BARRE, Vt. (WCAX) - Farming is hard work and it can weigh down Vermont’s farmers. Now, money is being invested to provide mental health support for those in the agriculture sector.
Riding the line between Montpelier and Barre, LePage Farm, a small vegetable and fruit farm, has had deep roots in the area for decades. Alan LePage says it’s his customers that have kept him moving.
“They are all appreciative, and in a hard year, they still buy what I have and tell me I’m important,” said LePage.
But as harvest after harvest has gone by, he’s watched neighboring farms fold.
“It’s incredibly depressing when your back is against the wall,” said LePage.
He said he found himself in tough financial straits as taxes in town went up, so he did what he found very hard to do, he looked for help.
“Overall in our society, there has been a general push in understanding that mental health is part of our healthiness,” said Karen Crowley with Farm First, a Vermont-based program that provides farmers and their families with support, resources, and information to reduce stress. “Call us early, call us often, we often say because there are ways to make this work easier for yourself.”
Farm First offers a range of help including business support, transition ownership, aid in diversifying in products or just being a listening ear.
The state of Vermont is now committing half a million dollars from the USDA. Crowley says that money continues to push them forward.
“Yes, it is hard. We know it’s going to stay hard. It’s going to take some real creativity, some real innovation, and we know that farmers here in Vermont can do that,” she said.
Crowley wants to be ready and willing to help. She says they think about agricultural resiliency from both a physical and emotional perspective.
“When you’re working as hard as you know how to do, and then you end up short,” said LePage.
He says he knows how that feels and hopes others don’t have to feel it, too. He wants farmers to know there is no shame in needing a helping hand.
“I think most farmers have difficulty asking for help because they are used to doing things on their own,” LePage said.
He says in 45 years of tending the land that’s been in his family five generations, he has learned something other farmers could benefit from.
“Farms take more than one person to happen. You need as much support as you can get,” said LePage.
Farm First also says with this next round of money, they hope to connect more farmers with one another from all walks of life. Crowley also says she hopes there can be a focus on BIPOC farmers.
Vermont Agriculture Secretary Anson Tebbetts says the funding is incredibly important and that these mental health issues aren’t new. The plan is to continue offering services like this one as long as they can.
“I think the people in agriculture are talking about mental health more than they ever have. Before, even pre-pandemic, there were programs for farmers’ mental health, but coming out of the pandemic, many, many, many more layers have come upon our farmers from the field to the farm to their families and I think this is really important to really pay attention to this and make sure that farmers -- if they do need help -- there are services for them,” said Tebbetts.
He says the plan isn’t to stop there but to continue to find ways to best support farmers on the mental health front. They will even have someone from Farm First embedded in the Agency.
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