Ohio Researchers Bring Social-Work Lens to Farming

click to enlarge Researchers are looking at the challenges first-generation farmers face - AdobeStock
Researchers are looking at the challenges first-generation farmers face

COLUMBUS, Ohio - Researchers in Ohio are bringing a social work lens to agriculture by examining the challenges that affect farmers' mental health - often exacerbated for beginning farmers and those from historically marginalized groups.

Fiona Doherty, a doctoral student and graduate research associate at The Ohio State University College of Social Work, explained that the challenges for beginning farmers include land access, start-up capital, work-life balance and gaining technical knowledge.

"Those first couple of years can be rollercoaster," said Doherty. "Kind-of learning the hard way through mistakes, especially if they are first-generation farmers."

Doherty and other OSU researchers have teamed up with the Ohio Ecological Food and Farming Association to study the social sustainability of beginning farmers, including the impact of historical trauma in agriculture.

"There will be a great focus on the power of privilege and identity," said Doherty. "And how it all relates to meeting the needs of farmers."

In a 2021 survey from the American Farm Bureau, more than half of farmers reported mental-health challenges, and two in three said the pandemic had affected their mental health.

Doherty explained that diversity, equity and inclusion have been key pillars at each step of the process as a way to amplify voices that aren't always included in this type of research.

"These stressors the farmers are experiencing," said Doherty, "there needs to be an awareness of intersectionalities, and awareness of the historical legacy of inequity that continues to have ripple effects today on farmers of color, queer farmers, trans farmers."

Through statewide surveys, Doherty said they're learning about the need for increased mental-health literacy among beginning farmers, to help reduce the stigma around seeking support. She noted some expressed concern that mental-health providers won't understand their unique challenges.

"Farming is not just a job, it is a lifestyle," said Doherty. "When something happens to a crop or to your land, it's much more than a monetary loss. There's something much deeper there."
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