Engaging Communities Through Issues Forums

Our Story – Why We Used Forums to Address Farm and Farm Fami ly Issues

We were first alerted to the pervasiveness of health challenges of farmers and farm families when analyses from the USDA AFRI grant were available in 2016. Interest and concern by the public became evident during the 2016 Vermont summit. We watched the impact of farming-related stressors climb as other data became available. We cringed when we saw an increase in the number of farm suicides. We were amazed with the number of local and national news headlines focused on financial downturns in the farming economy and stress-related impacts on farmers, farm enterprises and the entire food system.

We realized the stressors behind the numbers were not just of a private nature. Once stress-related information became public, we knew that the situation had moved beyond private problems to public issues.

We determined that Extension’s farm stress management programming was not enough. We knew issues would need to be addressed from a socio-ecological perspective. This perspective would allow us to engage individuals and organizations within, and beyond, food systems. We recognized that a resilience approach would reshape the conversation in a way that would broaden discussion, engage more individuals, and create not only personal solutions but systemic ones. Building resilience at the individual, family, and farm levels of the socio-ecological model had to go beyond the boundaries of the farm. We were working on a resilience social-ecological framework to show how other levels impact the person and farm. Additional levels of communities, organizations, and public policy were included. And we knew we needed forums to enable shared resilience thinking and building of resilience not only for our farming populations but for the communities in which they reside. Through our NTAE grant, we published a guide for Extension professionals wanting to build resilience.

We determined that a forum process of public engagement would allow us to engage community members from a variety of sectors to bring different ideas, resources, and connections to address public issues that farms and farm families face. We wanted to build a stronger support system for farms and farm families, and we hoped to create systemic changes so that history doesn't repeat itself, again and again.

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