the problem. Has
that changed a little bit over time? Do you think? I think it
has. There have been studies thathave been you know, reaching out to
farmers to see where they how theyconnect and what systems and networks do they
rely on. The conversation around mentalhealth has become more prevalent. People are
more getting more and more comfortable Ithink with the concept and with discussing it,

it's becoming normalized. I'm not sayingwe've reached the conclusion of that conversation,
but I think there's evidence showing thatthe conversation is more common. It's
more people are more open to it. And farm Aid has been doing this
work for thirty five years. Farmmad is really well known to the farming
community. How has farm Aid's approachdo you think changed over time? Well,

yeah, we started in nineteen eightyfive, so it's been almost forty
years. And the hotliner rose outof a need. The whole organization a
rose out of a need at thattime at the eighties farm crisis, all
of these farms are going out ofbusiness. The musicians you mentioned did a
concert to raise money and farmers werecalling that one eight hundred farm maid line

asking for help. It was meantto be a donation line, has turned
because of the need, into thishotline that it is now. I think
some of the ways that it's changedis it's become more formalized, it's more
route, it's changed with the timesit's responded to the need to be what
it is. Something that makes ourhotline really unique is that all of our

it's really small. We're not like, we're not a call center. We're
a small group that I'll talk toeach other and have, like I mentioned,
farming backgrounds and knowledge, and weconnect farmers to resources. We're not
therapists or counselors. We're trained inmental health, first aid and suicide response.

But I think that makes it alittle easier for the conversation to happen
actually, because a farmer can callus to talk about one thing, perhaps
like fencing or financing, but weare trained to listen to detect if there
is like a mental health concern underneaththat conversation that we can address and offer
resources for. Whereas it's a littleperhaps more intimidating sometimes to call a specifically

crisis suicide crisis hotline, which arealso super wonderful and very valuable, but
we serve a slightly different angle,I guess yeah, because you talk to
people about or you help them findresources for financial questions, legal questions,
all those sorts of things. Ithink it's interesting you say people might call
with a question about one thing thatyou can suss out that maybe it's a

larger problem. Absolutely. Yeah,Like I mean, they're talking about a
disaster that struck their farm in aterrible financial distress, and you can assume
that this person is probably under alot of stress and might need to talk
about it. Prior to this role, you also worked in the farmers market
world, supporting a large network offarmers and producers in the mid Atlantic.

Because farmers markets are kind of howthe average person interacts with a farmer.
I think that's really interesting in itsown way. But can you talk about
that world and its challenges? Yeah, I mean, I think farmer's markets
are fascinating spaces, and I thinkthere's an opportunity for the consumer to learn
the farmers market go wher to learn, but it's also, I think sometimes
a misconception that the farmers are thereto teach the farmers. Some farmers love

to talk to people about their production, and some farmers are like not are
stressed out like everybody else, right, Some are chatty and some are probably
just wanting to do the work exactly. How would you say the challenges of
beginning and established farmers are different too, because I know it farm made you
talking to people who are just gettingstarted and people who maybe been doing this
twenty years. I mean, thereare certainly similarities, but the conversation with

the beginning farmer, depending on wherethey are in their journeys, might be
like they're looking for land, lookingfor capital to start up their business.
We would definitely provide a beginning farmerwith business resources like business development resources.
Some people come in sort of thinkingabout the growing element and the agronomics and
not so much about the economics andthe business, and it's important to remind

people that you need to make asustainable business to have a sustainable farm.
And then people who also they mightnot be familiar with government programs or just
a lot of resources that an establishedfarmer would already perhaps know about. And
if an established farmer is calling us, it's likely that, you know,
either maybe they're looking to change somethingabout their operation, expand or maybe pass

their land onto the next generation,and they're trying to understand what are the
mechanisms for them them to do that, or maybe they're in a crisis situation,
which is unfortunate when you think aboutthe work you did prior to this,
in the work you're doing now,how is the average farmer and their
family doing. It's hard to It'shard to draw a conclusion about the whole

country based on my entrinds into it, but I do feel like from all
the conversations we have across the country, land access is a huge issue,
rising prices of land, money financingfarmers everywhere. They need more, need

more money and access to resources,and mid sized farmers are being overtaken,
they're closing, and there's a monopolyproblem going on. To state it simply,
I suppose that's kind of how I'mfeeling. And also, like the

people at the farmer's markets, thatstyle of farm would be tend to be
a smaller farm, right, usuallya niche more I don't want to call
it that, but vegetable or mushroomsor honey. So it's a smaller operation,
which those can be very tiring.You have to fight to find markets
for your products, and if themarket is closed because of whatever reason,

that's a day that you're not thereselling. Whereas if you get your product
into a store, you know's they'revery different operations, but the challenges folks
are facing are pretty similar. Ithink, just briefly back to farm ads
where there is also an existing databaseof Spanish resources. That's something that's kind

of being beefed up a bit absolutely, thank you. Yeah, we have
our Farmer Resource Network is available inSpanish as well, and you can view
all of the resources in Spanish,but you can also search for resources specifically
for Spanish producers of Spanish speaking producers, if that makes sense. So both
of those elements are built into thatdatabase, and we have our hotline available

in Spanish as well, so youcan call and choose that you would like
to speak to someone in Spanish.What else would you want farmers to know
about your work? And then thepublic, I think I'd like farmers to
know that any farmer can contact usand you don't have to give us a
call. You can also fill outour form that will send an email to
our team and we respond to those. So if you don't want to talk

on the phone, you don't haveto, and that we're here to help.
We're constantly looking for resources to connectfarmers with and they're not alone.
I think there's a message like andfor other listeners, just you know,
appreciate your farmer, go to yourfarmer's markets and yeah if you can.

If you know the prices are alittle high at the farmer's market, there's
probably a reason for it. IfI know that that can be a challenge
for some people, but if youcan afford it, they're probably not overcharging
you. I think that hop itcomes up all up. The farmers are
not exactly writing around the corvettes orsomething. We do love our farmers and
our farmers' markets. Alexandra Ward representsfarm Aid Again. There's more information at

farmaid dot org and that hotline numberavailable to all farmers is one eight hundred
farm Aid. Thank you for beingto get connected. Thank you so much.
This has been Get connected with Ninadel Rio on one oh six point
seven Light FM. The views andopinions of our guests do not necessarily reflect
the views of the station. Ifyou missed any part of our show or
want to share it, visit ourwebsite where downloads podcasts at one O six

seven lightfm dot com. Thanks forlistening.
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