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Caring for Your Farm’s Greatest Asset

Our new research project creates spaces for farmers to experience holistic health and renewal.

What is your farm’s greatest asset? Deep, fertile soil? A steady, hard-working farm crew? A reliable market that pays good prices?

If you have any of these, you are blessed, but a group of agricultural service providers are embarking on a new research project focusing in on a different asset … you! 

Farmers face stress and uncertainty in many aspects of their businesses and livelihoods. Yet with animals to feed, crops to tend and food to sell, it can be hard to take time to rest and relax, to invest in one’s own well-being and cultivate supportive relationships within a community. This attentiveness toward personal resilience is important, as the entire system is dependent on the vitality of the farmers and farm employees.

While conferences and farmer discussion groups offer opportunities to gather and discuss technical topics, few sessions offer a quiet space devoted to conversation, for farmers to share more personally about the ‘behind the scenes’ ups and downs of farm life. In actuality, there isn’t a curtain between issues such as pest outbreaks and low morale. The tensions, fatigue and disappointment inherent to running a farm business might be harder to talk about, but they are not separate from the farm. Both the joys and hardships of life affect the health of the whole system in the same way that the beneficial organisms and pests do.

Our new three-year research project, funded by Northeast SARE (Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education), looks at the whole health and resilience of the farmer(s) and farm employee(s). Our project focuses on creating reflective spaces for farmers to gather and contemplate how elements of wellness play out in their lives and businesses. Specifically, we’ll be focusing on themes of well-being, equity/fairness, and connection to community.

We’ll be hosting focus groups for farmers and farm employees of all enterprises, sizes, and farming styles throughout the winter to better understand farmers’ perspectives and needs relating to well-being, equity/fairness, and connection to community. During the subsequent phase of the project, we’ll identify common ground based on the collective stories that emerge and work with farm partners to co-design retreat spaces for farmers to dive into issues more deeply and explore strategies that can ameliorate challenges and bolster farmers’ quality of life.

Our project team includes Leslie Forstadt from the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, Anu Rangarajan and Violet Stone from the Cornell Small Farms Program, Jennifer Hashley from Tufts-New Entry Sustainable Farming Project, Rachel and Steffan Schneider from the Institute for Mindful Agriculture/Hawthorne Valley, and Daniel MacPhee from Blackbird Rise Farm. 

The project team would be delighted to hear from you. For more information about the project or to get involved, read the project overview in the SARE database or contact one of the team members above. 

Improving Life on the Farm: Join our Focus Group!
Facilitators: Anu Rangarajan and Violet Stone

Friday, January 17th, 2020. 4:30pm – 6:00pm at the NOFA NY Conference in Syracuse, NY

Are you farming? Please join 6-12 of your peers for a 90-minute focus group to explore your thoughts around wellness, fairness and being connected to community.  Your input will shape new programs being developed to improve social sustainability and overall farm success. Contribution to this SARE (Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education) research is voluntary and focus group participants will be offered a modest gift card for their time. As capacity is limited, please register in advance at https://bit.ly/2MUqdjc or by contacting Violet at vws7@cornell.edu or 607-255-9227.

Violet Stone

Violet Stone

Violet is the coordinator of the Reconnecting with Purpose project, which offers farm and food system educators and change makers a retreat space to explore challenges and renew a sense of inspiration and purpose in their work and lives. She is also a collaborator on the Be Well Farming Project. This project creates reflective spaces for farmers and food producers to connect meaningfully and explore strategies that can ameliorate challenges and bolster quality of life. Violet serves as the NY SARE Coordinator and can help farmers and educators navigate NESARE grant opportunities.