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'Farmers Dinner Theater' Dec. 15 to spotlight mental health issues of farm families

Warren County Extension Office

Students from Future Farmers of America in Daviess and Henderson counties are bringing to the stage some of today’s mental health challenges faced by farm families.

The program, Farmers Dinner Theater, will be presented Wednesday at the RiverPark Center in Owensboro.

WKU Public Radio reporter Rhonda Miller talked with Daviess County Extension Agent Clint Hardy about the stresses of running a farm, the nation’s high rate of suicide among farmers and how the students are helping to erase the stigma of mental health issues.

Hardy: It's an effort between the UK College of Agriculture and the UK College of Nursing. It was actually piloted in July between the Logan and Warren County extension offices. They  slipped in, caught a little lull in the COVID during July, and was able to do this in Russellville. The purpose for it is a way to identify the resources available in our communities pertaining to mental health awareness, and an opportunity to utilize these students to help them become more aware of mental illness. But ultimately, an opportunity for them to act out in some theater style skits that represent farm stress situations. They'll act out those skits in front of an audience of local farmers and interested community partners.

Miller: Is there a suicide or mental health issues that farmers experience that people just don't hear about?
Hardy: The statistical analysis indicates that the suicide rate in production agriculture is higher than the national average. Locally, you know, we've had situations, you know, years back, thank goodness, it's not an annual situation or anything like that. I mean, it's something we don't want to ever have happen, but it does on occasion. The purpose of this program is just to maybe reduce the stigma that mental health doesn't exist. You know, I mean, we're all aware of our physical health. But truthfully, in this period we've been in over the last 24 months, I mean, I think everyone knows that mental health is a little bit probably more taxed, I guess you'd say.
Miller: What are the skits about?
Hardy: Well, that's what's unique. The students are invited to write the scripts. We provide an outline and they take it and run with it. The topics that were presented at the program in Russellville back in the summer pertained to financial stress, production weather stress. Some was related to family stress, some illness in a family. They represented real world situations. A family has a major illness or a death in their family right in the middle of the peak season, financial hardships, debt service. You know, the real world things that stress a farm business, the students wrote scripts pertaining to those.
Miller: So the scripts are written by students, that's really interesting. Do you know about how many students are going to take part at this point?
Hardy: Yes, 17 to 20. We took what we learned from the Warren Logan County group and have added to the program that they've done down there. So we're very excited about it. We're very excited that the Logan Warren County, Henderson Daviss County really had the opportunity to start this pilot program in the state. It's something that I think will be offered in other counties as we develop this program in the next year or so. And in fact, it's actually probably going to be kind of a case model that will be adopted by other universities in the southeast with their extension service program.
Miller: Okay, that sounds really good.
Hardy: Yeah, open to the public, we do ask that they would call our Daviss County Extension office and reserve a seat. There's no charge. We had substantial sponsorship in this program. And we don't want to provide any reason for someone to not attend, especially if it's something they might benefit from or a family member benefit from. So we want them to be able to join us.
Miller: That sounds good. Thanks so much for talking to me.
Hardy: Well, thank you for calling.
Miller: Take care. Good talking with you. Bye bye. I've been talking with Daviess County Extension Agent Clint Hardy. I'm Rhonda Miller in Bowling Green.

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