New online series aims to help women in agriculture

A webinar series created by UMN alumni aims to help women in agriculture manage stress.

Norah Kleven

Two University of Minnesota alumni created a web-based seminar series designed to help women in agriculture cope with stressors that frequently occur in the industry.

The webinar series, Cultivating Resiliency for Women in Agriculture, is a research project that surveys women to provide early detection of depression and other mental illnesses caused by stressors common in the agricultural industry. With experts noticing escalating stress levels in agricultural workers, the webinar series was designed for the needs of farm women — an underserved demographic.  

“Stress has been building in agriculture, farming and ranching communities,” said Doris Mold, a University alumna and co-leader of the project alongside Megan Roberts, another alumna. The project was funded by a grant through the University’s Upper Midwest Agricultural Safety and Health Center and supported by Extension and other entities that support women in agriculture.

Mold said stress has always been present in the agriculture industry because of uncertainties about weather and economic markets. But an increase in anxiety among those in agriculture has caused alarm for Mold and others professionals in the sector. 

“Megan and I have both seen quite a lot of stress with the people that we work with and that we care about,” Mold said. “There was an opportunity rather than just wringing [our] hands and saying, ‘oh my, oh my, what do we do,’ we decided that we wanted to actually do something.” 

The project was launched in mid-December and will be completed in April. Facilitators will use findings from questionnaire responses to gauge the amount of stress among women working in agriculture. Roberts said she hopes the questionnaire provides a way for participants to reflect on their own stresses and needs.  

As of Monday, the webinar has drawn 407 total viewers. Viewers are primarily in Minnesota, but the range of viewers spans the country, with some even from as far as British Columbia, Roberts said.

A unique stress

The stress women in agriculture face is unique, in part because of the demands of the industry. The agricultural industry gives little time for vacation and a lot of general uncertainty. Roberts and Mold emphasized financial woes as the biggest stressor for male and female farmers.

Mold said mental health concerns for farmers are under-researched, and that the profession has a high suicide rate. According to the Centers for Disease Control, those who worked in farming, forest and fishing industries had the seventh-highest rate of suicide among occupations in the U.S. in 2015.

For women, the already difficult profession has an added layer of stress. Women are usually tasked with taking care of their families and their homes — essentially working two full-time jobs, according to Mold and Roberts. 

Roberts said the webinar was designed for women because their unique needs lack recognition in the agriculture industry. The webinar aims to ensure women take care of themselves in order to take care of others, as their role on a farm often requires. 

Emily Annexstad, a third-year University student studying animal science and agricultural communication and marketing, is a third-generation farmer. She grew up on her family farm in St. Peter, Minnesota. 

“[Farming] has always been a big part of my life,” Annexstad said. “I really loved growing up on a farm.”  

In her family, Annexstad noticed her mother and grandmother played important and demanding roles. They helped both with agricultural operations and family care. The fluctuating prices of dairy and other commodities led to inconsistent income, which made it hard for her family to invest in the farm.  

Although the series is designed specifically for women operating in the agricultural industry, Mold said the sessions can help anyone of any gender and in any occupation. 

“A big takeaway message is whoever we are, we have to deal with our own issues first if we’re going to be good for anyone else,” Mold said.