Play addresses farm-related stress

Nathan Whalen

The financial turmoil, stress and dangers of farm work were some of the topics presented in the play “Farm Alarm: Coping with Stress” at the St. Paul Student Center theater Friday.
The performance detailed the problems farmers are facing today, as well as ways to deal with the growing stress in the field.
The play, which was sponsored by the University Extension Service and performed by Theatre at Work, told the tale of two farm families who were in the midst of financial troubles and health problems, both of which threatened their livelihood. About 100 people attended the performance.
“We want to show what families who are coping with stress are doing right,” said John M. Shutske, agricultural safety and health specialist with the Department of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering.
The idea to focus on farm-related stress came from a series of community assessments that found stress was a concern of farmers, said Ruth Rasmussen, program coordinator at Partners for Farm Health and Safety.
She said using a play as a tool for stress management was the best way to communicate the problem of farm stress.
Another point the play made was teaching agricultural alternatives such as organic farming or creating services to help other farmers, which might be useful in alleviating financial strains.
Rasmussen and Partners for Farm Health and Safety traveled the state talking to farmers about what they were concerned about most. They found that farmers cited stress as a big element in their lives, and Theatre at Work used these concerns and experiences to write the play.
The Theatre at Work company is a group based in St. Paul that focuses on theater-based training for the workplace. Previous projects include plays on sexual harassment and stress and violence on the job.
“It helps us think about farmers when dramatized this way,” said Jim Anderson, an assistant professor in agronomy and plant genetics who watched the play.
After the performance an open forum was held, at which the audience could discuss the play and their experiences. The forum also allowed farmers to meet advocates and see the resources available to them, such as social workers and business people who attended the play, Rasmussen said.
During the forum, some farmers said that low grain prices and inability to move their grain contributed to their stress.
The play has been seen in various communities in the region including Fargo, N.D., Thief River Falls, Minn. and Ada, Minn.