“The farm has an insatiable appetite”

A food justice approach to understanding beginning farmer stress





Beginning Farmers, Stress, Mental Health, Food Justice, Midwest, Mixed Methods, Community-Engaged Research


Beginning farmers are critical in shaping resilient food systems amid a worsening climate crisis. Reports indicate a prevalence of stress and adverse mental health outcomes among U.S. farmers, yet there are gaps in the literature concerning the well-being of beginning farmers, a heterogeneous group with a growing number of women and BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, or People of Color) producers. The agricultural industry has a legacy of systemic oppression and exploitation of marginal commu­nities. Thus, it is important to understand the unique needs of an emerging, more diverse generation of farmers, especially as discrimination is associated with stress and poor mental health outcomes. In this community-engaged, mixed methods research project, we utilize a food justice framework to understand systemic stressors and coping strategies among Midwestern beginning farmers. Beginning farmers in the Midwest were recruited using pur­posive sampling to participate in quantitative surveys and in-depth interviews. The survey (n=62) included measures of farm stress, mental health supports, and farm charac­teristics; the Patient Health Questionnaire-4; and socio­demographic information. Interviews (n=20) were conducted to establish a deeper under­standing of stress and mental health experiences. Survey data were analyzed using descriptive statistics. Inter­views were analyzed using thematic analysis. Top stressors included having too much to do and too little time, COVID-19, not enough person-power on the farm, climate change, and social justice. Of survey respondents, 58% reported mild to severe symptom burden of anxiety or depression. Five qualita­tive themes emerged, including the stress of capitalism, discrimination and inequitable access to resources, aids and gaps in social support, rugged individ­ualism, and heterogeneous perspectives on social justice and climate change. Four transfor­mative food justice practices aimed at rectifying structural inequalities inform our implications. Our results emphasize the urgency of systemic change and structural support for beginning farmers.


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Author Biographies

Fiona C. Doherty, The Ohio State University

MSW; Doctoral Student and Graduate Research Associate, College of Social Work

Rachel E. Tayse, Harmonious Homestead LLC

B.A.; Food System Consultant

Michelle L. Kaiser, The Ohio State University

Ph.D., MSW, MPH; Associate Professor, College of Social Work

Smitha Rao, The Ohio State University

Ph.D.; Assistant Professor, College of Social Work



How to Cite

Doherty, F., Tayse, R., Kaiser, M., & Rao, S. (2023). “The farm has an insatiable appetite”: A food justice approach to understanding beginning farmer stress. Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development, 12(3), 1–24. https://doi.org/10.5304/jafscd.2023.123.011