A Caring Church of Farm Families
March 3, 2008
Communicate, connect, and celebrate. Those three words are all you have to grasp and act on. There are many ways your church can minister care to farm families.
My passion as a farmer and farm family business coach is to encourage families to communicate, connect and celebrate. I want farmers bounding back from the bumps of life to be resilient and thrive, not just strive to survive.
Farmers are independent entrepreneurial lots who are hesitant to ask for help. When they do ask, we should recognize the courage that it took to ask. There are many underlying fears of failure, disappointing the legacy of the past farming generations, and role confusion. If a farmer is forced to let go of the farm, who is he?
What are farmers and agricultural producers asking for?
Respect. Don’t judge them as simple-minded plaid-clan plain folks. They are business people taking huge risks every day to produce food and agricultural products that make your life better and easier. Communicate your respect and your care for farmers via the media. This could include writing letters to the editor or calling in to talk shows. Europeans revere farmers because they still remember what it was like to go hungry.
Profitable returns. Each sector of the industry has cycles of highs and lows. The cattle and hog producers are really struggling with high input costs and low returns. Don’t rejoice in a high Canadian dollar, that really hurts our export markets. Remember that there are always two sides to every economic story. You are spending less than 10% of your disposable income on food, and the farmer gets the smallest portion of your food dollar.
Drop-in the company. Visit us on our farms. One of the signs of high stress is farm families pulling back into more isolation. Take care to see who is showing up in your circle of community, and find out why the farm families have withdrawn from fellowship. Churches can offer counseling resources as helping professionals. You can simply be a caring church member who wants to share coffee and courageous conversation. Create support groups for people to voice their pain and frustration.
Pray. Thank God for the daily bread and the rich resources of this awesome peaceful country we are privileged to live in. Perhaps your church would like to intentionally connect with a rural church to explore ways to understand the urban/rural dynamic. In Wisconsin, there is a ministry of rural churches connected to sister city churches so that they can support the rural folks. They do this with film nights, special celebrations, letters of encouragement, and prayer requests. In Canada check out www.canadianruralchurch.net or www.ruralmatters.net
Appreciate the weather. The flood of 1997 drew lots of media attention. It was heartening to receive calls from urban friends in Toronto who wanted to know how we were coping. The same thing happened with a devastating hail storm in 1994 and tornados in 2007. Weather is a really big deal to rural folks, we measure our rain, and pray for swathed crops to stay dry.
Unique culture. Value the fact that farmers are very special people, comprising only 2% of the Canadian population. Many farm families are dealing with finding a successor for their trans-generational businesses. There are families encouraging their children to pursue a degree in agriculture, but these are typically not the ones you read about in the paper.
Buy local. You’ve heard lots lately about the 100-mile diet and eating locally grown foods. I smile when I realize that as a farm kid, and now farm woman, I’ve eaten local for over 50 years. Buying locally grown food products, and taking the time to buy from farm families is another way to develop relationships and boost farm gate receipts. Ask your food manager at larger centers why they aren’t supporting more local food suppliers.
Recognize role overload. Over 50% of farm women have off-farm income. They likely have no garden or smaller gardens in some cases as they are extremely busy managing the home, family, off-farm job, and contributing to the farm operation. There is a huge degree of tiredness among rural women who commutes long distances to perform tasks that city people would marvel at. The distance factor can be shortened with caring phone calls, emails, and words of encouragement.
Financial awareness. We need to de-shame rural bankruptcy. The church family needs to recognize feelings of hopelessness, depression, anger, and shame, watching that people don’t withdraw into themselves. As a farm debt mediator I am familiar with the courage it takes for a farmer to admit that his or her debt has become a monster. The large expensive equipment used can be the brunt of jokes, but the truth that there is no cash flow is a sad reality for many who are cash crunched. We don’t appreciate the paycheque mentality or jokes about double overtime. Many farmers work 80 to 100-hour weeks.
Coaching is “about discovery, counseling is about recovery”. Some farm spouses refuse to reach out to facilitators for family meetings to resolve conflict issues. The trend in farm succession is that a team of advisors is used to help the family business transition to the next generation if there are successors. There is a huge backlog of farmers in their late 60’s and 70’s who are still hanging on to the founder’s role, and not transitioning ownership and management. This means that many families will be experiencing huge changes in the next 10 years. The average age of a farmer in Canada today is 52. Counseling is needed for those struggling with past issues that are affecting their mental health. Unfortunately, 2 out of 3 people do not seek treatment for mental health issues. In North Dakota, Dr. Sean Brotherson’s study discovered that 51% of that state’s farmers would not seek out mental health professionals. Pride is a huge factor and the culture of independence. “I should be able to fix things by myself.” Unfortunately, people are a lot more complex than machines. God needs to be part of the healing also.
Connect with words of encouragement. If you see a media report about a farm family, track them down on www.canada411.com and send them some words of encouragement and pray for them. Write poetry. Read the Psalms as your praise for the wonderful way God provides for you, and notice the agricultural metaphors. “Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.” 2.Corinthians 9:6.?
Be curious about learning more about the people who helped put food on your table. Google in your thoughts to find contacts and newsletters to help you understand how you can pray for peace on the land. Have an attitude of gratitude, and bless the food you eat with a thankful heart.
Words kindly spoken are “like apples of gold in settings of silver.” (Proverbs [25:11]). There are many farm families who would rejoice if they knew you really wanted to communicate, connect and celebrate God’s goodness with them. What are you waiting for? We won’t be giving you a formal city-like invitation. Use your cell-phone, call us, and then drop in.
Elaine Froese, PHEc, CAFA, CHICoach is a catalyst for courageous conversations. This article was printed in the Canadian Mennonite in 2007. Church groups have asked for practical ways to connect to farmers and encourage farm families.