The Big Sandy Mountaineer -

The Hope of Farming


May 16, 2018

It was a beautiful day to be outside. The season when farmers love the smell of overturned dirt, the look of freshly worked fields. What's wonderful is dirt smells different depending on where you live. You aren't actually smelling dirt but the organic chemical called geosmin. Bacteria actually works geosmin to help create the unique smell of the soil. "Land, then, merely soil; it is a fountain of energy flowing through a circuit of soils, plants, and animals" says Aldo Leopold from a Sand County Almanac, 1949. Smelling the dirt brings up deep memories for most farmers and reminds us of the circle of living on the land and caring for it.

With the recent rains, there is no sound of distant tractors working. No dozens of hawks circling the tractors waiting for their next meal, but a quick walk down a country road brings the sounds of Meadow Larks, the chirping of Curlews as they dive by. The green is so brilliant. It seems brighter this year maybe because the ground was so white for so long this winter. It is true that spring brings with it hope for a better year. In the fall it is always, "next year" country, but the spring brings hope it could be this year. There aren't any concerns of the lack of moisture this year, of course the complaint of late seeding, but even that is tempered with renewed hope of plenty of ground moisture.

Although farmers are considered optimist because they have to be to continue year after year. It is probably time to give ourselves permission to understand the stress related to farming. A local farmer sent an article to me about farmer suicide. It was sobering! The stress of farming isn't discussed openly but it should be. After researching it further and discovering that nationally farmers are committing more suicide then veterans. It isn't spoken of at all and it could be higher but it is hidden by reports of farm accidents.

At a recent farm conference one of the guest speakers was Meg Moynihan from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. She had done a lot of research in the mental

health of farmers. And she stated it's not difficult to understand why farmers struggle with depression. All we have to do is look at commodity prices and debt. Then the cost of doing business continues to climb like fuel costs, price of inputs, seed, and insurance. Weather, disease, market access for some, and insurance contribute to the issue. Substance abuse in rural areas is higher per-capita. On top of that, "Family dynamics and inter-generational conflicts, and marital difficulties, wears on the spirit of the farmers," she reports. They work where they live, co-workers can be mostly family, they have the stress of responsibility vs. control. Most farmers have too many multiple roles to juggle and with it comes envy, praise or blame. Last year there has been a 32% increase in depression; 58% increase in anxiety; 80% increase in financial worries; 40% in burnout; 22% increase in marital difficulties and 55% increase in difficulty of farm transfers.

All this to say the stress farmers have should be dealt with and talked about somewhere.

Or at least take a good long walk on your land. Smell it deep. It can replenish your energy. Renew yourself with the knowledge that the land has always been here and in your families for years and it cares for you. It's hard to explain that connection to a none farmer, but land is a part of the very fiber of a farmer. It can breathe new life into him/her. Hope is rekindled.


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