FARGO — Lutherans and others are launching a Faith and Farm Coalition to coordinate assistance for farmers, ranchers and rural communities besieged by low crop prices, trade wars and wet weather hampering the harvest.
Bishop Terry Brandt of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s Eastern North Dakota Synod convened a meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 22, to discuss ways Lutheran churches and others can work together to help those caught in the farm crisis caused by overlapping adverse conditions fueling severe financial strains.
“I cannot imagine the emotional strain and anxiety being (borne) by our farmers/ranchers and their families,” Brandt wrote in a recent letter announcing the coalition. “Depression will be a reality for many. Suicide rates could climb. Feelings of failure and anxiety about the future are rampant, especially when families are managing Century Farms. All these challenges, especially the current rain and snow, will put stress on our rural communities.”
The meeting, including participation via interactive television, was attended by Lutheran pastors and bishops from North Dakota and Minnesota as well as others who are engaged in helping farmers and rural communities in the two states.
“This farm stress issue has been something coming to a head the last 1½ years,” with financial conditions increasing in severity, said Jessie Pfaff, a senior policy and research analyst for the North Dakota Department of Agriculture. “They’re out of options.”
Coalition members will compile resources, such as websites, brochures, podcasts and videos as well as assistance programs, and make them readily available for farmers, ranchers and others in rural communities facing hardships.
Members also discussed ways to overcome barriers, including the lack of counseling services in many rural communities and the stigma of asking for help by farmers and ranchers who pride themselves on their self-reliance.
Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota through its Abound Counseling service provides counseling for farmers and farm families coping with farm stress.
The service is available to anyone with access to the internet, and meets privacy standards, said Abby Tow, community engagement officer for Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota.
The farm crisis will create financial and social ripple effects that will extend beyond farms and ranches, she said.
“Entire communities are going to be affected by this,” she said.
Sean Brotherson, a family life specialist at North Dakota State University who helps with farm stress, agreed that the social fabric will be frayed in rural families and communities. “Family relationships really get strained,” he said, adding there could be an increase in family violence and divorce rates.
Meg Moynihan of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, who also is a dairy farmer, said faith communities can play an important supporting role by working to “counteract the overwhelming sense of shame” that many farm families feel when confronted by forces beyond their control.
“It is typically a very strong sense of responsibility,” which can make it difficult to accept help, she said. Pastoral support can help overcome that, Moynihan added.
Brandon Delvo of the North Dakota Farmers Union said it is important to cultivate relationships with farmers, something that can be done by sharing a meal in a relaxed setting. “It’s that building trust and breaking down the stigma at the local level,” he said.
Brandt, who said the coalition will be ecumenical, said he will invite participation from other denominations as well as secular groups to form a supportive network.