UMaine Extension boosts programs focused on farmer wellness and resilience
Using federal funds aimed at helping farm owners and workers manage stress, University of Maine Cooperative Extension bolstered its efforts to improve mental health awareness and outcomes for agricultural producers, workers and their families. In 2021, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) began distributing $28 million in funding to expand and sustain state-based stress assistance programs. Through the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry (DACF), UMaine Extension received $500,000 to establish the Maine Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network (ME-FRSAN), a statewide program that cultivates wellness and resilience among farmers, farmworkers and agricultural service providers.
The heart of the project is an online information hub featuring resources, training and workshops on topics such as crisis support, adaptability and farmer well-being. The project boasts a diverse and engaged advisory group representing 15 organizations and provides funding for organizations and programs that support growers and producers across Maine’s food system.
Currently, applications are being accepted for the Maine Farmer Wellness Fund, which offers up to $500 for individuals for wellness expenses and is intended to holistically support farmers, farm workers and Indigenous food and medicine producers. The Wellness Fund has online and phone application options in English, Spanish and Haitian Creole.
“Even in the best of times, farmers in Maine have to work incredibly hard to build successful and sustainable businesses,” says Nancy McBrady, director of the Bureau of Agriculture, Food and Rural Resources at Maine DACF. “DACF is grateful for the effort that Maine producers put in every day to grow healthy communities. We greatly appreciate programs like the Maine Farmer Wellness Fund that support farmers and farm workers to focus on their health and wellness. ME-FRSAN staff and partner organizations take great care to ensure these funds are accessible and meaningful to all, and we encourage agricultural community members to take advantage of these opportunities to prioritize their own well-being.”
To date, the ME-FRSAN project has awarded $182,000 to nine organizations for programs that support diverse communities and a wide range of wellness aspects. Some of the programs include:
- The Eastern Woodlands Rematriation Collective for a tool-sharing program and a Community Care series for community-led food and medicine projects across tribal communities.
- The Maine Farm to Institution to bolster existing workshops with training and materials focused on farmers accessing institutional markets.
- The Maine Farmer Resource Network Farm Coaching program to help farmers enhance communication, planning and collaboration skills.
- The Maine Farmland Trust’s business planning assistantship to address financial stress.
- The Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association to continue a monthly statewide forum open to agricultural service providers to act on making programs more equitable.
- Mano en Mano to increase access to housing, education, childcare, health, transportation and other essential services.
- Northeast Farmers of Color Land Trust to develop a fellowship program
- Somali Bantu Community Association and Cultivating Community for new infrastructure to increase farm efficiency and reduce farmer stress.
In addition, the ME-FRSAN project has awarded $12,000 for several agencies and practitioners to offer wellness activities and workshops to farmers, farmworkers and Indigenous landworkers. This included offerings for farmers to attend in-person or online therapy services and in-person workshops focused on injury prevention, movement, health and wellness.
ME-FRSAN is funded by the USDA NIFA, awarded to the Maine DACF and managed by UMaine Extension. The funds are part of a national and regional effort to increase awareness and amplify existing resources around mental health and farm stress, in addition to fostering connections for farmers and land stewards in Maine to access wellness support. By strengthening the capacity of organizations and building a service provider network focused on farmer resilience and stress reduction, ME-FRSAN and partnering organizations are supporting a cultural shift to assist and meet the unique mental health needs of those who work in Maine agriculture.