Nely Rodríguez stands in front of 43 farmworkers and supervisors who sit side by side at picnic tables wearing various protective workwear—hats, ski masks, bandanas, socks as sleeves.
Rodríguez, a member and worker-leader of the Florida-based Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), points to a drawing of a female farmworker bent over picking tomatoes while a male supervisor stands over her saying, “¡Mamacita, qué rico te vez!” or “Hot momma, you look so sexy!”
This story was originally published by the Christian Science Monitor
LIME RIDGE, WIS. One humid afternoon this past July, on the gravel driveway of Lime Ridge Ag Supply in the rolling green heart of America’s dairy land, a small group of masked volunteers delivered sugar cones and goody bags to farmers in big trucks. The purpose of this “drive-through ice cream social,” according to the promotional flyer, was to celebrate the farmers of Sauk County, Wisconsin – a way to say “thank you” and recognize that “as ‘essential workers’ farmers work hard every day to feed our nation.”
But the goody bag materials belied an additional purpose, one that the Farmer Angel Network, the grassroots group that organized this get-together, has been promoting to increasing attention over the past two years. Along with the advertisements for seed companies and tractor suppliers, and the $5 off coupon for the Branding Iron Roadhouse and the foam cow stress toy, provided by a local veterinarian, each care package contained information about wellness resources – and pamphlets about how to keep loved ones from killing themselves.
“We needed to do something,” says Dorothy Harms, a Farmer Angel Network volunteer who helped pass out ice cream and who, with her husband, raises beef and dairy cows on the land his family has owned for 140 years. “We can’t afford to lose more lives.”
For the past decade, Ms. Harms and others living in agricultural communities across the United States have watched with alarm as a growing number of their neighbors have killed themselves. Although clear statistics are difficult to find, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says those working in farming are among the most likely to take their own lives, compared with other occupations.
ByMarissa Plescia, Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting |
When Pam Uhlenkamp separated from her husband earlier this year, she knew the person to call.
As a farm business management instructor, Uhlenkamp mentors farmers one-on-one. When she notices they’re stressed, she refers them to the man who’s been the go-to counselor for Minnesota farmers for decades. The morning after the separation, she called him, and, by the afternoon, she sat opposite Ted Matthews.
“Today sucks. Tomorrow is going to suck. The next three weeks are going to suck,” Uhlenkamp remembered Matthews telling her in their first session.
“He was very honest with me,” she said. “Sometimes in life you kind of need the two-by-four across the head that says, ‘Yep, this is awful and this is the reality.’”
ByKatie Wedell, USA TODAY NETWORK Lucille Sherman, USA TODAY NETWORK Sky Chadde, Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting |
American farmers produce nearly all of the country’s food and contribute some $133 billion annually to the gross domestic product.
Yet they now are saddled with near-record debt, declaring bankruptcy at rising rates and selling off their farms amid an uncertain future clouded by climate change and whipsawed by tariffs and bailouts.
ByClaire Hettinger and Pam Dempsey, Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting |
With farmers facing increasing stress and depression, Midwestern states and national farm groups are making more efforts to better provide services to alleviate the high rate of suicide among the agriculture industry.
Yet in rural areas, this care is more of a challenge.