Voices of the Plains: Nebraska Farmers mental health
A monthly series hosted by the Center for Great Plains Studies Graduate Fellows.
The Center is launching a new online series to amplify the voices of distinctive communities on the Great Plains whose perspectives have historically been marginalized, underrepresented, or misunderstood. This new series is brought to you by our dynamic group of Graduate Fellows, graduate students who come from fields as diverse as Civil Engineering, Biological Sciences, English, Teaching, Learning and Teacher Education, and Natural Resources. They have combined their unique interests and expertise to create a compelling series of accessible conversations focused on the region.
This event will look at the challenges of infrastructure, mental health, climate change, and pressure from large corporations. It will feature a short presentation on the experiences of Nebraska farmers, a discussion between the speaker and facilitator, and audience Q&A.
Bradi Heaberlin recently received her M.A. in Geography from Indiana University, where she wrote a thesis, titled "Farm Stress and the Production of Rural Sacrifice Zones," exploring the ways in which economic issues in the farm economy contribute to mental health symptoms such as anxiety, depression, and the possibility of suicide among farmers and ranchers. Her work is fundamentally concerned with the ways in which the social fabric of rural communities are disrupted and hollowed out as a result of land and industry consolidation.
Bailey McNichol is a Graduate Fellow at the Center for Great Plains Studies and a third-year PhD Student in Biological Sciences at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Her research is focused on understanding patterns of plant diversity and the effects of climate change on Nebraska's forests.
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[00:00:04.500]Welcome, everybody. So nice to see you.
[00:00:07.530]And my name is Margaret Jacobs.
[00:00:09.780]I'm the director of the Center For Great Plain Studies.
[00:00:12.930]And we are really delighted this evening
[00:00:15.570]to have our graduate fellows of the program
[00:00:19.817]launch their very first program
[00:00:23.280]called "Voices of the Plains."
[00:00:25.560]I wanted to let you know a little bit
[00:00:26.930]about the graduate fellows in case any of you
[00:00:29.220]are interested in applying to be a graduate fellow
[00:00:32.490]or know of others who might be.
[00:00:35.350]It's a small program we have at the center
[00:00:37.700]where we try to provide both support and community
[00:00:40.890]for graduate students in lots of different disciplines
[00:00:43.450]who are all united in their interest the Great Plains.
[00:00:47.746]And so some of our fellows tonight
[00:00:50.130]will tell you a little bit about their backgrounds
[00:00:52.386]and how they came together on this program.
[00:00:56.360]So this is a new program called "Voices of the Plains,"
[00:01:00.480]and we thought it'd be a great opportunity
[00:01:04.010]for both the center and our grad fellows
[00:01:08.010]to have this project where they are amplifying the voices
[00:01:13.140]of people who live on the Great Plains
[00:01:15.420]who've sometimes been marginalized or maybe misrepresented
[00:01:19.490]or erased even, or misunderstood.
[00:01:24.460]And so we're really delighted
[00:01:27.000]that the grad fellows have taken on this program.
[00:01:29.450]And I assume will probably tell you
[00:01:32.100]a little bit more about it.
[00:01:34.280]Before we begin formally,
[00:01:35.800]I do want to share with you a statement
[00:01:38.960]that we have started sharing
[00:01:40.540]at the beginning of all of our events.
[00:01:43.646]And this is a land acknowledgement of the indigenous peoples
[00:01:45.760]who first settled and lived on this land
[00:01:49.877]long before Europeans and African Americans,
[00:01:54.590]and many other immigrant groups came here.
[00:01:58.450]So the University of Nebraska
[00:02:00.330]of which the Great Plains Center is a part
[00:02:03.380]is a land grant institution.
[00:02:05.960]And we are based on the present and future homelands
[00:02:10.465]of a number of indigenous groups,
[00:02:12.620]including the Pawnees, Poncas, Oto, Missouria,
[00:02:16.490]Omaha, Dakota, Lakota, Kaw, Cheyenne and Arapaho peoples.
[00:02:23.090]But there's also a lot of displaced indigenous peoples
[00:02:26.940]that have also come to this homeland.
[00:02:30.820]Those include the relocated Ho-Chunk,
[00:02:33.920]Sac and Fox and Iowa peoples.
[00:02:37.160]So we would like to honor those peoples
[00:02:39.270]who kept these lands for so many centuries
[00:02:43.630]before settlers arrived in this area.
[00:02:46.450]And so now I'm gonna turn it over to Bailey and Catherine.
[00:02:52.580]Yeah, hi, everyone.
[00:02:53.690]Thanks so much for being here with us
[00:02:55.430]and taking this time to spend your evening with us.
[00:02:58.260]My name is Bailey McNichol.
[00:02:59.530]I'm a third year PhD student
[00:03:01.140]in the School of Biological Sciences
[00:03:02.940]at the University of Nebraska.
[00:03:04.900]My research is focused in the Great Plains
[00:03:07.200]in semi arid forests in north central Nebraska,
[00:03:10.240]which are going to be vulnerable to the increasing frequency
[00:03:14.390]and intensity of climate extremes,
[00:03:16.670]droughts, wildfires and things of the nature.
[00:03:19.735]And so that's what brought me
[00:03:20.568]to the Great Plains a few years ago,
[00:03:22.170]and what sparked my interest
[00:03:23.830]in the interesting peoples and ecosystems
[00:03:26.370]and just generally overlooked part of the country
[00:03:29.050]that I think really has a lot of rich history
[00:03:31.914]and knowledge to offer.
[00:03:34.209]And we have a few of our other grad fellows
[00:03:36.640]here on the call, Catherine and Kara,
[00:03:38.500]who will be hosting similar seminars in the coming months.
[00:03:41.670]So stay tuned for some more updates on that.
[00:03:44.410]And with that, I'd like to introduce our speaker.
[00:03:48.050]And then I'll talk a little bit
[00:03:49.240]about the format for tonight's event.
[00:03:51.220]So here we have Bradi. So excited for you to be here.
[00:03:54.870]Bradi Heaberlin recently received her MA in geography
[00:03:58.060]from Indiana University, where she wrote a thesis,
[00:04:01.070]which we'll be seeing some results from tonight, titled,
[00:04:03.967]"Farm Stress and Production of Rural Sacrifice Zones,"
[00:04:07.330]which explores the ways in which economic issues
[00:04:09.830]in the farm economy contribute to mental health symptoms,
[00:04:12.760]such as anxiety, depression and the possibility of suicide
[00:04:16.260]among farmers and ranchers.
[00:04:18.070]Her work is fundamentally concerned
[00:04:19.780]in the ways in which the social fabric or rural communities
[00:04:22.910]are disrupted and hollowed out
[00:04:24.840]as a result of land and industry consolidation.
[00:04:28.150]And currently Bradi is a PhD student at Indiana University,
[00:04:32.030]studying geography and informatics.
[00:04:34.610]So with that, I'd like to welcome Bradi to share her screen,
[00:04:37.970]and then we'll let her do her presentation.
[00:04:40.404]Then we'll have a more directed discussion
[00:04:43.890]about some of the ideas that she'll be presenting.
[00:04:46.070]And then we should have lots of time for rich discussion
[00:04:48.330]where audience members are welcome to ask questions
[00:04:50.870]or provide their own contributions
[00:04:52.720]and insights to this conversation.
[00:04:54.540]We'd like it to be really dynamic and informal.
[00:04:56.890]So please feel free to engage
[00:04:58.960]as much as you'd like to tonight.
[00:05:01.040]So go ahead, Bradi.
[00:05:02.460]Great, thank you so much. Yes, I will share.
[00:05:05.820]I'm always still learning Zoom, it feels like.
[00:05:08.840]Let's see. Let me.
[00:05:13.010]Scoot things around so I can do that.
[00:05:18.925]Great, can you all see this okay and hear me all right?
[00:05:22.810]Yeah, looks great.
[00:05:25.050]Thank you for being here, everyone.
[00:05:27.890]I appreciate you all being here.
[00:05:29.260]I know being here
[00:05:30.780]for the first "Voices of the Plains" speaker event,
[00:05:34.040]I know there's a lot going on.
[00:05:35.270]People are struggling with childcare,
[00:05:37.190]the possibility of illness or illness,
[00:05:39.587]and also this new news headline
[00:05:42.442]about Russia and the Ukraine.
[00:05:44.530]So amidst all of that, I'm very grateful that you're here.
[00:05:48.110]And I hope that this is interesting to you all.
[00:05:52.810]My name is Bradi Heaberlin, as Bailey said,
[00:05:55.150]and I'm a third year dual PhD student
[00:05:57.330]in geography and informatics,
[00:05:58.800]where I'm interested in farm stress,
[00:06:01.890]more recently in infrastructure and commodity circulation.
[00:06:05.600]But today's talk is really based on my master's thesis,
[00:06:09.320]which I defended last September.
[00:06:12.100]So for the last two years,
[00:06:13.560]I've been working with on the ground farmers,
[00:06:16.110]organization in Nebraska,
[00:06:17.970]who contend with the human toll
[00:06:20.170]of this ongoing, but slow burning, farm crisis.
[00:06:24.180]And together we've been trying to understand the sources
[00:06:27.520]of that farm-related distress
[00:06:29.640]and also the gaps in the resources
[00:06:31.630]that are currently available to farmers
[00:06:33.580]and ranchers and residents of farming communities.
[00:06:36.580]And I will say in the spirit of the land acknowledgement
[00:06:40.320]and in a lot of themes of recent events,
[00:06:44.472]whether it's the George Floyd uprising
[00:06:47.540]or the Dakota access pipeline,
[00:06:49.770]much closer to where you all are,
[00:06:51.490]that's like going back a little bit, et cetera,
[00:06:53.960]the theme of race is something I don't address explicitly
[00:06:58.300]in this talk, but I think is very relevant.
[00:07:00.830]And so I hope maybe that can come up a little bit
[00:07:03.010]at the end of the discussion,
[00:07:05.313]but I just wanted to highlight that
[00:07:07.160]because one of the papers I draw on extensively through this
[00:07:10.090]is concerned with like what did the 2016 election mean
[00:07:13.070]in terms of farmer distress and the farm economy?
[00:07:16.370]All right, all of that said, let's jump at.
[00:07:19.587]And so I want to start by acknowledging
[00:07:23.350]that we are living in the midst
[00:07:24.870]of an epidemic in farm stress.
[00:07:27.400]So in 2017, the Guardian asked us to consider,
[00:07:31.087]"Why are America's farmers killing themselves?"
[00:07:34.330]And again, I'll talk about suicide every now and then.
[00:07:37.500]I should have given you a content warning,
[00:07:38.870]but that will come up.
[00:07:41.060]In August of 2019, Forbes noted that,
[00:07:41.927]"Amid Trump tariffs, farm bankruptcies and suicides rise."
[00:07:47.500]And again, in March of 2020, USA Today put it bluntly.
[00:07:51.340]They said, "Midwest farmers face a crisis.
[00:07:53.840]100s are dying by suicide."
[00:07:56.390]So the data on farmer suicides is sparse and contested.
[00:08:01.020]In 2018, the CDC re-released previously retracted data
[00:08:05.280]on suicide rates by occupation.
[00:08:07.800]The occupational groupings the agency used
[00:08:10.088]were not conducive to a clear analysis
[00:08:12.610]of suicide rates in farming and ranching,
[00:08:14.570]which I can say more about in our discussion if needed,
[00:08:17.460]but the National Farmers Union sifted through the data
[00:08:20.110]and re-aggregated the findings to help us understand
[00:08:22.880]the suicide rate in farming and ranching.
[00:08:25.890]The National Farmers Union found that farmers,
[00:08:28.040]ranchers and agricultural managers ranked first in 2012
[00:08:32.100]for suicide rate by occupation.
[00:08:34.430]And unfortunately that trend did not get much better
[00:08:37.170]over the following few years.
[00:08:39.240]In 2015, they found that farmers,
[00:08:41.120]ranchers and agricultural managers still ranked highly
[00:08:44.248]by occupation for suicide at third among other occupations.
[00:08:49.890]And so part of the question I'm asking is why is this,
[00:08:53.210]or do we have a sense of why farmers and ranchers
[00:08:55.640]are distressed, are in distress?
[00:08:58.137]And so I wanna share a little bit of data
[00:08:59.950]from other agencies
[00:09:01.150]before I really dig into what's happening in Nebraska
[00:09:04.090]and how I think we should think about that.
[00:09:07.360]So in 2020, Farm Bureau launched this huge poll
[00:09:12.100]of people living in rural communities.
[00:09:14.140]This includes farmers and ranchers,
[00:09:16.100]but it also includes people who are very close to them,
[00:09:18.690]which I think is a really good move.
[00:09:20.390]Because when we're thinking about farmer distress,
[00:09:22.710]we need to be thinking about entire farming communities.
[00:09:25.900]They asked these rural adults
[00:09:28.230]how much they thought financial issues,
[00:09:30.450]fear of losing the farm, an uncertain future,
[00:09:33.390]and the state of the farm economy
[00:09:35.223]contributed to or were major drivers of
[00:09:38.470]poor mental health among farmers.
[00:09:40.820]And as you can see here,
[00:09:42.240]some of the highest ranking issues for in rural communities
[00:09:46.810]so that people self-reported were financial issues.
[00:09:49.750]60% of people who were pulled said that contributes a lot.
[00:09:54.960]And for fear of losing the farm,
[00:09:57.170]it was still more than half at 54,
[00:09:59.600]an uncertain future at 51%,
[00:10:01.620]and the state of the farm economy at 50%.
[00:10:04.543]So we're already starting to see from Farm Bureau data
[00:10:08.460]that there definitely is something,
[00:10:11.420]there is something at the intersection
[00:10:12.840]of the mental health of farmers and the farm economy.
[00:10:18.110]And so it's no secret that farmers and ranchers
[00:10:20.910]have hit really hard times in the last 10 years or so
[00:10:24.020]with bankruptcies particularly high in the Midwest
[00:10:27.110]and also in the Great Plains.
[00:10:29.320]So this is a chart from 2011 to 2020
[00:10:33.480]with the cumulative number of Chapter 12 bankruptcy filings.
[00:10:37.320]And we can see that it's especially high in South Dakota,
[00:10:40.230]Nebraska, Kansas, Minnesota,
[00:10:42.810]parts of Iowa, Wisconsin and Michigan.
[00:10:45.927]And that's 7 of the 12 states that roughly compose
[00:10:50.800]this like Midwest and Great Plains area,
[00:10:53.724]and Nebraska, the site of my research
[00:10:55.890]and where many of you are based,
[00:10:57.564]had the fourth highest rate of Chapter 12
[00:10:59.940]bankruptcy filings in the last 10 years or so.
[00:11:05.353]And in 2020, or by 2020,
[00:11:07.860]Nebraska had the second highest rate
[00:11:10.040]of Chapter 12 bankruptcies in the nation.
[00:11:11.790]So the most recent evidence that we have
[00:11:14.060]is that things are not good for Nebraska farmers
[00:11:16.750]and they're getting worse.
[00:11:20.680]And as one interviewee
[00:11:22.300]with the Nebraska Farmers Union told me,
[00:11:26.550]bankruptcies are just the tip of the iceberg.
[00:11:29.520]By the time somebody's filing a bankruptcy,
[00:11:31.380]things are very bad,
[00:11:33.080]but successfully filing a Chapter 12 bankruptcy
[00:11:35.760]means that you still stand a chance
[00:11:37.320]at reorganizing your farm ranches debt
[00:11:40.020]and finances and staying in business.
[00:11:42.450]But they, like suicide rates, for example,
[00:11:45.590]kind of woefully underestimate the extent of suffering
[00:11:49.040]in farming communities.
[00:11:50.550]So to fully understand farm-related distress,
[00:11:53.120]we have to look at the impacts of an adverse economy
[00:11:56.540]on the social fabric of farming communities.
[00:12:01.067]So we have a lot of signs
[00:12:02.780]that farmers are experiencing economic crises,
[00:12:05.410]as well as mental health crises.
[00:12:07.390]And we see some indications that these are connected,
[00:12:10.070]but there's not a lot of research on that.
[00:12:12.890]When I began my research on this topic,
[00:12:15.070]I had an inkling that they were related,
[00:12:17.230]but also that it was more complicated than that.
[00:12:20.292]So that we couldn't just say
[00:12:21.590]this farmer's facing bankruptcy.
[00:12:23.660]And so they're depressed,
[00:12:25.370]or this farmer's in a lot of debt
[00:12:28.090]and can't afford his mortgage.
[00:12:30.680]And so he's considering suicide.
[00:12:32.170]I thought there's a connection to be made there,
[00:12:35.690]but it seems a lot more complex than that.
[00:12:39.250]So now a couple years into this research,
[00:12:42.040]I'm thinking about the distress
[00:12:43.790]among farmers and ranchers like this.
[00:12:46.070]There's economic restructuring, major economic changes,
[00:12:49.210]sometimes through land consolidation,
[00:12:51.300]sometimes through industry consolidation,
[00:12:53.750]which I'll say more about later,
[00:12:55.590]and these have cascading effects
[00:12:57.100]on rural social communities.
[00:12:58.710]And we'll touch on this more in a little bit,
[00:13:01.270]but I just wanted to map the way I'm thinking about this.
[00:13:05.430]Many farmers already feel
[00:13:07.280]a great deal of individual responsibility for their farms,
[00:13:10.230]some of which have been in their families for generations,
[00:13:13.250]but then as farming communities
[00:13:15.090]experience economic restructuring,
[00:13:17.100]they see the flight of local wealth to outside corporations,
[00:13:20.440]and they also see things like schools and hospitals
[00:13:22.640]consolidate or close their doors completely.
[00:13:25.230]It's this whole process that I'm interested in
[00:13:28.500]and that I wanna dive into in this talk.
[00:13:30.920]So I approach this research
[00:13:32.610]motivated by three central questions.
[00:13:36.020]The Farm Bureau has already told us that adults perceptions
[00:13:39.273]of the causes of farm stress are largely economic,
[00:13:42.410]but I wanna know from the people in distress
[00:13:44.487]and farming communities
[00:13:46.190]and from the people who are responding to their stress,
[00:13:49.522]what are the causes of those stress?
[00:13:52.510]Where do they attribute the causes?
[00:13:54.700]And second, what are the sources available
[00:13:56.860]to farmers in distress
[00:13:58.720]and do they really approach the causes of that distress?
[00:14:02.780]And what does it mean for them, as I'll discuss later,
[00:14:06.610]to frame the distress in terms of a mental health issue?
[00:14:10.410]And third and lastly,
[00:14:11.689]I've been in my own community and elsewhere,
[00:14:14.669]I think in terms of political mobilizing,
[00:14:17.510]and I think in terms
[00:14:18.343]of what does it mean for us to work together.
[00:14:20.240]So my third concern was collective agency.
[00:14:22.820]And is there a better way to understand farmer distress
[00:14:26.000]than thinking in terms of farmer and ranchers mental health?
[00:14:29.090]What would it take to understand it
[00:14:30.889]where we could foster the collective agency of
[00:14:33.980]and build collective power among farmers and rancher?
[00:14:38.610]So I can tend to be very theory minded,
[00:14:41.366]and to really zoom out to look at large scale trends,
[00:14:45.350]but for this project, it was really important to zoom in
[00:14:47.760]on a very particular geographical,
[00:14:49.850]economic and social context.
[00:14:52.250]Because of the relationships I'd formed
[00:14:54.060]with farmers organizations doing on the ground work
[00:14:56.700]with farmers and ranchers,
[00:14:57.960]I situated my project in Nebraska,
[00:15:00.920]and Nebraska, as many of you know,
[00:15:02.460]is characterized by a vast rural landscape,
[00:15:06.070]which encompasses 99.3% of the state's land area
[00:15:11.850]and about 27% of its population,
[00:15:15.260]and farms and ranches make up 92%
[00:15:17.500]of the state's total land area.
[00:15:20.545]As of 2019, the state of Nebraska
[00:15:21.660]ranked third in the country for its agricultural production
[00:15:24.960]with the cow-calf sector making up
[00:15:26.940]almost half of the state's gross revenue in agriculture.
[00:15:29.920]That won't be news for any of you who live there.
[00:15:31.810]But I know there are a few people on the Zoom
[00:15:34.560]who are from out of state.
[00:15:36.283]So I think that is good for us to frame,
[00:15:38.173]the landscape of Nebraska is by land area,
[00:15:42.205]largely rural and largely farming communities,
[00:15:45.863]but ultimately the choice to situate my analyses in Nebraska
[00:15:49.630]was both inspired and made possible
[00:15:51.660]by the organizations contending with the human toll
[00:15:54.843]that I will attribute to economic restructuring
[00:15:58.300]in farming communities,
[00:15:59.260]which I'll say more about in a second.
[00:16:03.090]So just a little bit more background,
[00:16:04.440]and then we'll dive into the data
[00:16:06.140]and the organizations I'm working with.
[00:16:08.130]I just wanna tell you for a second about my methods,
[00:16:10.180]especially as some of you are graduate students
[00:16:12.560]who may be early on in your program,
[00:16:14.160]or maybe thinking about mixed methods approach.
[00:16:17.280]I drew on three different methodologies.
[00:16:20.250]One was just quantitative data analysis of a crisis hotline
[00:16:23.970]that I'll say more about a second in a second.
[00:16:26.220]I also did ethnographic and semi-structured interviews
[00:16:29.630]with the Nebraska Farmers Union,
[00:16:31.670]that's the NEFU acronym there,
[00:16:33.970]the Nebraska Rural Response Council,
[00:16:36.184]both their like central members
[00:16:38.465]and their hotline respondents.
[00:16:40.640]And I also, because I was interested
[00:16:42.260]in how these resources had changed over time
[00:16:44.566]and what these organizations were seeing,
[00:16:47.210]I also did archival work looking at quarterly reports,
[00:16:50.646]year end summaries, local news stories,
[00:16:53.883]and historical archives around the farm crisis of the 1980s,
[00:16:58.910]which is one of the only moments really comparable
[00:17:01.660]to what's happening here.
[00:17:04.523]So at a farm stress training
[00:17:06.370]hosted by the National Farmers Union in February of 2020,
[00:17:09.890]I met a member of the Nebraska Rural Response Council,
[00:17:13.190]and after chatting at length
[00:17:14.430]about my interest in studying farmer stress,
[00:17:16.730]he consulted the council who generally granted me access
[00:17:19.380]to the organization's hotline data.
[00:17:21.750]So Nebraska Rural Response
[00:17:23.350]is a rural farmer-oriented crisis hotline
[00:17:26.170]serving Nebraska residents.
[00:17:28.190]They were founded in 1984, so during the 1980s farm crisis,
[00:17:32.260]by a broad coalition
[00:17:33.440]of progressive organization and ministries,
[00:17:36.660]and they partnered with the National Farmers Union
[00:17:38.700]and the Nebraska Farmers Union,
[00:17:40.909]and they take about 250 to 650 crisis calls a month
[00:17:46.170]from distressed farmers
[00:17:47.920]and some residents of farming communities,
[00:17:50.300]and they collect data from this hotline,
[00:17:51.980]including temporal, so like time series,
[00:17:55.900]categorical and spatial data for each hotline.
[00:18:00.420]So let's take a look at the data
[00:18:02.520]to answer this first question,
[00:18:03.940]what are the causes of farm stress in Nebraska?
[00:18:07.440]Hotline respondents categorize each call
[00:18:09.810]that comes into the hotline according to its content
[00:18:12.220]with each call categorized only once.
[00:18:14.950]So here we can see those calls,
[00:18:17.232]and this is spanning the timeframe
[00:18:19.720]of 2015 to the beginning of 2020.
[00:18:22.640]We don't look at COVID data yet
[00:18:23.960]because who knows what we'll see
[00:18:25.540]once we start looking at COVID period data?
[00:18:29.210]And at first glance,
[00:18:30.610]the data suggests that the most common reason
[00:18:32.790]a caller reaches out to the hotline
[00:18:34.960]is due to a need to be heard.
[00:18:37.100]In other words,
[00:18:37.933]just for the opportunity to share their troubles
[00:18:40.300]they're experiencing with another person.
[00:18:42.650]And then tax and estate issues
[00:18:44.300]and direct counseling requests are also common reasons
[00:18:47.090]callers reach out to the hotline.
[00:18:48.940]And then Nebraska Rural Response hotline
[00:18:51.210]does have means by which they can offer therapy vouchers
[00:18:55.230]so that people have free access to therapists in Nebraska.
[00:18:59.340]But given that the Farm Bureaus findings
[00:19:01.320]were that financial issues
[00:19:02.849]were the most commonly perceived cause of distress,
[00:19:07.498]I wanted to aggregate all of the financial issues together
[00:19:10.920]to see how those rank once they were aggregated,
[00:19:14.290]and also to dig into this need to be heard a little bit more
[00:19:17.050]by talking with people
[00:19:18.710]at the Nebraska Rural Response hotline
[00:19:21.140]about what those calls looked like.
[00:19:24.370]So once aggregated, I found that financial concerns
[00:19:26.920]make up the most common call type
[00:19:29.000]with 4,475 calls from July, 2015, to January, 2020,
[00:19:34.760]compared to 4,346 calls
[00:19:37.530]where callers express the need to be heard.
[00:19:40.510]Importantly, these call types
[00:19:41.810]aren't completely mutually exclusive.
[00:19:43.944]So in an interview, a hotline respondent told me
[00:19:46.900]that many calls get categorized as a need-to-be-heard
[00:19:49.700]when the caller is embarrassed or shy
[00:19:52.080]about expressing financial concerns,
[00:19:54.460]and they don't necessarily directly ask
[00:19:56.720]if help is available for financial distress.
[00:19:59.720]So even with most calls being about financial concerns,
[00:20:02.860]we can actually think of that number
[00:20:04.720]as pretty underestimated,
[00:20:06.570]because many of the need-to-be-heard calls
[00:20:09.010]that get categorized that way are more timid ways of farmers
[00:20:13.730]and renters or rural community members saying like,
[00:20:17.393]that they do have an underlying economic concern.
[00:20:22.410]And so for a quick comparison of all the call types
[00:20:25.110]over the period for which we have data,
[00:20:27.500]I wanna say that 36.5% of calls
[00:20:31.290]explicitly expressed financial distress,
[00:20:34.400]and then making up a substantial portion
[00:20:36.900]of financial distress calls are tax and estate issues
[00:20:40.350]at about 23.6% of all calls.
[00:20:43.505]When asked why this call type was so common,
[00:20:46.580]a Nebraska Farmers Union member of the hotline council,
[00:20:50.040]so somebody who overlapped with both organizations,
[00:20:52.566]noted that many farmers
[00:20:54.250]realize they're not solvent during tax season,
[00:20:56.580]and they, he said, get a letter from the IRS
[00:20:58.910]while liquidating their assets
[00:21:00.720]and realize that they still owe a great deal of money
[00:21:03.050]and they will not break even that season.
[00:21:05.810]And finally, 34.6% of calls express the need to be heard,
[00:21:11.040]which, again, includes many latent financial issues.
[00:21:16.340]So the hotline quarterly reports also echo this finding,
[00:21:19.460]and this is where the hotline respondents really summarized
[00:21:22.020]and articulate what has happened over the quarter.
[00:21:24.720]So this report from April, 2019, says,
[00:21:27.587]"Financial distress remains the principle focus of our work,
[00:21:31.060]the greatest demand and the most challenging area
[00:21:33.640]in which just to discover solutions.
[00:21:35.890]Cash flows are difficult."
[00:21:39.580]So again, this confirms in the Nebraska context,
[00:21:42.900]what Farm Bureau is seeing at the national level.
[00:21:46.050]Farmers in distress are calling about economic issues.
[00:21:49.520]The hotline's quarterly report
[00:21:51.150]also has the call frequency per county per month.
[00:21:55.390]So I summed the total calls per county
[00:21:57.850]from July, 2015, to January, 2020,
[00:22:00.660]and calculated them relative
[00:22:02.770]to the average census population that period,
[00:22:06.360]using a programming package in Python,
[00:22:08.490]if any of you are programmers.
[00:22:10.340]And I plotted this call frequency, again,
[00:22:13.460]as a percent of the population,
[00:22:15.459]'cause I wanted to get a geospatial sense
[00:22:17.890]of what's happening here.
[00:22:19.500]So if you're looking at this plot,
[00:22:21.459]just to give you a sense of the color coding,
[00:22:23.892]if it's yellow, there's a lot of calls coming in
[00:22:26.950]relative to the population size.
[00:22:29.390]And if it's blue, there aren't as many.
[00:22:31.470]So we have this little bar on the right side,
[00:22:33.710]and you can see that like at the most yellow,
[00:22:35.620]4.6% of the population,
[00:22:37.580]which is a pretty big chunk of the population
[00:22:40.720]to be calling the same crisis hotline,
[00:22:42.901]is calling in counties toward the middle of the state.
[00:22:47.167]And so I created a cutoff
[00:22:52.130]at which I was like concerned about a given county.
[00:22:55.440]And I wanted, for the sake of my research here,
[00:22:58.880]to zoom in on this belt of counties right in the middle.
[00:23:03.313]And these are counties
[00:23:04.560]that have exceptionally high call volumes.
[00:23:07.280]So this includes Arthur County at 2.81%,
[00:23:11.440]Blaine County at 4.61%,
[00:23:13.790]Brown County, Garfield County,
[00:23:16.010]Greeley, Hooker, Loop, Rock and a few others, as well.
[00:23:20.700]I won't name them all, just to save us a little bit of time.
[00:23:25.050]But as many of you know, these counties are located
[00:23:27.620]primarily in the Sandhills region of Nebraska,
[00:23:30.520]which is known for its sandy and somewhat infertile soil.
[00:23:34.900]And as a result, the farm economy in this area
[00:23:37.120]is made up predominantly of ranches in the cow-calf sector,
[00:23:41.830]and all but one of these counties
[00:23:43.390]are categorized as farming dependent, according to the USDA,
[00:23:46.820]which means 25% or more of their income
[00:23:50.050]or 16% or more of their employment are derived from farming.
[00:23:54.490]So when the data revealed a region of Nebraska
[00:23:58.270]that exhibited high levels of distress
[00:24:01.110]measured by call frequency to the hotline,
[00:24:03.550]I set out to find news stories,
[00:24:05.330]information about the Nebraska cow-calf sector
[00:24:08.790]and demographic statistics that could tell me more
[00:24:11.270]about the socioeconomic processes underway in this region.
[00:24:15.270]I also say this research was done during COVID.
[00:24:17.390]So as much as I wanted to go out and just talk to farmers,
[00:24:20.220]many of these farmers are older, in their 60s or older.
[00:24:25.547]There wasn't a vaccine at the time
[00:24:27.660]that I was doing this research.
[00:24:28.740]So I really had to rely on a lot of archival data
[00:24:32.010]and later talking to a few crisis responders.
[00:24:35.920]So if we wanna ask the question, oops,
[00:24:39.258]why is there such a distinct belt of counties
[00:24:42.180]with high call volume
[00:24:43.420]to the Nebraska Rural Response hotline?
[00:24:46.158]To begin answering that question,
[00:24:48.130]we need to take a moment and think about
[00:24:50.600]this process of economic restructuring.
[00:24:53.060]And I'm working a little backwards here.
[00:24:54.400]I know because of the research I did later,
[00:24:56.290]the economic restructuring has a high correspondence,
[00:24:58.450]but before I can explain that we have to talk about like,
[00:25:02.862]what does economic restructuring mean
[00:25:05.300]in rural Nebraska and more broadly?
[00:25:08.400]So there are many forms of economic restructuring
[00:25:11.160]in rural communities,
[00:25:12.938]but two of the leading causes of economic restructuring
[00:25:17.487]in almost any given agricultural community in the US
[00:25:22.500]are land consolidation and industry consolidation.
[00:25:26.270]So land consolidation is the process
[00:25:28.650]by which farm or ranch land parcels,
[00:25:31.530]once operated as an assortment of smaller medium-sized farms
[00:25:34.950]or ranches are purchased by a single owner,
[00:25:37.990]often a corporation or an LLC that is not local to the area
[00:25:42.450]and aggregated into a single farm business.
[00:25:45.290]It's frequently accompanied by high rates of renting
[00:25:47.790]where farmers and ranchers don't own the land
[00:25:49.820]that they operate, as well as price speculation
[00:25:53.340]on the value of the land itself.
[00:25:55.510]And so as the value of the rented land rises,
[00:25:58.410]so does the cost of rent.
[00:26:00.130]So as price speculation takes place, rent goes up.
[00:26:04.330]Increases in rent push farmers
[00:26:05.950]to try to optimize their operation
[00:26:07.470]by investing in more costly equipment and machinery.
[00:26:11.070]And that entire process can put a farmer in debt,
[00:26:13.660]especially if they do not own their land.
[00:26:15.920]So already, we can see the ways in which land consolidation
[00:26:19.120]might drive out small scale farmers
[00:26:20.950]and concentrate wealth outside of a given rural community.
[00:26:25.110]And we know that land consolidation picked up substantially
[00:26:28.140]after the 2008 recession,
[00:26:30.220]which forced investors to find assets
[00:26:33.300]that could survive depressions in the economy
[00:26:35.820]or survive volatility in the real estate market, et cetera.
[00:26:40.980]So land became a more common place to store capital
[00:26:43.715]because it doesn't depreciate substantially in value
[00:26:46.650]over long periods of time.
[00:26:49.690]And farmers and ranchers
[00:26:50.660]are also faced with economic restructuring
[00:26:52.870]in the form of industry consolidation.
[00:26:55.056]That occurs when multiple stages of crop
[00:26:57.850]or livestock processing,
[00:27:00.158]once distributed among local and regional operations,
[00:27:03.830]are subsumed under larger
[00:27:05.490]and larger corporations and operations.
[00:27:08.230]And it gets to the point where ultimately
[00:27:09.680]very few corporations control many stages of farming
[00:27:13.190]from inputs such as equipment, seeds,
[00:27:15.430]animal and plant genetics
[00:27:17.200]to meat packing and processing and distribution.
[00:27:20.720]Industry consolidation is characterized
[00:27:23.210]by a greater interconnectedness
[00:27:25.030]between different market actors
[00:27:27.510]from farmers and ranchers to workers on processing lines,
[00:27:30.870]and a highly integrated market like that
[00:27:33.170]is much less resilient to price and supply chain volatility,
[00:27:36.840]which almost always comes back to hit the farmer
[00:27:39.290]and not the large corporation.
[00:27:41.646]Hendrickson et al note
[00:27:44.200]that when a problem hits one part of the supply chain,
[00:27:47.370]they quickly engulf others.
[00:27:48.860]And that's a result of this consolidation
[00:27:50.467]and this interconnectedness.
[00:27:52.470]And for example, this was nowhere more clear
[00:27:54.900]than in meat processing facilities
[00:27:56.610]during the COVID pandemic,
[00:27:58.370]where more than 40,000 workers became ill with the virus,
[00:28:01.890]producing a bottleneck in the capacity
[00:28:03.760]of the meat processing facilities
[00:28:05.680]and forcing the farmers themselves
[00:28:08.973]to euthanize as many as 800,000 hogs and 2 million chickens.
[00:28:13.466]So of course, industry consolidation is premised on the fact
[00:28:17.430]that the means of producing inputs,
[00:28:19.250]such as seeds and equipment
[00:28:20.720]and processing crops and livestock
[00:28:22.890]are no longer in the hands
[00:28:24.350]of the farming communities themselves.
[00:28:26.630]Farmers have to purchase these things,
[00:28:28.440]or in the case of John Deere tractors and repairing them,
[00:28:32.660]these goods have to go through these corporate channels.
[00:28:36.507]So like land consolidation, industry consolidation
[00:28:39.790]has a devastating effect on rural communities,
[00:28:42.350]concentrating wealth that once circulated locally
[00:28:45.400]in a distributed manner outside of farming communities,
[00:28:49.036]and these economic pressures
[00:28:50.480]don't simply put farmers and ranchers distress.
[00:28:53.290]They cascade into a whole host of socioeconomic consequences
[00:28:56.960]that undermine the social fabric of rural communities.
[00:29:01.320]And so it turns out that the counties
[00:29:03.420]with the highest call volume
[00:29:04.720]relative to their population size
[00:29:06.810]exhibit widespread signs of economic restructuring.
[00:29:10.830]This region is characterized by the highest recent increases
[00:29:14.090]in land values in the state.
[00:29:15.870]So in the north region of the Sandhills,
[00:29:17.640]grazing land values increased 6% from 2019 to 2020,
[00:29:22.350]a 50% higher increase than in surrounding regions.
[00:29:26.120]In the central part of the Sandhills,
[00:29:28.030]land values rose 4% in one year, which is wild.
[00:29:32.640]This area is also characterized
[00:29:34.210]by high rates of land renting among farmers and ranchers
[00:29:38.140]with 48% renting in the north
[00:29:40.370]and 58% renting in the central region of the Sandhills.
[00:29:44.160]So taken together, these statistics
[00:29:45.930]give a strong but not co conclusory indication
[00:29:49.480]that land consolidation processes
[00:29:51.220]are underway in this region.
[00:29:53.393]And the signal of industry consolidation
[00:29:55.680]in the cow-calf sector is even stronger there.
[00:29:58.400]Nationally, four companies, JBS, Marfrig, Cargill and Tyson,
[00:30:03.442]process 73% of the nation's beef,
[00:30:07.720]a situation in which computation and abuse
[00:30:10.630]is extremely likely for farmers.
[00:30:13.160]As beef packers consolidated over the last 30 years,
[00:30:16.790]there was a significant jump in the number of farms
[00:30:19.040]with over 500 heads, the while smaller operations
[00:30:22.230]between 10 to 200 cows decreased.
[00:30:25.060]So in a Farm Bureau survey of Nebraska ranchers,
[00:30:27.420]in particular, addressing this market power
[00:30:29.870]was the overwhelming priority for producers.
[00:30:33.440]Land and industry consolidation
[00:30:36.220]drive effects like depopulation.
[00:30:38.960]So as land consolidates, fewer farmers are farming the land.
[00:30:43.640]As industry consolidates, there are fewer small shops,
[00:30:47.710]et cetera, that are doing this processing and storing
[00:30:51.420]and moving of agricultural commodities.
[00:30:54.830]And so we see depopulation, also some of which
[00:30:57.690]is not directly related to land and industry consolidation,
[00:31:00.880]but to the collapse of the vitality of that rural community
[00:31:06.956]and with younger people seeking jobs elsewhere,
[00:31:09.440]where the community is more vibrant.
[00:31:11.970]But depopulation also means that the tax base for schools
[00:31:15.350]and libraries and other social institution wanes,
[00:31:19.770]and they're forced to close or consolidate.
[00:31:21.850]So in two of those counties that were in that crisis belt,
[00:31:24.720]Blaine and Thomas County,
[00:31:26.330]the schools were forced to consolidate their sports teams
[00:31:30.030]and some of their programs amidst depopulation.
[00:31:33.640]And in Primrose, the town school was abandoned entirely.
[00:31:38.189]And of course we know these counties face severe distress
[00:31:41.520]based on the hotline call frequency.
[00:31:43.980]So it becomes really important all of a sudden
[00:31:46.570]to contextualize farm-related distress
[00:31:49.340]in terms of economic restructuring.
[00:31:52.080]And this matters, I found, or matters so much,
[00:31:56.170]because many of the resources available for farmers
[00:31:59.030]and ranchers in distress don't address
[00:32:02.400]any of the economic restructuring that's happened.
[00:32:05.630]So it's true that the ongoing farm crisis
[00:32:08.150]has not gone without a response from extension agencies,
[00:32:11.470]universities and farming organizations.
[00:32:14.000]And to date, there are dozens of programs initiated
[00:32:16.800]to contend with the distress facing farmers, ranchers,
[00:32:19.920]and residents of farming communities.
[00:32:23.070]So for example, Michigan state host Rural Resilience,
[00:32:26.610]which is a course that teaches farmers
[00:32:28.610]to recognize stress and anxiety in each other
[00:32:31.200]and direct their peers toward mental health resources.
[00:32:34.450]And the Farm Bureau has a farm stress training, which they,
[00:32:37.410]this is just one little clip of their advertisement,
[00:32:40.090]where they say, "You can't avoid farm stress,
[00:32:41.870]but you can manage it."
[00:32:43.440]And they encourage participants
[00:32:46.310]to know the warning signs of farm stress,
[00:32:48.910]which are pathologized as way
[00:32:50.772]in which individuals might appear disheveled,
[00:32:53.960]disinterested in social engagements
[00:32:57.610]or accident prone during farming.
[00:33:00.070]And the Ohio State Extension agency
[00:33:01.990]encourages farmers and ranchers
[00:33:03.660]to adopt stress-coping techniques,
[00:33:05.810]such as deep breathing and meditating.
[00:33:08.531]Don't get me wrong.
[00:33:09.790]These can be great harm reduction tools
[00:33:11.850]for preventing a suicide,
[00:33:13.500]intervening in substance abuse and so on,
[00:33:16.330]but they also pathologize
[00:33:18.360]and attempt to heal farm stress as individual disorders,
[00:33:22.000]rather than as the operations of global capital writ large.
[00:33:26.900]So resources that adopt this mental health paradigm
[00:33:29.810]can face some really big limitations
[00:33:32.580]and might not be able to actually contend
[00:33:34.940]with the causes of farm stress.
[00:33:37.300]So all of these resources are functionally asking
[00:33:39.660]farmers and ranchers to manage their stress,
[00:33:42.340]just like the rise of industrialized farming,
[00:33:44.890]corresponded to extension agents and agricultural economists
[00:33:47.840]teaching farmers to manage their farms.
[00:33:50.630]So when we see Farm Bureaus claim
[00:33:52.300]that you can't avoid farm stress, but you can manage it,
[00:33:55.397]you have to ask, is that true?
[00:33:57.540]Is the only option for farmers and ranchers
[00:33:59.740]faced with the collapse and consolidation
[00:34:02.830]of their social institutions,
[00:34:04.790]the loss of vitality in their communities
[00:34:07.069]and their wellbeing, is the only option to manage it,
[00:34:11.345]largely on their own or with their therapist, et cetera?
[00:34:16.790]So that idea, that the only viable approach to farm stress
[00:34:20.610]is to manage it, didn't didn't sit well with me.
[00:34:23.900]If farmers in Nebraska and across the country
[00:34:26.146]are sitting with high levels of anxiety and depression,
[00:34:29.260]maybe considering taking their own lives
[00:34:31.700]or stuck in the throes of addiction,
[00:34:33.900]something has to be fundamentally wrong in the farm economy.
[00:34:37.200]The mental health approach, I think, obscures what's wrong.
[00:34:42.168]And I'm not the first one to say that.
[00:34:44.650]Two researchers in Australia wrote in 2013
[00:34:48.513]that the mental health paradigm
[00:34:50.180]limits and excludes other possible renderings
[00:34:52.680]of farmer suicide
[00:34:54.040]and thus narrows the frame of appropriate response.
[00:34:57.750]This is in no small part because the roots of that distress
[00:35:00.580]are not located in the minds of individual farmers.
[00:35:03.570]They're the result of widespread economic restructuring.
[00:35:07.696]And economic restructuring, as Tigges et al note in 1998,
[00:35:13.347]"both leads to and is defined by
[00:35:15.450]the restructuring of social relationships."
[00:35:18.520]In other words, if the mental health paradigm
[00:35:20.570]obscures what's happening to farmers and ranchers
[00:35:23.340]by individualizing their stress,
[00:35:25.122]I'd like for us to try to think of this distress
[00:35:27.920]in terms of what I call rural sacrifice zones,
[00:35:30.970]which I think could help us understand
[00:35:32.590]the collective experiences of farmers and ranchers,
[00:35:35.600]and also helps us think seriously about what horizons exist
[00:35:39.200]for political mobilization
[00:35:40.620]around the causes of economic restructuring.
[00:35:44.490]So in his 2019 paper, "Hollowed Out Heartland,"
[00:35:47.730]Mark Edelman argues that economic restructuring
[00:35:51.170]via wealth consolidation, caused, again,
[00:35:54.600]in no small part by land and industry consolidation,
[00:35:57.040]drives depopulation, the closure and consolidation
[00:35:59.870]of schools, libraries, hospitals, et cetera,
[00:36:02.560]and causes severe distress.
[00:36:05.130]He uses the term rural sacrifice zone
[00:36:07.410]to describe these cascading effects
[00:36:09.560]of economic restructuring and the effects that it has
[00:36:12.630]on the social fabric of rural communities,
[00:36:15.000]thereby linking what happens on farmland
[00:36:17.750]to widespread distress in entire rural economies.
[00:36:22.740]Previously, the concept of sacrifice zone
[00:36:25.110]had mostly been employed
[00:36:26.260]to describe sites of resource extraction,
[00:36:28.780]such as mining and mountaintop removal
[00:36:31.380]and the consequent effects of those processes
[00:36:33.670]on local economies and institutions.
[00:36:36.720]In rural sacrifice zones,
[00:36:38.300]what's extracted is local wealth,
[00:36:41.302]and the consequences are obviously devastating
[00:36:42.710]for farmers, ranchers and residents of farming communities.
[00:36:46.510]So we can think of the production of rural sacrifice zones
[00:36:49.150]in farming communities as the cascading social effects
[00:36:52.570]of rural restructuring and start to situate farmer distress
[00:36:56.120]in terms of both economic restructuring
[00:36:58.140]and the effects that that has on their social institutions.
[00:37:03.270]So Edelman notes,
[00:37:04.370]and I just thought this was a really powerful quote,
[00:37:06.819]"Empty storefronts and malls,
[00:37:08.750]vanished newspapers and ubiquitous dollar outlets
[00:37:11.750]are not just signs of job loss and economic precarity.
[00:37:14.940]Inhabitants of sacrifice zones,"
[00:37:16.760]And he's talking about rural sacrifice zones,
[00:37:19.117]"read them must stark and painful reminders
[00:37:21.250]of abandonment and a shredded social fabric."
[00:37:24.460]This is largely, since the 1980s,
[00:37:26.610]the result of a deregulatory turn
[00:37:28.693]that associated with the rise of corporations
[00:37:32.070]and the ability of corporations to,
[00:37:34.460]not just in the agricultural sector, but elsewhere,
[00:37:37.290]control the means of input into the agricultural process,
[00:37:41.910]the technologies that are used on the farm, et cetera.
[00:37:45.150]And so thinking this way, we can begin to understand
[00:37:47.500]how something like land and industry consolidation,
[00:37:50.830]plus a widespread lack of funding for social institutions,
[00:37:53.940]where farmers might meet other farmers
[00:37:56.270]and share their experiences and help each other,
[00:37:59.020]and maybe even collective tools
[00:38:01.530]that would otherwise send them into debt,
[00:38:03.490]we can start to understand how that web of things
[00:38:05.890]contributes to despair for farmers and ranchers.
[00:38:10.140]And we can pinpoint,
[00:38:11.360]as I did with this crisis belt in Nebraska,
[00:38:13.319]the exact names of the corporations
[00:38:15.977]responsible for extracting wealth from rural communities.
[00:38:20.130]So in other words,
[00:38:20.963]we can begin to see farm stress more clearly,
[00:38:23.210]not as any farmer or rancher's individual mental health,
[00:38:26.790]but as a collective problem
[00:38:28.410]that we should approach by growing collective power.
[00:38:32.170]So exactly how we'll do that is,
[00:38:34.680]I will say beyond the scope of this talk,
[00:38:36.390]but I would love to discuss it with all of you.
[00:38:38.750]My hope in presenting this way or framing it this way
[00:38:43.120]is to make an intervention
[00:38:45.459]where it's good for us to talk about mental health,
[00:38:48.510]but it cannot be the only story.
[00:38:50.580]There are very basic, but very tenuous
[00:38:54.770]and contested economic processes underway here.
[00:38:58.320]So I wanna conclude by summarizing,
[00:39:01.780]if I can switch slides here, there we go,
[00:39:04.500]my findings and why they're really important for the future
[00:39:07.850]of resources that are conceived of to help farmers
[00:39:10.477]and ranchers and members of farming communities in distress.
[00:39:15.120]So first, we know that Nebraska farmers
[00:39:17.660]are facing financial distress
[00:39:19.250]and that this is the main reason for which they seek help
[00:39:22.594]from the Nebraska Rural Response hotline.
[00:39:24.210]That goes a really long way toward telling us
[00:39:26.380]that deep breathing, meditation
[00:39:28.550]and other psychological resources
[00:39:30.364]can't fully address the root causes
[00:39:33.350]of farm-related distress.
[00:39:35.180]And second, our geospatial and archival analysis
[00:39:38.660]of the crisis belt and the Sandhills
[00:39:40.740]supports Mark Edelman's notion of the rural sacrifice zone.
[00:39:44.820]By measuring severe distress, locating it spatially,
[00:39:49.133]and then digging into archival data,
[00:39:52.140]I was able to identify region-facing indicators
[00:39:55.450]of land consolidation, industry consolidation,
[00:39:58.510]and the collapse of some of the most important
[00:40:01.090]social institutions, including schools.
[00:40:05.190]And when we think about that process,
[00:40:09.610]that framing of the sacrifice zone
[00:40:11.260]alongside the resources I showed you earlier,
[00:40:13.540]it's clear there's a really large mismatch,
[00:40:15.760]and that a lot of today's resources
[00:40:17.330]are limited to addressing individual psychological symptoms
[00:40:21.260]from the economic processes
[00:40:23.330]and not really addressing systemic economic change.
[00:40:27.960]There are, I will note just as a little side note,
[00:40:30.730]a lot of resources for financial counseling
[00:40:33.690]for farmers, et cetera.
[00:40:35.760]And I wanna differentiate
[00:40:38.440]between things that are meant to like keep farmers afloat
[00:40:43.100]and what I'm calling for in this talk,
[00:40:44.950]which is really large systemic changes to the farm economy
[00:40:49.600]and the power that corporations have
[00:40:52.260]to not just extract wealth,
[00:40:53.600]but determine the entire layout of rural communities.
[00:40:57.240]And so the last finding is about this mental health paradigm
[00:41:03.410]and that it doesn't, if we think about, for example,
[00:41:07.970]the kinds of collective mobilizations
[00:41:11.670]that happen during the 1980s,
[00:41:14.020]these huge tractor cates DC,
[00:41:16.970]these small acts of rebellion at penny auctions, et cetera,
[00:41:21.379]where farmers land were being sold off
[00:41:23.760]after they were foreclosed on,
[00:41:25.606]none of that seems possible in a mental health framework,
[00:41:30.210]none of these like beautiful expressions of collective power
[00:41:34.303]and collective mobilization seem possible
[00:41:36.120]when the solution is to manage your stress
[00:41:38.690]just between you and a therapist
[00:41:40.550]or just in your own deep breathing exercises.
[00:41:43.420]But if we conceive of what's happening
[00:41:45.360]in terms of sacrifice zones,
[00:41:47.400]we start to locate the power relationships,
[00:41:49.550]that this corporation has this effect,
[00:41:52.400]this relationship to the flow of capital,
[00:41:56.336]meant that schools were closed, et cetera.
[00:42:00.210]So I'll close with a couple quotes.
[00:42:03.410]I found this quote on sacrifice zones really beautiful.
[00:42:06.130]It says, "Sacrifice zones are produced
[00:42:08.030]by a bundle of techniques and devices
[00:42:10.750]by which the exercise of destructive violence
[00:42:13.140]can be erased, trivialized, naturalized, justified
[00:42:16.790]and rendered as innocuous or necessary."
[00:42:19.560]And so when a farmer or rancher takes his or her own life,
[00:42:23.890]becomes addicted to opiates or alcohol,
[00:42:26.670]these mental health issues obscure
[00:42:29.090]that the economic restructuring that they are experiencing,
[00:42:33.930]it naturalizes, it like makes,
[00:42:36.580]it renders those things invisible,
[00:42:39.540]even though the farmer is clearly experiencing the effects
[00:42:42.910]of a highly competitive, extractive and exploitive market
[00:42:46.240]on their personal lives, their families,
[00:42:48.740]sometimes these things come up as marriage issues,
[00:42:51.220]and in their communities.
[00:42:53.189]And part of what I'm saying
[00:42:55.330]is that understanding farmer distress
[00:42:57.490]as a symptom of the production of rural sacrifice zones,
[00:43:00.870]loosens the constraints of the mental health paradigm
[00:43:03.730]and asks us to consider how something like depopulation
[00:43:07.220]or consolidation of schools, libraries,
[00:43:10.340]and other centers of social life,
[00:43:12.360]leave farmers more isolated
[00:43:13.910]and without a social network to support them.
[00:43:16.920]So I've shown that farm stress in Nebraska
[00:43:18.960]is largely connected to the farm economy
[00:43:21.330]and likely driven to further extremes
[00:43:24.330]by the hollowing out of rural communities
[00:43:26.230]as Mark Edelman says.
[00:43:27.870]But I could never put it as well as one of my interviewees
[00:43:30.630]from the Nebraska Farmers Union did.
[00:43:33.750]So when I asked him, why did a Sandhill rancher
[00:43:37.930]that he was telling me about take his own life?
[00:43:39.800]He said, "It happens
[00:43:41.410]because these guys can't see the system."
[00:43:44.200]When he told me that quote, I got chills,
[00:43:47.090]and I'm almost tearing up right now telling you all that.
[00:43:49.790]But I think part of what has driven me to this frame work
[00:43:56.180]is we need to be there with farmers and ranchers
[00:44:00.600]and help them see the system, because, otherwise,
[00:44:02.670]they will take it as their personal responsibility
[00:44:05.540]because a lot of farmers and ranchers
[00:44:07.180]are so proud of their farms.
[00:44:08.950]They've had them for many generations,
[00:44:10.785]but if they take that personal responsibility
[00:44:13.470]for these market fluctuations, for the hollowing out,
[00:44:16.870]it is what an author that I was recently reading
[00:44:21.070]calls an invitation to die.
[00:44:24.246]That's a heavy note for us to leave on,
[00:44:27.530]but I think it clarifies the stakes
[00:44:30.326]that I perceived in this research.
[00:44:32.970]And so, yeah, sorry to leave you with a very heavy note,
[00:44:37.380]but on that note,
[00:44:38.213]I would love to open us up to questions and discussion.
[00:44:44.200]Wow, thank you so much for that, Bradi.
[00:44:47.220]Yeah, I mean, I think some of this,
[00:44:49.329]the picture that you've created
[00:44:50.890]and some of this data that presented,
[00:44:52.680]I mean, it really is shocking, but as you say,
[00:44:55.570]it's really eyeopening to letting us get
[00:44:58.806]a more clear systemic understanding of what is happening,
[00:45:03.730]that there are individualized problems that are occurring
[00:45:07.440]that are causing distress in these communities.
[00:45:09.300]But if we really think about, as you mentioned,
[00:45:12.130]the social fabric and how these relationships are acting
[00:45:16.890]to produce these situations,
[00:45:18.070]I think it gives us some better context
[00:45:20.410]for thinking about this problem systemically
[00:45:23.750]rather than as an individualized issue.
[00:45:26.690]So I have a lot of questions for you, and I'll invite folks,
[00:45:29.950]just as I lead with a few discussion questions,
[00:45:32.740]to drop your ideas and additional questions in the chat,
[00:45:35.610]or simply unmute yourself
[00:45:37.610]once I just get through these few initial questions.
[00:45:41.360]But I'm really interested in how you touched base
[00:45:45.180]with the folks that shared this data with you,
[00:45:48.520]both from the Nebraska Rural Response Council,
[00:45:50.900]and then also the members of the Nebraska Farmers Union
[00:45:53.730]that you were able to interact with.
[00:45:55.100]I guess, I was wondering a little bit about
[00:45:57.430]how you met these folks
[00:45:58.550]and why you chose to center your work,
[00:46:02.092]working with these agencies.
[00:46:05.300]Yeah, thank you.
[00:46:07.500]So one of the things that became clear to me,
[00:46:10.940]this was really my first experience
[00:46:12.580]with doing any interview-related work.
[00:46:16.140]And I think one of the things that became clear to me
[00:46:17.980]in the course of this research
[00:46:19.200]was the value of serendipitous interactions.
[00:46:24.258]And so I had gone to a conference
[00:46:27.040]hosted by the National Farmers Union,
[00:46:29.330]which maybe some of you are familiar with,
[00:46:30.730]but is a progressive farmer's organization
[00:46:33.140]that really advocates on behalf of family farms,
[00:46:35.700]advocates and lobbies on behalf of family farms.
[00:46:38.950]And I had gone, completely unrelated to farmer distress,
[00:46:42.570]to their college conference on cooperatives,
[00:46:44.550]which is geared towards college students,
[00:46:47.410]just as somebody who has worked
[00:46:48.610]with housing cooperatives before, et cetera.
[00:46:52.648]And I had met somebody there,
[00:46:55.150]a member of the National Farmers Union or a staff member.
[00:46:58.290]And when I began speaking with her about my research
[00:47:01.060]and just this very nascent interest
[00:47:03.430]I had in farm stress,
[00:47:05.211]she invited me to a farm stress training
[00:47:07.690]that the National Farmers Union
[00:47:08.980]was hosting a few months later.
[00:47:10.860]And it was there that I met a few people,
[00:47:12.880]or I met one person associated
[00:47:14.380]with the Nebraska Rural Response Council,
[00:47:17.050]and we were sitting around the table.
[00:47:19.600]And honestly, it was a very heavy day in that training.
[00:47:21.860]We were supposed to be practicing,
[00:47:24.650]simulating a discussion with a farmer
[00:47:26.850]who was considering suicide, and we were being trained
[00:47:29.560]in what would you say and how would you direct them
[00:47:31.960]to the right resources, et cetera.
[00:47:34.390]And I was sharing my concern with this person
[00:47:36.930]from the Nebraska Rural Response Council,
[00:47:39.903]this concern that I had, that, yes,
[00:47:42.960]we need mental health resources.
[00:47:44.930]Those are very important.
[00:47:46.080]You need to be able to intervene
[00:47:47.720]in the case of an emergency,
[00:47:49.570]but it seemed like there was a lot more to it.
[00:47:52.910]And I knew people who had struggled with mental health
[00:47:55.793]who weren't farmers, et cetera.
[00:47:56.890]I knew that there were usually things
[00:47:58.700]that maybe therapists couldn't solve completely,
[00:48:02.380]or maybe going to the hospital for a little while
[00:48:05.730]or being on medication couldn't address everything.
[00:48:08.540]And in that conversation,
[00:48:10.273]he shared with me some of the hotline data,
[00:48:13.270]because I had experience in data analysis, et cetera,
[00:48:17.020]and that really launched my collaboration with them.
[00:48:20.220]And once the COVID vaccine came out,
[00:48:22.020]I was able to go visit them at the Nebraska Farmers Union,
[00:48:25.620]headquartered in Lincoln, where many of you are.
[00:48:31.460]That's awesome, and yeah,
[00:48:32.490]I think probably having that opportunity to sit in
[00:48:36.030]on that crisis training
[00:48:37.940]and really get into the weeds and the mindset of like,
[00:48:41.290]what are the tools that are actually in place
[00:48:44.030]to deal with these issues and what effects might they have?
[00:48:48.032]And understanding that those deescalation tactics
[00:48:51.420]are important, but starting to broaden out
[00:48:54.080]and go into the research direction you went in.
[00:48:56.420]That's really interesting.
[00:48:57.770]Yeah, and I'll add something really quick to that too.
[00:49:00.560]I think, the other thing for me,
[00:49:03.930]the why did I work with them?
[00:49:06.790]Like I come from rural Indiana,
[00:49:10.806]I've lived and grew up in proximity to a lot of farms
[00:49:15.341]and to farm families.
[00:49:18.480]But these were really the people doing the work in Nebraska
[00:49:23.880]to intervene in crises.
[00:49:29.005]And there's a strong history from the 1980s
[00:49:32.545]of peer to peer mental health resources.
[00:49:37.470]So one farmer helping another,
[00:49:39.502]what some of us would call mutual aid, in some sense.
[00:49:43.460]Farmers sharing tractors or combines with each other.
[00:49:47.600]And the Nebraska Rural Response Council is amazing
[00:49:51.740]in many regards, but one of these regards
[00:49:53.960]is that they just never stopped doing it.
[00:49:56.140]Like they started in the 1980s.
[00:49:58.043]They were very peer to peer oriented.
[00:50:01.210]They ended up having staff at some point
[00:50:05.000]who stuck with them for quite a while.
[00:50:07.050]And so they have seen it all,
[00:50:10.090]and they have just stayed on the ground
[00:50:11.460]doing important research.
[00:50:14.027]And as somebody situated in the university,
[00:50:16.900]to me, I was like, "Okay, I can't do that and this.
[00:50:21.720]I have to either write academic papers
[00:50:23.680]or be on the ground, at that caliber
[00:50:26.750]I can be on the ground in smaller ways."
[00:50:30.145]So I wanted to hear from them.
[00:50:32.130]I wanted to get their sense of what was going on,
[00:50:34.850]and all of the analyses
[00:50:36.649]with the exception of the theoretical framework,
[00:50:40.087]came from many hours of sitting down with them
[00:50:43.100]and being like, "What do you see in this data?
[00:50:45.220]What do you think about that?" Et cetera.
[00:50:48.710]So yeah, related to the point that you just made.
[00:50:51.440]I was really curious about
[00:50:52.967]what the process of going through the archival data
[00:50:56.490]revealed to you, and also,
[00:50:58.360]I know you mentioned, and I'm somewhat aware of it,
[00:51:01.090]there was the farming crisis in the 1980s
[00:51:03.780]that led to this hotline being developed.
[00:51:06.770]And I know you mentioned in the more recent data
[00:51:09.130]that there was a volume of calls around 250 to 650 a month,
[00:51:13.900]which to me was one of the most shocking things
[00:51:16.810]that you presented.
[00:51:17.643]Like I just, I guess that really speaks
[00:51:20.704]to what folks are dealing with, but I guess I wondered
[00:51:24.910]if you noticed either through your conversations
[00:51:27.330]or tracing the lineage of farmer and rancher distress,
[00:51:30.590]if this current wave of distress,
[00:51:33.100]does it have a lot of parallels in terms of what was going
[00:51:36.790]on during the crisis in the '80s?
[00:51:39.084]Are the drivers similar from what you see,
[00:51:41.859]or if you're able to speak to that at all?
[00:51:47.083]I mean, it's hard to draw lines
[00:51:50.343]and say here's where our crisis starts
[00:51:53.690]and here's where it ends.
[00:51:55.040]Sometimes that's more clear as with the crisis,
[00:51:57.700]the farm crisis in the 1980s,
[00:51:59.985]but there are a lot of very interconnected things
[00:52:04.560]that play here that were present in the 1980s.
[00:52:07.690]And I mean, some of them were present in the 1920s,
[00:52:10.930]and they just haven't resolved.
[00:52:13.404]And one of these things
[00:52:15.890]is farmers being situated in such a way,
[00:52:19.383]partially through different pressures
[00:52:22.220]that force them to optimize their farms and mechanize,
[00:52:25.150]so that they're especially small and medium-sized farms,
[00:52:28.890]which is what a lot my emphasis is on,
[00:52:31.510]are frequently subject to high levels of debt,
[00:52:35.960]in part because tractors and combines
[00:52:39.840]and land are so expensive, and they're being,
[00:52:43.140]a lot of people think in terms of enclosures or commons.
[00:52:47.025]We can think of a commons as something that is available
[00:52:50.820]to many people freely, maybe a tractor
[00:52:54.710]or a combine that's collectively shared.
[00:52:57.230]Like, I don't have to take out debt to have this.
[00:53:00.630]And also somebody else doesn't have to,
[00:53:02.380]or maybe we all take out a small amount, and that's shared.
[00:53:05.510]But as large companies or corporations like John Deere,
[00:53:09.860]make it impossible for you to repair your own tractor,
[00:53:12.610]you not only take out debt on the tractor,
[00:53:15.350]you also have to pay every time it breaks down,
[00:53:18.941]because you don't have the specialized tools for it.
[00:53:22.140]And I think that's a roundabout way of saying
[00:53:24.320]that the processes that cause these waves of despair
[00:53:31.740]or waves of very perceptible crises
[00:53:35.880]are more or less always at a murmur.
[00:53:39.170]And sometimes they flare up, et cetera.
[00:53:43.020]But for example,
[00:53:43.890]I noted that Farm Bureau is framing mental health
[00:53:46.910]in terms of a thing you need to manage,
[00:53:48.810]and it hasn't always been the case
[00:53:51.020]that farms had to be quantified and managed
[00:53:55.240]as intensively as they are now.
[00:53:56.690]And we can think of that as something
[00:53:58.840]that started with the industrialization of the farm,
[00:54:02.109]I would say, largely in the 1920s.
[00:54:05.697]And we can think of what's happening
[00:54:07.430]in terms of corporate power on the farm
[00:54:09.470]is something that really took off
[00:54:11.840]in the '80s or around the '80s.
[00:54:13.830]It was very beneficial
[00:54:15.130]for a lot of large land-holding organizations.
[00:54:20.370]It was very beneficial in the 1980s to 2008
[00:54:24.980]for land speculators to come along.
[00:54:28.100]That was the source,
[00:54:29.998]part of the power relationship at penny auctions,
[00:54:33.330]when a farmer went under, frequently.
[00:54:35.880]When a farmer's operation went under,
[00:54:37.440]frequently a speculator might buy their land.
[00:54:40.000]And that just got much worse in 2008.
[00:54:43.358]And so we can see what some academics would call
[00:54:46.930]this long durae, this just very long time period,
[00:54:49.950]where there are little flares of crisis.
[00:54:53.380]But we can't ignore that there are problems
[00:54:56.010]that go back 100 years
[00:54:57.210]that we still haven't solved in the farm economy.
[00:55:02.630]Yeah, and it strikes me as very interesting
[00:55:06.620]that a lot of this is still actively being framed
[00:55:09.690]as a mental health crisis when so many of the things
[00:55:12.760]that you've touched on today really seem more systemic
[00:55:15.750]rather than individual problems.
[00:55:17.810]And so to put things in the framework
[00:55:21.000]of a mental health crisis, I mean, it gives us a sense
[00:55:23.290]of what people are experiencing emotionally
[00:55:26.670]in terms of their distress within their communities,
[00:55:28.810]but it doesn't necessarily give us the answer
[00:55:32.350]of how to go about solving these things.
[00:55:34.180]So do you feel like, I don't know,
[00:55:37.760]I guess you've thought about this a lot.
[00:55:39.930]And so I'm wondering,
[00:55:42.100]why do you feel this is still the dominant framework
[00:55:44.760]that state and federal agencies are adopting?
[00:55:47.824]Is it that it's easier to frame,
[00:55:52.270]here are solutions to these problems,
[00:55:54.060]if we put it in the context of the individual?
[00:55:56.670]And so calling it a mental health crisis
[00:55:59.370]rather than getting at the underlying mechanisms
[00:56:03.040]is simpler to deal with?
[00:56:04.870]Or what do you think is going on in that regard?
[00:56:08.790]I mean, a large of what's happening.
[00:56:15.133]I mean, a large part of what is happening is that,
[00:56:20.950]if it's framed as a mental health issue,
[00:56:23.410]it is, even as hard as that is to contend with,
[00:56:29.320]and as expensive as it is, it's gonna take a lot more
[00:56:33.010]to address the systemic causes of farm stress.
[00:56:37.380]It's the way that we think about farming in the US
[00:56:42.670]and the way that we treat food production.
[00:56:45.900]I mean, this starts to connect to all of the problems
[00:56:50.340]with pesticides and all of the problems
[00:56:53.320]with patented seed technology, et cetera.
[00:56:56.764]Consolidation isn't the starting point of these things.
[00:57:02.860]There's a whole way
[00:57:04.180]that our relationship to wealth and capital, et cetera,
[00:57:11.220]has to be structured so that consolidation is even possible.
[00:57:15.223]So it would not,
[00:57:16.834]if we were really going to address
[00:57:19.100]the underlying causes of farm stress,
[00:57:21.880]all of this would have to be restructured.
[00:57:26.613]Yeah, and that's something,
[00:57:28.902]it is taking me a very long time
[00:57:31.760]to come to terms with exactly what and how it has to be,
[00:57:35.930]what things and how they have to be restructured
[00:57:38.560]to contend with that, you know?
[00:57:43.394]And that actually leads me to just the final question
[00:57:45.800]I had, if you had any insights or ideas on,
[00:57:49.450]given what we know about this crisis,
[00:57:52.630]and specifically how it's operating
[00:57:54.740]and moving through Nebraska, and of course,
[00:57:56.760]thinking about the intersections
[00:57:58.070]with what's going on in other states both in the Midwest
[00:58:00.910]and just in rural communities abroad, et cetera,
[00:58:05.060]what other areas work and engagement
[00:58:06.950]do you see as being important as next steps
[00:58:09.500]to keep teasing apart,
[00:58:11.540]understanding the struggles that farmers are facing,
[00:58:13.860]and how we can actually materially, emotionally
[00:58:18.200]think about supporting people in a way that's, yeah,
[00:58:24.010]going to help to contribute to reducing the loss of life
[00:58:28.010]and the toll of this crisis?
[00:58:33.040]I think that's a really critical question,
[00:58:35.336]and I can only,
[00:58:40.812]oh, how do I word this?
[00:58:43.262]I can only see a small part of the answer to that.
[00:58:46.220]And I wanna be upfront about that.
[00:58:48.670]I can see the value in agroecology, for example,
[00:58:53.260]and thinking about what does it mean to have a farm
[00:58:56.070]that's not reliant on these chemical fertilizers,
[00:58:59.730]which are bad for a lot of reasons,
[00:59:01.150]but not least of which that they are expensive
[00:59:05.860]or patented seeds,
[00:59:07.080]and there are many, many, seed-saving efforts
[00:59:10.530]that are I think are heroic, beautiful efforts
[00:59:13.415]at subverting some of this corporate power
[00:59:17.710]that makes farming so hard,
[00:59:20.240]and especially for new farmers or young farmers
[00:59:24.650]or people who might otherwise leave and move to cities.
[00:59:29.100]So I have a lot of hope agroecology.
[00:59:31.430]I have a lot of hope in things that overlap with that world,
[00:59:35.440]like seed-saving efforts, et cetera.
[00:59:38.410]I'm also very interested,
[00:59:40.370]and this is part of what interests me
[00:59:43.530]in terms of the part of my degree that's in informatics.
[00:59:46.390]I'm also very interested
[00:59:48.216]in the relationship with technology.
[00:59:50.310]So how do we, if farmers are going into debt,
[00:59:55.940]buying a tractor or a combine
[00:59:57.960]or an irrigation system, et cetera,
[01:00:00.660]how can we reconceive farming technology
[01:00:04.010]to be open source
[01:00:07.410]or to be DIY or to have a hackers ethos to it, et cetera.
[01:00:12.756]I'm very interested in that question in particular,
[01:00:15.330]and maybe that's the one
[01:00:17.053]that I'm a little bit more familiar with,
[01:00:18.880]but I think it's all of the fronts are equally important.
[01:00:23.080]Like just having more people
[01:00:26.912]talking with farmers about the possibilities of agroecology,
[01:00:31.980]having more people developing technologies
[01:00:35.230]that are not patented
[01:00:39.877]or don't monetize the possibility of repair
[01:00:45.140]so that we can share knowledge about how to repair things
[01:00:47.690]and farmers don't have to spend a ton of money
[01:00:49.460]taking their tractor into a John Deere outlet or something.
[01:00:58.953]There are probably a lot more good answers
[01:01:00.050]to that question that I don't even know about, you know?
[01:01:03.930]Yeah, and I think it really speaks
[01:01:05.350]to the interdisciplinary nature of starting to think about
[01:01:08.960]how we might approach solutions to this problem.
[01:01:11.770]And it's not a one size fits all dilemma,
[01:01:15.920]which is complicated, but, yeah,
[01:01:19.571]hopefully there's some ways to continue thinking about it
[01:01:22.350]and addressing it in the future.
[01:01:25.009]Margaret had a question in the chat about
[01:01:27.390]whether your PhD research is continuing down this track.
[01:01:32.460]Yeah, I'm in the process of figuring this out.
[01:01:35.730]So I am increasingly interested
[01:01:38.260]in the role of race in all of this.
[01:01:41.760]And part of what Mark Edelman's paper that I draw on
[01:01:44.420]hints at, or maybe says more or less explicitly,
[01:01:47.900]part of what he's saying is that
[01:01:49.770]when white farmers face this distress,
[01:01:53.613]it's a lot easier for them to fall back on this narrative
[01:01:59.210]of the urban black community scapegoat, the rural or urban,
[01:02:07.136]Latinx scapegoat of who's causing their problems.
[01:02:11.410]And again, if they can't see the system,
[01:02:13.512]scapegoating onto some racial minority,
[01:02:17.030]where they're already, and we have to remember,
[01:02:21.190]that kind of racism is produced, it is not inherent.
[01:02:25.410]It is produced by a lot of these different organizations
[01:02:29.960]or politicians, at cetera, that benefit from white,
[01:02:36.570]maybe smaller, medium-sized farmers or large-sizes farmers,
[01:02:41.310]scapegoating these minorities
[01:02:43.170]for actually the lack of resources
[01:02:45.480]being directed to their own rural community.
[01:02:49.698]And so, I guess, that's all to say,
[01:02:52.120]I think my next step will be thinking about race.
[01:02:54.810]I think it'll be thinking about alternative ways
[01:02:59.720]of farming in some regard
[01:03:00.880]or the structuring of rural space by kind of global capital.
[01:03:04.950]But I am not sure if I'll be thinking still
[01:03:07.970]about ways to respond to the mental health paradigm.
[01:03:10.850]It's not clear to me yet.
[01:03:12.280]I owe my advisor some writing on dissertation ideas
[01:03:15.540]for next week, so we'll see
[01:03:16.630]what comes up between now and then.
[01:03:19.460]Yeah, it's always a work in progress
[01:03:21.460]until you really nail down
[01:03:22.860]what questions are gonna be feasible too.
[01:03:25.963]If given infinite time and ability,
[01:03:29.613]there would be a lot of things that I'm sure would come up,
[01:03:32.640]but yeah, you have to start witling in.
[01:03:35.881]Well, yeah, other folks on the call
[01:03:38.060]are welcome to unmute or drop questions in the chat.
[01:03:41.272]If anyone had any insights in addition or perspective.
[01:03:46.680]Oh, it looks Cass had a question.
[01:03:48.960]They said, "I'm glad you mentioned urban and rural divide
[01:03:52.140]and the racial dynamics of how rural stress
[01:03:54.560]is in a sense another way of managing the distress.
[01:03:58.070]I'm wondering about narratives in all of this.
[01:04:01.100]How continually people are excited to manage their finances,
[01:04:04.730]manage their mental health, et cetera.
[01:04:06.680]I'm curious if you have any thoughts
[01:04:08.270]about the role of storytelling
[01:04:10.787]and articulating new narratives around these things."
[01:04:15.050]So restructuring the way that we're thinking
[01:04:17.790]about the crisis in that regard.
[01:04:21.240]Yeah, this might require me
[01:04:22.920]to think out loud for a second.
[01:04:26.717]Yeah, don't feel rushed to answer immediately.
[01:04:29.160]It's quite a question (laughs).
[01:04:31.960]Yeah, I mean, I think.
[01:04:34.350]So, Cass, I think part of what you're getting at,
[01:04:36.760]or part of what I hear in your question is like,
[01:04:39.980]if for 100 years, farmer and ranchers have been told
[01:04:46.170]that they have to manage their farm.
[01:04:48.020]They have to account for their losses.
[01:04:49.760]They have to quantify their entire operation.
[01:04:55.490]This is what Deborah Fitzgerald,
[01:04:57.780]in her really good book called "Every Farmer A Factory"
[01:05:00.690]calls the industrial psychology.
[01:05:02.830]And what part of what she's saying
[01:05:04.430]is that it's not just technological innovations
[01:05:08.620]that drive changes in farming.
[01:05:11.060]So even if we hear from people like,
[01:05:13.777]"Oh, yeah, precision ag is so revolutionary,
[01:05:16.810]like we can do this and that with data,
[01:05:18.920]it changes farming forever."
[01:05:21.134]Technological innovations are in what she's saying
[01:05:25.440]like this very social, economic and technological matrix.
[01:05:30.520]And so when I read that book recently,
[01:05:35.300]a part of what I started thinking about is like,
[01:05:38.430]oh, if on one hand, I think we need technology
[01:05:42.850]that you don't go into debt over,
[01:05:46.046]or we need ways of farming
[01:05:47.040]that don't require the same kinds of technology,
[01:05:49.750]either of those, I'm not sure, I'm not sold yet
[01:05:52.140]on it being one or the other being the right answer,
[01:05:55.670]then we also need to think about how we think,
[01:06:02.149]and I think this is not just true for farmers,
[01:06:04.590]I think this is true for many people,
[01:06:07.356]we need to think about how we think about nature
[01:06:11.160]and whether we're like, this is quantitative idea
[01:06:16.550]of we're managing the crop.
[01:06:19.130]We're thinking in terms of the number of acres,
[01:06:25.130]the bushels of whatever agricultural commodity, et cetera,
[01:06:30.823]will either like, maybe the change will start there,
[01:06:35.340]and we'll think about these more,
[01:06:40.336]just more rich relationships
[01:06:43.180]to the things that we consume more grow, et cetera.
[01:06:46.740]Or maybe that will get changed as a byproduct
[01:06:48.760]of the more socially embedded technology
[01:06:53.455]that people come up with, et cetera.
[01:06:57.615]But I think in terms of storytelling
[01:07:02.540]or articulating new narratives,
[01:07:06.300]I think there's a lot to draw from,
[01:07:08.470]from ways other societies or communities
[01:07:14.029]have related to the earth.
[01:07:15.970]But I'm not super familiar with those stories.
[01:07:18.330]I mean, I read "Braiding Sweet Grass,"
[01:07:21.910]and I found that beautiful.
[01:07:23.050]I also found it,
[01:07:24.679]like I found this relationship
[01:07:27.680]between science and indigenous thought, very tenuous.
[01:07:31.780]And it's very hard to know how to talk about those things
[01:07:34.830]and whether if we're going to change the relationship
[01:07:40.130]between technology and wealth, et cetera,
[01:07:42.950]and farming, to what extent do you do away
[01:07:46.650]with what Deborah Fitzgerald calls the industrial psychology
[01:07:50.270]or the idea that just like your farm,
[01:07:53.320]you manage your stress?
[01:07:55.300]And that starts to get into theory world,
[01:07:56.820]which I know Cass, so I know Cass is interested in that,
[01:07:59.730]but I don't know if I should go into depth about it here.
[01:08:06.350]No, I think that's really interesting.
[01:08:08.340]And I think it circles back to a point
[01:08:10.760]that you were making earlier, which is that,
[01:08:12.940]we're seeing this ever-increasing availability
[01:08:17.778]presumably of these technologies
[01:08:20.050]that are supposed to revolutionize agriculture
[01:08:22.340]and supposed to increase efficiency of production.
[01:08:25.080]And yet we're seeing that the farmers who are being expected
[01:08:28.180]to produce these things are bearing the brunt of the burden
[01:08:32.040]of that, of the financial stress
[01:08:34.478]of having to invest in these technologies.
[01:08:35.370]And then it's turning back on them
[01:08:37.700]when they can't keep up with it,
[01:08:39.000]which I think is something that,
[01:08:41.330]yeah, a tool like storytelling or rethinking our narrative
[01:08:45.050]around what is going on in these communities,
[01:08:48.240]could be really helpful
[01:08:49.630]because I think that's something we don't often consider.
[01:08:51.710]'Cause we're just seeing it from the innovation perspective.
[01:08:54.970]We're missing the whole human social dynamic there
[01:08:57.620]that I think is extremely important.
[01:09:01.320]Yeah, absolutely. I couldn't agree more.
[01:09:03.460]Yeah, I think the point about storytelling
[01:09:04.970]is really interesting.
[01:09:05.880]I mean, just to add to that, part of what makes it,
[01:09:11.540]part of what to me makes it so important
[01:09:13.850]to not let the mental health paradigm
[01:09:16.270]be the way we understand farm stress,
[01:09:19.100]is that the idea of like,
[01:09:23.810]this ideal of the American farmer
[01:09:26.390]as being a small to medium self-sufficient unit
[01:09:32.930]that has the farmer,
[01:09:37.884]the father at the head of things is somewhat patriarchal,
[01:09:42.960]but also there's a lot of pride in it, et cetera.
[01:09:45.130]Like that image is already so strong,
[01:09:48.990]and like is already,
[01:09:53.550]just when, if we start to say that like,
[01:09:56.640]yeah, now, you not only have to manage your farm,
[01:09:58.780]but you have to manage your mental health,
[01:10:00.660]it reaffirms or strengthens this perception
[01:10:04.750]of the farm and of the people who run the farm,
[01:10:09.272]that is hyper individualized
[01:10:15.200]and just puts an immense amount of responsibility
[01:10:18.000]on, especially in more like what we might think of
[01:10:22.160]as more conventional or traditional farm families,
[01:10:24.520]especially on the men who are head of household or whatever.
[01:10:28.640]I don't wanna use those terms necessarily, but, you know?
[01:10:32.550]And also puts gendered pressure on the women
[01:10:34.610]to be the caregivers, if they're the man,
[01:10:39.580]the man in the farm family is experiencing depression
[01:10:43.290]or feeling all of this pressure.
[01:10:44.430]There's a lot of ways that those ideals
[01:10:47.600]get very individualized.
[01:10:51.010]But part of what we saw during the 1980s was like,
[01:10:55.043]somebody was telling me,
[01:10:56.930]somebody I interviewed was like, during the 1980s,
[01:11:00.230]there were all of these potlucks among farmers,
[01:11:03.760]and a potluck would turn into having a beer and talking
[01:11:07.040]about how we needed to stage this protest, et cetera.
[01:11:11.560]And if you're seeing land consolidation,
[01:11:15.083]and this is maybe this is a hypothesis,
[01:11:18.674]if you're seeing land consolidation,
[01:11:21.200]and there are fewer farm families, and you don't have,
[01:11:25.792]maybe there aren't even enough people
[01:11:27.820]for your church's congregation anymore,
[01:11:29.650]'cause people have moved away,
[01:11:31.450]then how do you have the potluck
[01:11:33.350]that ends up with having a beer in the evening
[01:11:35.970]that ends up with talking about protesting something
[01:11:39.140]or that talks about how you're going to save seeds
[01:11:43.910]or how you're going to fix your tractor
[01:11:46.580]when it breaks, et cetera?
[01:11:47.630]So these social spaces are crucial, you know?
[01:11:53.120]Yeah, and I'm not sure
[01:11:54.795]that it was an intentional consequence,
[01:11:55.870]but in thinking about the process of land consolidation,
[01:12:02.250]I mean, yeah, one of the things that that comes with that
[01:12:05.160]is the fracturing of social structures of communities
[01:12:08.430]in a way that's maybe the intention
[01:12:10.970]isn't to divide these communities
[01:12:13.000]and to barriers against individuals,
[01:12:15.500]because every individual then is struggling more
[01:12:18.130]to make ends meet, but one of the repercussions of this,
[01:12:21.140]which I think we could maybe see parallels
[01:12:23.240]in this happening in urban landscapes as well, right?
[01:12:25.870]When communities are being redeveloped or restructured,
[01:12:29.180]some of the social dynamics and relationships
[01:12:31.360]that have been there historically,
[01:12:33.440]it's challenging for those things to be maintained
[01:12:35.680]when people are either being displaced
[01:12:37.520]or having different issues
[01:12:40.268]that are restructuring the shape of the community
[01:12:41.930]that they're used to.
[01:12:43.620]And so I think that the points that you made
[01:12:45.060]in your presentation about rethinking about collective ways
[01:12:50.153]to use farming equipment and to share resources
[01:12:53.640]are gonna be crucial going forward.
[01:12:55.750]I mean, not only thinking about this
[01:12:56.970]in terms of the financial distress,
[01:12:58.560]but also climate resiliency, right?
[01:13:01.080]Like not only if people are going to be expected
[01:13:03.830]to continue producing
[01:13:05.750]and dealing with the burden of land consolidation
[01:13:08.490]or industry, additionally figuring out how to do so
[01:13:13.731]when environmental conditions are constantly fluctuating
[01:13:17.760]and constantly changing,
[01:13:19.630]and also thinking about the fact that,
[01:13:21.595]I'm not deeply familiar with this,
[01:13:23.700]but I know that certain types of crops insurance
[01:13:27.390]will cover higher proportions of those crops
[01:13:30.000]if you have damages to your yields
[01:13:32.300]caused by something a drought or a flooding event.
[01:13:35.130]Whereas, transitioning to perhaps
[01:13:36.950]a more sustainable-type agriculture,
[01:13:38.570]like some of the agroecology that you were talking about,
[01:13:41.376]it might be more challenging for people to ensure
[01:13:44.640]that they have their bases covered
[01:13:46.780]and don't end the season in net deficit.
[01:13:49.760]So I wondered what ideas you had about agroecology.
[01:13:54.430]I know you have some colleagues in friends
[01:13:56.700]who are working more in this area,
[01:13:58.370]but I wondered if you could tell us
[01:14:00.200]a little bit more about that
[01:14:01.320]or if anyone else on the call is doing that work
[01:14:04.460]and has insights on how we can rethink
[01:14:07.640]about different ways to envision farming
[01:14:10.838]that maybe ensure the vitality of these communities
[01:14:14.470]and also ensure that people moving forward
[01:14:16.780]are maybe less vulnerable to some of the land consolidation
[01:14:19.930]by changing or restructuring the way
[01:14:22.520]that they're doing their agriculture.
[01:14:29.200]Yeah, I mean, I am not an agroecology scholar.
[01:14:31.850]I'm just approximate to some.
[01:14:34.640]I think what is compelling to me,
[01:14:40.688]what is compelling to me about some of the ideas
[01:14:43.970]of food sovereignty or agroecology,
[01:14:46.050]which are different but overlap in a lot of ways,
[01:14:50.770]what is interesting to me, I think,
[01:14:53.878]is the emphasis on planting in a way
[01:14:59.110]that is taking into account relationships among plants
[01:15:04.260]and among cover crops and animals, et cetera.
[01:15:07.560]So really embedded in the environment
[01:15:13.190]and thinking about,
[01:15:14.690]some people are also thinking about
[01:15:16.020]what it will be able to survive climate change
[01:15:18.850]in 5, 10, 15, 20 years,
[01:15:22.840]whether that's annual plantings
[01:15:24.576]or perennials like fruit trees, et cetera.
[01:15:31.058]I think what is also,
[01:15:33.220]and what I know a little bit more about,
[01:15:35.107]and what also interest me though
[01:15:36.980]is thinking in terms of the structure,
[01:15:45.740]or how do I wanna put this?
[01:15:47.690]Thinking in terms of, for example,
[01:15:49.720]like what could come to fruition
[01:15:52.120]in addition to family farms, like collectivized farms,
[01:15:57.333]farms that not only have these shared technologies
[01:16:06.860]or shared combines, et cetera,
[01:16:09.500]but maybe also they are not,
[01:16:15.730]they do seed saving and can share seeds with other people
[01:16:19.540]who might not have the time to do seed saving,
[01:16:21.630]but can do repairs on technology.
[01:16:23.290]And so this capacity for, and this does not,
[01:16:26.220]this is not really a response to your agroecology question,
[01:16:29.590]but to the way of living that could correspond
[01:16:32.700]to a systemic change in farming communities,
[01:16:35.780]like these kinds of just flows of resources
[01:16:41.670]that are not contingent
[01:16:44.620]on a very volatile farm economy market,
[01:16:49.280]and trying to create rural communities
[01:16:52.840]that have a little bit of buffer room
[01:16:55.810]from the global market,
[01:16:57.820]which they are currently very at the whims of.
[01:17:02.460]Yeah, I think that's gonna be thinking about resiliency
[01:17:05.470]on multiple scales, right?
[01:17:07.110]Both in terms of response to environmental fluctuations
[01:17:10.670]and also from a community perspective, right?
[01:17:12.910]How can we draw on each of our individual strengths
[01:17:17.410]and excess of resources that one person might have,
[01:17:19.810]and think about sharing those things
[01:17:21.990]and redistributing those things
[01:17:23.420]and rethinking our relationship to one another
[01:17:27.290]and our relationship to the land in that way.
[01:17:30.190]Yeah, thank you for those perspectives.
[01:17:33.730]Yeah, of course.
[01:17:35.562]If anyone else had any other questions
[01:17:37.950]or comments or ideas they wanted to share, feel free to.
[01:17:42.560]If not, we can start wrapping up.
[01:17:50.224]It is getting close to dinner time.
[01:17:52.260]So everyone's probably ready eat something.
[01:17:56.419]Bradi, did you have any closing thoughts
[01:17:58.980]that you wanted to leave us with?
[01:17:59.960]No pressure, but anything else
[01:18:01.850]that we didn't get to touch on that you think is important?
[01:18:05.556]I don't think I had anything.
[01:18:06.560]I just wanna say thank you to everyone for coming.
[01:18:08.470]I know for those of you on Eastern Time,
[01:18:10.650]like Eastern Time to me,
[01:18:11.860]it is definitely after the end of the business day.
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