Local farmer talks mental health risks

FAIRMONT — Last year farmers across the country were hit hard by Covid-19. Some had to plow under their crops, while others were dumping dairy products and euthanizing animals. That may simply seem sad to some, but farmers’ production is their livelihood.

Some forms of insurance and government assistance may have aided a few, but there was still quite an impact. Those kinds of setbacks can greatly affect mental health, and local hog farmer Wanda Patsche was able to share where things stand for the farming community.

“When we talk about mental health, there’s no question that farmers are more apt to struggle with it, just because of the risk factor of farming in general,” she said. “Then when the whole Covid thing was thrown in on top of it, that was definitely a real struggle.”

Patsche went on to share a personal story of how the stress of the pandemic affected her.

“If I go a year back to when the whole Covid thing was happening, you’re just personally adjusting to that. I have lived my whole life, over 60 years, and I had never seen anything like that. So that whole thing of trying to figure out what was going on was serious enough.

“Then we had the meatpackers shut down last April and May. So when it really hit me was on Easter Sunday.

“First of all, it didn’t feel right because all three of my girls live close and we were all spending Easter separately. But then that was also the day that I had heard that Smithfield was shutting down. Even though we don’t sell to Smithfield, it doesn’t matter because what affects one meatpacker will ripple through the whole pork industry.

“So even though we sell to Hormel, I knew what that was going to mean. I knew how many hogs were going through Smithfield and all of a sudden they had to shut it off. But the thing is you can’t shut off hog production, those pigs are still there.”

Patsche knew that very few producers had room to hold extra animals and that a few could perhaps be sold privately.

“All of a sudden the meat lockers were full and you couldn’t get in there,” she said. “You had like a year before you could get in to get an appointment. But they can maybe do between four to six a day, but I have 2200 head, so that wasn’t going to solve the problem.”

Patsche stated that all the bad news combined and before she knew it, problems hit Hormel.

“I could not put myself in the position to say we had to euthanize them,” she said of her hogs. “As farmers we raise food, that is what we do. No all of a sudden you’re telling me we have to throw it all away?”

Patsche states that while she was affected, she was fortunate to not have to seek out professional mental health services. She also shared a memory of running into another farmer in a local grocery store and knowing that he needed to talk.

“If you can just share your stories and talk with other producers, that’s a huge help. Then having the available resources that the state provides, that was helpful too.

“Farming has always been a struggle, but it’s so up and down. Yes, there are certain things we can do for risk management, but that only takes so much of the risk out.”

There are resources available for farmers who are struggling and may feel like they need some assistance. The Minnesota Farm and Rural Helpline is available 24/7. People can call (833) 600-2670, and It’s free and confidential.

Other resources include the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255, the Crisis Text Line through which people can text MN to 741741, Horizen Homes South Central Crisis Center at (507) 344-0621. Local contacts in Fairmont include Mayo Clinic, Euonia Family Resource Center, New Directions Healing Center and Dr. Joeseph Switras. In Blue Earth, there is the Adult, Child and Family Servics LLC and the United Hospital District.


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