Williston, VT — There is a renewed focus on mental health of farmers and in Vermont, a state-sponsored nonprofit is starting a support network to help farmers combat stress and address their mental health needs.

Mark Isham, a fifth generation farmer, owns Isham Family Farm, but lately things haven’t been easy. “For me it’s more I am trying to do more with less,” said Isham.

Isham is putting in hundred hour weeks every week to make up for the labor shortages. “We don’t really don’t have any life outside of work for farmers. It’s not a job, it is a way of living. When you decide to become a farmer, it becomes a way of living.” 

Vermont’s farmers have faced the pandemic, high fuel prices, and inflation.

“Farmers are always dealing with what they were making for income several years ago. The income doesn’t rise like the inflation does because we cant charge more money for the products that we produce. It’s the food that we put on peoples tables.” 

According to a report from the Vermont Department of Health, farming is among the occupations at significantly higher risk for suicide. To help address Vermont farmers’ mental health needs, the state-sponsored nonprofit Farm First, is creating a new program called the Farmer Peer Support Network.

“Farmers are reaching out right now because they are feeling particularly stressed by all of the things that are stressing most of us,” said Karen Crowley, Program Manager for Farm First. “With increased prices, inflation, and supply chain problems, farmers are looking for support with their stress and ways to connect with other resources that could take some of the pressure off.” 

Crowley says farmers are reaching out more than ever. “We know that farmers have a difficult job to do, physically, emotionally, financially, and that we need our farmers. Vermont needs our farmers and we need to be taking care of them as best as we can to keep our farms healthy and strong.”

Back at the Isham Family Farm, Mike is committed to providing for the community. “We do theater here at the farm, we do weddings at the farm and other activities using the farm. It makes for long days, we are up at 5 am every day and last night we didn’t get done until midnight.”