Homegrown relief: Farming communities tackle rise in suicides

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.