Reaching out to farm women during pandemic challenge

Gloria Hafemeister
Women connect online for Heart of the Farm: Women in Ag conference.

The cancellation of meetings has not kept farm women from getting together to share, learn and encourage. Due to COVID-19 the University of Wisconsin- Extension was not able to host the 2020 Heart of the Farm-Women in Ag Conferences in person this year, so it's been switched to an online way to connect. 

Eighty women participated in the first in a series of on-line coffee chats sponsored by the University of Wisconsin-Madison Division of Extension Heart of the Farm-Women in Agriculture program.

The statewide ZOOM conference featured Jess Peters from Spruce Row Farm in Meadville, PA who shared her thoughts on the resiliency of farmers and ideas for getting through these crazy times.

Peters is a part of her family’s Spruce Row Farm where the Peters family milks 275 Jerseys.  She also runs the farm’s Facebook page and is an advocate for the dairy industry and a blogger for Hoard’s Dairyman. 

Sharing her personal ideas for struggling with the current crisis she suggested, “Own up to the fact that your mental state is not what it should be.”

She admits that can be easier said than done but she says, “Admitting that you feel isolated or depressed will make it easier to accept it and you must do this before you can move on.”

She suggests talking about it with friends, family, social media friends. 

“Letting them know how you feel will help them as well,” she notes.

She further illustrates, “When you ask someone how they are they will usually reply ‘I’m fine’ but if you ask them again and show your genuine interest you may get a different answer and by listening to them you will help them.”

She challenged the participants asking, “Are you a dreamer or a doer?”

Most farmers are doers, according to Peters. 

“Dreamers think about how good the end will be rather than about how to get there,” she points out.  “If you know who you are you will have an easier time coping with it.”

She also offered other suggestions for coping with the challenges of the pandemic.  “Embrace the silly. Change your routine. If you always do a particular job on the farm and someone else does another job, switch with them for something different.”

She cautions about the danger of social media and listening to the news adding to anxiety.

“Choose who you follow or unfollow. If they are getting you down with their posts don’t follow them,” she advises. “Surround yourself with people who inspire you. It doesn’t have to always be ag-people either.”

One of the ways Peters has been reaching out to farm women and others who may be stressed out is by a project known as “Our Ag Secrets” – an online platform that allows people to post anonymously the things they might be afraid to say aloud.

She points out that this can be very helpful in relieving stress for those who may need to vent about family or their current situation but are afraid to do so because of the fear of hurting their feelings.

Following Peters’ presentation the participants in the chat divided into smaller groups where each had an opportunity to talk about how they have been coping with the stressful few months on the farm.

One participant suggested when away from the farm, don’t talk about the farm. Another suggested making a list of things that need to be done and then cross off items as they are handled.

Still another recommended building a structure into the day with a balance between farm and off-farm work.

When discussing time-management a participant recommended ordering groceries on line and picking them up. Another said they have saved time on their farm by putting a “team viewer” on their phone in order to access the main farm computer from the phone rather than needing to go back to the office to check on something.

Another whose barn entrance was not visible from the office used a baby monitor to hear when someone enters the barn.

Jenny Vanderlin of the UW-Madison notes that over the years the role of farm women has changed. Farm women are involved in making decisions on the farm but they also need some sort of social outlet and an opportunity to learn from one another.

She points out that for many farm women, finding a balance has been a struggle. She admits that men, too, are challenged with finding a balance but women seem to worry about it more.

“Farm women, more than others, feel responsible for the business and for the welfare of the family,” she suggests.  “A woman’s balance is always changing. Appreciate and embrace your current stage in life.”

The Heart of the Farm program will be offering more sessions this spring to help farm women deal with time management issues, communication, nurturing healthy relationships during times of stress and financial matters.