Cooperative Extension's wellness talks uplift farmers' spirits
Farmers from across the island came together on Aug. 30 for a workshop focused on wellness in the agricultural community and connecting farmers with resources and each other. The workshop was the second event this year under the Farmer Focus project being carried out by Cooperative Extension & Outreach unit at the University of Guam.
“It was an eye-opening experience for the farmers in attendance to hear from each other and realize that their experiences and struggles are shared and validated,” said Kuan-Ju Chen, assistant professor of agricultural economics at UOG and the project director.
The Farmer Focus project is part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture–funded Western Regional Agricultural Stress Assistance Program, a national network of organizations and community members working to support the agricultural community. With funding support from WRASAP, the University of Guam will be hosting several similar events over the next several months specific to mental health, stress management, suicide prevention, financial support, and technical assistance in farming.
“There is a common understanding that farming in Guam can be stressful since the island is a hotspot for plant diseases and pests, and this can be overwhelming for farmers,” said Elvira Gisog, UOG extension assistant and coordinator of the Farmer Focus project. “It is vital for them to know that there are services, agencies, and opportunities that can help them when the stress begins to feel unbearable.”
Attendees heard from the UOG I’Pinangon Campus Suicide Prevention Program, the Guam Behavioral Health and Wellness Center, the Family & Consumer Sciences unit of UOG Cooperative Extension & Outreach, the Farmers Cooperative Association of Guam, and the Chinese Farmers Association.
For retired farmer Angelita “Angie” Mendiola, she found her first wellness workshop
“It is nice to know that someone is paying attention to us because it can be easily forgotten that we do have wellness problems that stem from the theft of our crops, lack of pest control, and other factors,” she said. “I am so happy I was invited to the workshop because people think farmers are very strong and they don’t have problems, but they do and they need help.”
Mendiola, who has been farming since she was a little girl, said that farmer stress also comes from the intensive labor and lack of assistance in the field. Mendiola said she hopes that programs in the future will be able to provide farmers with dedicated farmer assistance for those who are no longer able to physically farm due to health-related issues.
“Other farmers and I always talk about the possibility of having someone assist us,” she said. “While I am still planting at home, a lot of farmers my age have closed their gates because of underlying conditions, and no one is picking up where they left off.”
According to Gisog, the Western Region Agricultural Stress Assistance Program provides farmers with a range of small funding grants through professional development, translation services, and health and wellness education activities. Similarly, I’Pinangon and GBHWC also offer health and wellness services. These and additional resources will continue to be shared at upcoming Farmer Focus events.
For more information on the Farmer Focus program, contact Project Director Kuan-Ju Chen at firstname.lastname@example.org or Project Co-Director Tim de La Cruz at email@example.com or follow the program on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.