Farm Food Facts

Julie Murphree, Michael O'Gorman, Matt Niswander

May 21, 2019 Episode 25
Farm Food Facts
Julie Murphree, Michael O'Gorman, Matt Niswander
Chapters
Farm Food Facts
Julie Murphree, Michael O'Gorman, Matt Niswander
May 21, 2019 Episode 25
USFRA
We have 3 guests this week discussing May Mental Health Month and how it impacts farmers.
Show Notes Transcript

Our two thought leaders for this Special Edition of the Farm, Food, Facts podcast are Julie Murphree, Outreach Director at Arizona Farm Bureau, and Michael O'Gorman, Executive Director at Farmer Veteran Coalition.  

The Stories You Need To Know:
• The S.A.V.E. Farm Program is giving Veterans a path after their Service.
• The average Age of hired Farm Laborers is Rising.  

Today's farmer is  Matt Niswander, Tennessee Farmer, Nurse Practitioner, and Agriculture Advocate   



Phil Lempert:
0:01
Farm, Food, Facts: where every farmer, every acre, and every voice matter. Welcome to the Farm, Food, Facts interactive podcast presented by the U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance for Wednesday, May 22nd, 2019 I'm your host, Phil Lempert.
Phil Lempert:
0:21
The month of May plays host to Mental Health Awareness Month, and this year marks its 70th anniversary. Started in 1949 by the National Association for Mental Health, which is now known as the Mental Health America. Each year, they select a different theme; for 2019 it is body image: how we think and feel about our bodies. Included in this year's toolkit are topics including animal companionship, spirituality, humor, work-life balance, and social connections as ways to boost mental health and wellness. "Tamping Down the Stress Level on the Farm" is an article co-written by Julie Murphree, Arizona Farm Bureau Outreach Director. She will join us to share what she discovered and reported on. Then, Michael O'Gorman, Executive Director at Farmer Veteran Coalition, tells us about this important group that he founded and how they're helping bring a new breed of farmers to agriculture. Then later on in the podcast, we're joined by first-generation Tennessee farmer Matt Niswander, an ag advocate, who by day is a nurse practitioner working with farmers in the early mornings, and at night is a working dairy farmer.
Phil Lempert:
1:31
Julie is Outreach Director for Arizona Farm Bureau and oversees all Farm Bureau's communication outreach channels including social media, public relations, marketing, and county outreach management duties. She belongs to Project Central's Class Seven, the concentrated rural leadership program supported by the University of Arizona. This native of Arizona grew up on a cotton and alfalfa farm in Pinnel county with three brothers, and was in production agriculture with their parents until 2005. Her book, Fresh Air, talks about life growing up in southern Arizona in a rural environment. Julie, welcome to Farm, Food, Facts.
Julie Murphree:
2:08
Thank you so much, Phil.
Phil Lempert:
2:09
Now, you write that a strong majority of farmers and farm workers say that financial issues, farmer business problems, and fear of actually losing the farm, impact their mental health. Now, according to a new national Morning Consolt research poll, how are farmers dealing with this stress? It's gotta be enormous.
Julie Murphree:
2:28
It is tough. It's an important issue and I'm glad that they came out with this study. One of the first things, though, that I want to highlight is that mental health does not discriminate. It crosses into all demographics, professions, and ethnicities. One of the things that I do believe, is the circumstances in farm and ranch country right now: I call it the perfect storm. It's the low commodity prices, the catastrophic weather that we're experiencing right now in the Midwest, and trade wars. You layer that on top of mental health issues in general, and all of a sudden you have these added - what I want to call circumstantial stress - to basically intensify the problem. And it's obvious, it's evident, and it's important that we address it.
Phil Lempert:
3:19
And also, to add to your list of inputs here, you have farmers who are working 20 hours a day. So, physically, they're run down and then you throw all of the things that you said on top of that. Oh my God, it's horrible. How much of a stigma though is on our farms and ranches to even talk about mental health?
Julie Murphree:
3:41
Well as Morning Consult indicated in the study, there is still a stigma. But one of the things, and I want to give her props because I think she gave some great insight, is this Robin Tutor-Marcom, and she's with the North Carolina Agromedicine Institute, she had advised that there's clear signals specific to farm and ranch families that can be identified, which I thought was very valuable. Her biggest thing is: communication is not weakness. And so because there's a thing stigma that still exist in farm and ranch country with it, at least if we get to that first step of communicating, we might override some of that stigma that still exists amongst our farm and ranch families.
Phil Lempert:
4:27
So, one of the farmers you met with, she suggested that farmers actually give more attention to their animals and their crops than they do to themselves and their families. When she told you that, what was your takeaway?
Julie Murphree:
4:37
It was confirmation to me having grown up on a farm. Sometimes, we're 24/7 in agriculture it seems like, especially if we also have animal agriculture. And one of the things I remember, just partnering with my parents, is that you really couldn't shut down. When you're in the midst of production, whether that be planting or harvesting, you're in the midst of all of it and you really can't stop. So when she said that, it was confirmation to me of my personal experience,
Phil Lempert:
5:05
Now, you mentioned that they came up with some highlights to really look at farmers and ranchers and see how stressed they are, the tell-tale signs of a mental health crisis. What are few of the top ones that she listed that you came away with and were very impressed with?
Julie Murphree:
5:23
Yes, and this is what is so valuable is, they're specific to farm and ranch country, so things such as the decline in care of crops, animals, and farms; if there's a deterioration in personal appearance - now that may happen with somebody else in another profession, but it's certainly another signal here in farm and ranch country; increasing life insurance; withdrawing from social events, family, and friends; a change in mood and or routine. It can also deal with any increase in farm accidents, that's certainly specific to the agriculture industry; the family shows signs of stress; there's increase in physical complaints, difficulties sleeping. So there's a whole list of things that are kind of specific to our industry, but other industries also. But here's some of the other verbal cues that I think are really interesting and it goes back to what Tutor-Marcom said about communicating is, you hear maybe the primary breadwinner for that farm, that he or she is feeling trapped, that there's nothing to live for. Another cue might be that "my family would be better off without me." "I don't want to be a burden." So as family members on the farm, if we hear those kinds of statements, that's when we begin to communicate and be there for that individual who's feeling that stress.
Phil Lempert:
6:44
Well, Julie, thank you for a fabulous article. Everybody needs to read this, and highlighting a very important issue that agriculture faces today. And thank you for joining us on Farm, Food, Facts.
Speaker 4:
6:57
Thank you, Phil.
Phil Lempert:
7:07
"I believe deeply in American agriculture and the rich reward he can give to us all who take part in it. Sharing that opportunity with men and women coming home from war has been a wonderful and humbling experience." Michael O'Gorman, the Founder and Executive Director of the Farmer Veteran Coalition said that, and he joins us today on Farm, Food, Facts. Michael began farming in 1970. after 20 years, in 1990, he was hired to run the first organic farm in Salinas, California, which became the country's leading grower of packaged salad greens. He then went on to lead Growing for the Earthbound label, and in 1998, began developing 1600 acres of intensive organic vegetable and herb production in the northern half of Baja, California for Jacob's farms Del Cabo, including 30 acres of indoor tomatoes. Then, in 2008, he left his job - a very big job - to create the Farmers Veteran Coalition out of the back of his pickup truck. Michael, welcome to Farm, Food, Facts.
Michael:
8:10
Oh, thank you for having me and I'm glad to be here.
Phil Lempert:
8:13
Well, Michael, what gave you the idea to create the Farmer Veteran Coalition?
Michael:
8:18
I think the inspiration was on 9-11. So, that was definitely a day that changed all our lives. For me, my oldest daughter was at Ground Zero. She worked directly across from the building facing the twin towers. She got out with just the trauma of being there. But within a week, my son put on a uniform and joined the U.S. military. So, I was inspired to do something to help the veterans. And in 2006, a study came out from the Carsey Institute of University of New Hampshire that showed the disproportionate number, based on the fatalities of those in Iraq and Afghanistan, were now coming or all voluntary military was now disproportionally coming from our most rural communities. So that was just a lightbulb went out. And I thought, I bet those men and women would like to come home and find careers in agriculture, and maybe I can help them do that.
Phil Lempert:
9:25
Absolutely. You couldn't have better motivation than that. You were also able to secure significant funding from the Iraq and Afghanistan Deployment Impact Fund, which was handling at that time the nation's largest private donation made on behalf of American veterans. How did that make a difference in what you were doing?
Michael:
9:43
Oh, I think it put us on the map. That fund was significant and there were 50 groups that were vetted and put into that organization that formed the Coalition for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans. And we came along, a year into that proposal, but the woman that was doing the vetting heard about what we're doing, and it resonated with the funder and it resonated with her and we got a chance to, we got a smaller grant, but something that put us on the map. And it really, what it did is it got me to D.C. to talk about the veterans in agriculture and that, of all the men and women returning home, there's just a wonderful organizations have sprung up and have been around for a long time, and that many new ones help them this time around. But there was really none focused on agriculture, and there was none really focused on those returning to our rural communities. So there was a real need there. And we jumped in.
Phil Lempert:
10:50
So, I'm fascinated by your mission statement. You're focused on creating a new generation of farmers and food leaders. That's important for all of agriculture, for all of the food industry. Tell me a bit more about that.
Michael:
11:06
You know, I didn't have a military background, but getting to start this project, I'm just in daily awe of the leadership and a certain power that the men and women who are our members have. And I think it comes, not just from their military service, but certainly from their military service and that they're applying that - they did one very difficult, challenging, real gritty thing and they're jumping right into another and they're just the best. They're the strongest, they're the smartest, and they're the most capable. And, I really see a lot of leadership in them every single day.
Phil Lempert:
11:47
What I really hear from farmers and ranchers all the time, is how difficult their job is. But to your point, coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan, farming looks really good.
Michael:
12:03
And even, you know, we joke a lot, but we say things like, the hyper-vigilance that people associate with those that suffer from my Post Traumatic Stress. I say, well, that's great in farming, you know, you have a lot of things to keep your eyes out for and ears out for. So, the best thing that we have to offer the veterans is - it's a really purpose driven military, or all voluntary military, and particularly those that went in post-9-11, which is most of our members - you know, there's a certain yearning for that sense of purpose and finding something as meaningful when they come out. And we're finding that farming and a career in agriculture has meaning beyond just a livelihood. And so that's been our real secret to our success and the secret to their success.
Phil Lempert:
12:53
Well, one of your guiding principles is to recognize the geographic and psychological isolation, to your point, that's common to both farmers and veterans. Also, I love that you're creating a contact between these farmer veterans. Michael, you've built a strong community, help many, many people by giving them a second chance and financial security. It's an honor to meet you. You're one of farmers true leaders. I thank you for joining us today on Farm, Food, Facts.
Michael:
13:23
Thank you for having us.
Phil Lempert:
13:27
And now the news, you need to know. The S.A.V.E. Farm Program is giving veterans a path after their service. The Kansas-based program is offering veterans a new path forward, through farming. The Service member, Agriculture, Vocation, Education, or S.A.V.E. Farm Program, is an 11-month certificate program that combines classroom work with hands-on training on an actual farm in order to teach veterans everything they need to know to operate their own farm. Farm coordinator, Timothy Heiman says, "You go take care of your livestock, your crops. You're starting with something really small and then you're watching it grow, so you're using your hands and your knowledge. It gives you a sense of purpose." The program operates a nearby farm, where they teach and grow crops, and they're currently making an effort to raise money to build housing for veterans and their families to live on-site. The program is covered by the GI bill and the Veteran Administration's Vocational Rehab Program. What grocers need to know is that the S.A.V.E. program and Farmers Veteran Coalition are just two great examples of how ag is helping our veterans. We urge every supermarket retailer to reach out to ag groups in their own communities to discover about these programs and to get involved and form relationships with these first-generation dedicated farmers.
Phil Lempert:
14:48
And for our other news story today, the average age of hired farm laborers is on the rise. Between 2006 and 2017, the average age of hired farm laborers have risen 8 percent. This increased appears to be driven by the aging of foreign-born farm laborers, who make up between 54 and 58 percent of the workforce over this period. Their average age again rose 16 percent in 2017. In contrast, the average age of farm laborers born here in the United States has remained roughly the same. The primary reason: the decline of new immigrants. Farmers are also faced with the labor shortage amid the ongoing federal emphasis on immigration enforcement. Phillips Mushroom Farm in Pennsylvania is experiencing a shortage of labor. Business is booming, but there aren't enough harvesters. Some mushroom and dairy farmers in need of labor have started turning to inmate work-related release programs and organizations like those already mentioned in today's Farm, Food, Facts that help veterans find employment. Another response, especially in regards to the aging farm workforce has been to increase the use of technology and mechanical aids. These changes may help enable workers to prolong their careers and may also make it easier for more women to work in agriculture. What grocers need to know is that farm labor is an important issue that is affecting both supply and costs.
Phil Lempert:
16:24
And now let's head to Tennessee to meet first-generation farmer, Matt Niswander. The average age of a U.S. farmer and rancher today is 58 years old, and a whopping 40 percent of them are over 65. One of the most important priorities that we have is to attract younger people onto our farms and ranches. Of the five pathways that U.S. farmers and ranchers are focused on is collaboration. Collaboration to encourage farmers and ag experts to work together with health professionals and technology experts in order to make our ag system more efficient and also more profitable, and appeal to the next generation of farmers. Each week here on Farm, Food, Facts, you hear from those fifth- or sixth-generation farmers, God bless them. But today we're going to talk to Matt Niswander, a first-generation farmer. Matt, welcome to Farm, Food, Facts.
Matt Niswander:
17:19
Hey, thanks for having me here today. I appreciate the time you're taking and recognizing beginning farmers and ranchers as myself and the advocacy you guys are doing on our part across the agricultural community. Thank you. Thank you for having me.
Phil Lempert:
17:32
So, Matt, I have to ask you this. You know you have a Bachelor's degree, you have a Master's degree with a focus on medicine. Farming is hard work. Why be a young famer?
Matt Niswander:
17:41
As a young child, I think we all kind of dream and fantasize about the farm life, and the animals, and just the lifestyle. And at 16 years old, I was looking for a job. I grew up in a small community. It was not part of the farming community at all, I have no farming background, no family that farms, but one of my first jobs was on a dairy farm. Crazy as it sounds, and if you're a dairy person out there, you understand, that's the hard work. That job kind of led me into agriculture. I fell in love with the cattle, didn't love the three o'clock in the morning milkings at all, but I did fall in love with the cows. And that job at 16 years old just instilled something in me that, it wasn't in my blood, but it was in my heart really quickly.
Matt Niswander:
18:24
And I was really passionate and fell in love with agriculture there even more. Something that stuck with me from the time I got married to my wife and we went to both went to school, and got my Master's degree. I work as a nurse practitioner full-time as well. And I bought a farm in 2014. And that, I figured it out quick. I've always been a hard worker. Work ethics, always been strong and been instilled in me from an early age. That's something that is carried over to agriculture and has served me well. Some days better than others, but, you know, I love the office job. I love taking care of patients and seeing sick people and getting them on the track to better health. But there's nothing like getting your hands dirty and getting out there, taking care of cattle and raising your family on a farm.
Matt Niswander:
19:11
You know, that really is the biggest benefit. We've got three kids and I'm really glad we can raise them in an agricultural community.
Phil Lempert:
19:18
So now you're a full fledged cattleman, but as you said, you started from scratch. This is a big investment. How are you able to get started, get the money, and make it happen?
Matt Niswander:
19:31
There's several barriers, some that I anticipated, but some that I didn't anticipate and really couldn't prepare for. You know, some lessons you just got to learn on your own. You can't read from a book and somebody really can't tell you. But I will say I've had some of the absolute best mentors that you could possibly ask for. The biggest thing for a beginning farmer, that I will say is going to be the biggest hurdle to cover is going to be the financial investment. That capital investment that it takes just to get off the ground is very, very daunting. You know, you bought land, but you've only scratched the surface. That's just the tip of the iceberg. You've got to buy equipment, you've got to buy cattle or livestock, or whatever you need for your particular farming operation or venture. That capital investment has been very difficult. Luckily, in my state of Tennessee, they've got a program called the Advanced Master Beef Producers program that is there to assist farmers that are either very well-established, multi-generational or beginning farmers like myself. It's got a lot of educational classes you can take, which for me was probably more benefit than the money because I had to learn these tactics and skills that people have learned for generations. And I will say, if there ever was, I'm actually a YouTube farmer. You know, I learned if we need to fix something at our house or our car, well I need to know how to pull a calf, castrate a bull, or plant some grass seed, I YouTube it. So tthose two: knowledge deficit in the capital investment are the hardest things. But those are the ways that I made it work in my state and the networking opportunities through the young farmers and ranchers organization that I'm currently the chairman of here in Tennessee is, I can't speak enough volumes of how much that has helped me through this transition into farming.
Phil Lempert:
21:26
So I'd like to switch to your other uniform, your medical uniform. And I see through your medical and personal experiences that you've become a very active voice also, in addition to farming, for the opioid crisis in rural America. Tell me a little bit about that.
Matt Niswander:
21:43
Yeah, so it was an interesting dynamic. So I was, to give you a little background history, I was actually raised about, my parents were both addicted to drugs, opiates, crack cocaine, lots of different things they were doing. And I grew up in that environment. So drug addiction hits home literally with me and always has. So that's a very personal battle that I fight for other people, that I see children going through as well, the same situation I was in. As I started in the farming community, you'd never think of the opioid crisis in rural America. I just, not to sound simple minded, but I think of it as an urban problem, drug addiction and that kind of thing. I know we have it in rural America, but never thought opiates would be here. As I got to studying and researching and going through my medical degree and eventually graduating and taking care of patients, I began to find out very quickly that opioid prescribing in rural America was much, much higher than that of urban America. And specifically in Tennessee. We're, unfortunately, not proud of it, but we're at top of the charts a lot of times for opioid prescribing. And that became something that I gave a lot of personal attention to. I never imagined that it would become a national issue for rural America. Places like Farm Bureau and the National Farmers Union taking that on as a task to combat the opioid crisis. So, as I sit in my office and take care of a lot of the farm community, they come and see me - I wear my boots to work, you know, and I work cows before I come to work and more cows when I get off work - these farmers come in - and farmers get hurt exponentially higher than any other career path in the world - so they're seeking medical care and emergency rooms and local primary care physician's office like mine, and a lot of the time opiates are prescribed and people just don't understand that opiates are addicting or can be addicting. And an opiate has the same response in your body as you using heroin. And if I told you that before you received your pain prescription for a broken bone or something like that, you would probably think twice before taking that medicine. And that's the message that I'm trying to get out there. You know, make an informed decision. Understand the risks you put at yourself. It takes three days to get addicted to these opiates. When you get a prescription it's typically five days or more. So, that's the information we're trying to share it on a national level.
Phil Lempert:
24:10
So, May is Mental Health Awareness month. What would you like, all farmers throughout the nation, what would you like food companies, what would you like supermarkets to understand about mental health awareness?
Matt Niswander:
24:28
Mental health in rural America is a huge problem. I think we could point the finger at a lot of different things, but I think it all comes back down to one issue. And that's the lack of resources in rural America for mental health services. We just had, I just had a discussion last night with a psychologist friend of mine about, I'm trying to get a friend of ours access to a therapist in our area, and we come to find out that it's three months before you get these patients that are in a critical stage of their life to get evaluated, just to get checked out and then get some treatment. Well, if somebody comes into my office to see me there, they usually don't catch it on the front and they wait until they get where they can't handle theirselves. You know, they try to either self-medicate or self-treat, which goes right back to the drug addiction problems. They try to self-medicate with these drugs and then by the time they get to me, they're really past crisis moment, to be honest with you. And if I can't get him in for three months, that ties my hands, that puts them at risk for suicide and all kinds of plethora of issues. We've chosen to highlight that along with the opioid crisi because like I said, a lot of these, a lot of these people with mental health disorders choose to self-medicate because they have no access to treatment. They don't have the finances to get to a larger facility hours away. And not having those resources or support systems, they are left to tread water and fend for themselves.
Phil Lempert:
26:01
Well, Matt, you're a true leader. I applaud your medical practice. I applaud your farming practices, wish you all the best and thank you so much for joining us today on Farm, Food, Facts.
Matt Niswander:
26:16
Yeah, thank you for having me. And, please feel free to reach out to me if you ever need anything in the future.
Phil Lempert:
26:21
We will, I am sure. Thank you. For more information on all things, food and agriculture, and to listen to our archives, please visit fooddialogues.com under the Programs and Media tab and visit us on Facebook at U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance or on Twitter at USFRA. Until next time.
×

Listen to this podcast on