“The farm has an insatiable appetite”
A food justice approach to understanding beginning farmer stress
Keywords: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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Copyright (c) 2023 Fiona C. Doherty, Rachel E. Tayse, Michelle L. Kaiser, Smitha Rao
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