Seneca County services team up to help farmers “weather the storm”

After a meeting with Rep. Jim Jordan, Brenda Blair knew something more needed to be done to connect Seneca County’s farmers with the mental health resources they need.

“No one we know has ever seen a year this difficult, and our agricultural producers are struggling,” said Blair, Executive Director of Seneca County’s Farm Services Agency. “This struggle affects their stress levels and their mental health. So this meeting spurred us to provide something for our Seneca County producers and anyone else that is interested,” she said.

Blair teamed up with Hallie Williams, the Ohio State University Extension Educator for agriculture and natural resources in Seneca County, and Trinity Lescallett, Adult Services Manager at Tiffin-Seneca Public Library, to mount a campaign called “Weathering the Storm Together.”

The campaign is a collaboration between Seneca County’s agricultural service agencies and businesses, local mental health resources and the Tiffin-Seneca Public Library. The group is planning events to raise awareness about mental health issues in the agricultural community and to connect people with local mental health resources.

“In terms of business, our farmers face unique challenges,” Williams said. “Most people are used to getting a paycheck once a week or every two weeks. Many farmers live off of operating loans, however, which means they are essentially paid once a year for what they produce and then they pay back the loan, and this can be very stressful.

“With the excess rain this year, producers may lose a lot of income and the ripple effect in the local economy will also affect livestock producers. This region will be the most difficult to get feed grain to in the country, so shipping costs will be great in this area,” Williams said.

“And agricultural businesses are generational businesses, often passed down from family members and relatives,” Blair said. “So there is an emotional attachment to the work and the products created.

“There is an attachment to livestock and a relationship with the land that is unique for people working in this business,” she said.

“Our farmers and producers don’t traditionally talk about mental health, so we want to let them know that they’re not alone, and we want to build camaraderie because we’re farmers and producers, too,” Williams said.

The Weathering the Storm Together campaign is to have a booth at the Seneca County fair offering fliers and guidance to those who stop by, and they hope to meet producers at their booth Wednesday for refreshments and conversation about the initiative.

“We are also open to anybody’s input, and welcome anyone who wishes to join the campaign,” Blair said.

The Weathering the Storm Together campaign is to host two sessions of professional mental health training for local agriculture professionals and producers alike 9:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m Aug. 26 at the Tiffin-Seneca Public Library, 77 Jefferson St. The free, two-hour training sessions are to be conducted by a group from the Michigan State University Extension Office and will be focused on helping agriculture professionals recognize stress and how to communicate with and provide support to people, particularly in connecting farmers to mental health resources in Seneca County.

“We have to ask ourselves, ‘how do we know we’re saying and doing the right things when trying to help our producers with these issues?’ And it’s important that we know how to get people support here in Seneca County, rather than just giving them the number of a national hot line,” Williams said.

To register to attend one of the free training sessions August 26, call the Seneca County Farm Services Agency at (419) 447-7071.

The group reached out to Lescallett at the Tiffin-Seneca Public Library because of her work with the public and, as luck would have it, Lescallett was already working on putting together upcoming mental health awareness events through the library.

“As soon as I left our initial meeting, I knew I had to put them in touch with the Mental Health and Recovery Services Board of Seneca, Sandusky and Wyandot Counties, and I was happy to speak with the group about all of our events at the library in October,” Lescallett said.

The campaign is encouraging Seneca County’s agricultural professionals and producers to attend other upcoming events, many of them made possible through the library.

First, there is to be a panel discussion 6:30 p.m. Sept. 12 at the public library about the ways that mental health issues affect specific populations. Panelists participating in the discussion include representatives from the Ohio State Extension Office, Tiffin City Schools and Awareness 22 among others.

There are a number of upcoming community events focused on mental health issues in October. These include a Question, Persuade and Refer Suicide Prevention Program session conducted by staff from National Alliance on Mental Illness of Seneca, Sandusky and Wyandot Counties in the public library Reading Room 6:30 p.m. Oct. 8; a talk by Kevin Hines, a nationally-recognized author and speaker on the topics of mental health and suicide prevention, at Tiffin University’s Marion Center 6:30 p.m. Oct. 10; a youth mental health first aid training session provided by Ellyn Schmiesing, Executive Director of Findlay’s FOCUS Recovery and Wellness Community, at the public library 8-4 p.m. Oct. 16; and a Self-Care Fair featuring local mental health service providers and groups at the public library 5-7 p.m. Oct. 17.

Blair said that the goal for the future of the Weathering the Storm Together campaign is to continue to “find ways to support local farmers specifically,” in terms of connecting producers directly to local resources.

“We want to be able to tell our grandchildren that this was a tough year but we got through it, we survived it and made it through the years to come,” Williams said. “And there are better days to come. We need to stick it out and have each others’ backs.”