The national organization American AgriWomen is offering free, online webinars titled “Cultivating Resiliency for Women in Agriculture” through April of this year.
The pilot program is specifically designed to help women working in agriculture about tools to deal with stress and how to cultivate stronger mental health practices as they navigate the complicated world of agriculture. The webinars are free and open to anyone across the nation looking to learn more about the topic.
Lisa Campion, a Colchester attorney, has been American AgriWomen’s executive assistant since 2014. She said while every state has its own unique agricultural issues, the resiliency for women webinars resonates with her and hopefully with Vermont farmers as well.
“We as women are always saying, ‘yes, yes I can do that’ or ‘yes I can handle everything,’” she said. “But in reality, how do you maintain that and improve communication with yourself and your family to let them know that you need help?”
Campion said there are programs in Vermont surrounding mental health, opioid addiction, and other issues, but there needs to be more for specifically women, who might have different ways of coping with agricultural stress.
Doris Mold, American AgriWomen’s immediate past president, echoed Campion’s sentiments, and added specific programs for women need to be created because society often stereotypes the role of farmer to be male. She said said that’s not the case, and that there are an increasing number of women reporting their job titles as “farmer” on the census.
While that doesn’t mean necessarily more women are entering the agricultural field, she said more women are taking ownership of their work.
“They’ve always been there [in agriculture], but society and sometimes the farming families and the women themselves don’t recognize themselves as farmers,” Mold said. “But more women are claiming the title of farmer.”
Mold added that women farmers also “wear multiple hats,” often taking care of children and spouses and working a second job to obtain health insurance and extra income, in addition to working on the farm. These extra responsibilities often expected by societal gender roles can add extra stress to a female farmer’s life, Mold said.
“Often we’re the last ones to take care of ourselves,” Mold said. “[American AgriWomen] really wanted to focus on women and building resiliency with them because when they’re well-equipped, anybody is much better able to help somebody else.”
The webinars are hosted by Brenda Mack, a behavioral health and human services consultant and a clinical social worker, and Shauna Reitheimer, who holds a master’s degree in social work and is the CEO of the Northwestern Mental Health Center in Minnesota. The pair also grew up on family farms in Minnesota and still have direct connections to the agricultural world.
Mold said it was important for the webinar hosts to be versed in both mental health issues and agricultural ones, because most mental health professionals have little knowledge of the stressors and high demand of farm work.
“Sometimes you have a dairy farmer go to a counselor and the counselor says, ‘Just take two weeks off,’” Mold remarked. “You just can’t take two weeks off.”
In addition to the webinars, American AgriWomen is also focused on advocacy in the legislature at a state and national level, Mold said. The organization members come together once a year to review policy positions and then in June they take them to D.C. and present major issues to elected officials.
Campion said while she isn’t involved in making policy decisions, it’s “exhilarating” to be a part of a women-driven organization coming together to pass bipartisan policy positions.
“It gives a national scope and seeing all of their different viewpoints, their different perspectives and knowledge, makes you see everything as a bigger picture,” she said. “No person is wrong, you just have to see the different opinions based on where you are in the country to try to come to a consensus.”
She said each state has its own unique issues, but it’s helpful for female farmers from all around the nation to come together to discuss them and come up with potential solutions. She said dairy farms both here in Vermont and around the nation have had similar struggles in recent years which resonates on a national stage.
Mold added that farmers in different regions have to take different approaches to creating solutions, however. In Vermont, she suggested it might be easier for farmers to participate in “value added” farming, due to their proximity to large population centers. However, that solution doesn’t always work for midwest farmers who are spread out and can be isolated.
“I think there are certainly differences in what we do, but across the country there is a shared kinship,” Mold reflected.
Campion agreed and said there are specific agricultural issues in Vermont that she wants to tackle in the future. Currently there are over 50 American AgriWomen chapters around the nation, but none in Vermont. Campion said she wants to change that, to give a voice to female farmers here in the state.
“When states have chapters, they’re very active in speaking out for women in agriculture and their viewpoints, and that’s very impactful,” she said.