The Floods of 1993: Creating a Farm Family Support Network

  • Williams, R. T.

Most of the damage (86%) caused by the Wisconsin floods of 1993 were experienced by farmers in the state. Yet, while the heavy rains were devastating, they merely capped off a decade of stress for Wisconsin farm families " stress triggered by plummeting land values, low commodity prices, high farm expenses, high property taxes, stray voltage, droughts and floods. This cumulative stress has resulted in an average of 637 calls per month to the WI Farmers Assistance Hotline in 1993 and an average of nearly 1,000 calls per month so far in 1994. Farmers call for a variety of reasons, but, increasingly, the hotline is hearing of serious emotional problems: depression, withdrawal, alcohol abuse, domestic violence and suicidal intentions.

The Health and Human Issues Department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison initiated a project to develop a Farm Family Support Network designed to help farm families deal with flood-related and other stressors. This project -- funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and administered by the Wisconsin Department of Health and Social Services -- is addressing the following goals:

  • To provide training for formal caregivers (health, mental health, social service, community action, domestic violence, and JOBS staff) to help them understand the farm crisis and how they can respond;
  • To provide training for informal gatekeepers (veterinarians, milk haulers, milk testers, artificial inseminators, farm credit advisors, creditors and agribusiness persons) to help them identify farm families in crisis and refer them for help;
  • To initiate new farm family support groups and revitalize existing groups by providing trainings for support group leaders and offering consultation to groups in communities across the state;
  • To provide direct assistance to farm families through the use of farm family outreach workers in the two areas of the state hardest hit by the rains of 1993; and
  • To publicize the Farm Family Support Network in various media so farm families are more aware of the resources available to them.

This seminar will highlight

  • the causes and effects of the farm crisis, and
  • the project components and impacts to date.

Participants should also become more aware of the culture or world of farm families "their unique experiences, situations, values, beliefs and attitudes" and how to more effectively work with people who share this cultural background.

This research abstract was extracted from a portion of the proceedings of "Agricultural Safety and Health: Detection, Prevention and Intervention," a conference presented by the Ohio State University and the Ohio Department of Health, sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control/National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

The author noted above is at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI.

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