Cultivating Hope

Initiative Hopes to Improve Access, Assistance for Farmers 

As mental health has taken center stage in public discourse in the past decade, the concerns of specific populations have been recognized and addressed. The visibility of our healthcare providers and first responders during the pandemic brought increased awareness of their sacrifices and struggles. Veterans and minorities, too, are starting to benefit from the increased awareness and care options. One group of people just now starting to benefit from the drive for better mental health care is farmers. For the agriculture community, access to mental health care can be too far away and too difficult to get. That’s something the newly launched Farmer Stress Awareness Initiative hopes to change.

The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, which is partnering with the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, received a $500,000 grant to implement the initiative to train public school agriculture teachers, Florida 211, 4-H, Future Farmers of America members, and others to recognize the signs of farm stress in their communities and families.

Many Floridians may not be familiar with the 211 networks. Currently, there are 242 “211” networks existing in the United States, providing coverage for approximately 96% of the country. Catherine Rea is Vice President of 211 Heart of Florida United Way in Orlando, which is a part of the national 211 network. In the state of Florida, there are 12 such contact centers that provide coverage for all of Florida. These centers host monthly meetings and collaborate on local and state projects together through the Florida Alliance of Information and Referral Systems. 

“Unfortunately, access has been an issue,” said Clara Reynolds, president and CEO of the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay. “I am so grateful to the Commissioner for recognizing that this is indeed an issue we need to address, all of us as a network.

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Agriculture Nikki Fried hosted the launch of the Farmer Stress Awareness Initiative at Plant City’s  Wish Farms in early June. 

“The pressures of keeping our food supply strong when so many factors are outside of a farmer’s control, like supply chain issues, unfair foreign trade practices, invasive pests, and the weather, result in Florida’s agricultural community experiencing tremendous stress,” Fried says. 

“Unfortunately, these communities are too often forgotten when it comes to mental health care resources and access. That must change, and thanks to our partnership with the USDA and the great work being done by Florida organizations, we are tackling this issue head-on.”

Resources, like shelter and other basic needs, in addition to financial assistance and mental health or crisis intervention, will be provided to those in need. 

Rea was on hand representing Heart of Florida United Way 211 and their Florida 211 partners.

“If we can help alleviate a crisis financially,” Rea says, “oftentimes we can alleviate the crisis itself. Especially after the pandemic, which has caused a large increase in mental health crises, as well as financial crises across our entire country, has also hit our farming communities and workers especially hard.”

Rea and Heart of Florida United Way 211 were approached to develop the texting portion of the initiative, which is now available statewide. It will connect people to get connected easily to their appropriate local 211 for available resources. 

Anyone in need should reach out for assistance by texting FARMFL to 898211. This texting service is available 24 hours a day/7 days a week and offers the same benefits as placing a call to 211. Farmers in need can then text their zip code to 898211. 

“We offer texting, live texting in real time to our specialists, with real-time conversations and resources,” Rea says. “You’ll get the same assistance and care as if you call 211, but through text.” 

So how exactly will this initiative help farmers? Help could come in the way of utility assistance, for example, to cover costs preventing disconnection of electricity to a home/farm, or financial assistance needed to procure childcare over the summer months when children are home from school and may need to be cared for during the day so their parent(s) can get work done. The program also will help to stabilize struggling farmers dealing with food insecurity by way of food banks. Rental assistance programs, and low-income or no-income behavioral health counseling are also available. Florida 211’s maintain the most comprehensive databases of available community resources to connect people to the programs themselves. 

Rea points out that the most beneficial outcome of this initiative will be the ease of accessibility for community resources. 

“Sometimes people in need aren’t even aware that 211 exists and is ready to assist. Everything can be confidential, can be anonymous and is very easy to use. Just by raising awareness, like FDACS did with promoting this campaign, people can easily get the word out there and hopefully get connected to the services they may need.”

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