‘Being there’ for farmers
The Farm Crisis Response Council in Nebraska is the church at work offering farmers and ranchers assistance with tough personal and family issues.
By Charity Springer
Farming, for many, is a passion. It not only provides jobs for some people, but also provides food for many others. Without farmers, we would not be able to enjoy fresh fruits and vegetables year-round.
Unfortunately, life for a farmer has its hardships. For instance, in the early 1980s, a farm crisis in Nebraska caused many problems for the state’s farm families. Debt increased, land values fell and foreclosures reached a record high. That’s when Interchurch Ministries of Nebraska, a partnership with the ELCA Nebraska Synod and other denominations, created the Farm Crisis Response Council.
One of the primary services provided by the council is the Nebraska Rural Response Hotline. When a farmer, rancher or rural resident calls the hotline, an experienced staff person assists the caller and discusses their needs. “The biggest request that we get is the need for someone to hear them and sort through their issues. (Others) are family issues and financial issues. There’s a whole range of topics,” says Ken Moore, interim director of Interchurch Ministries of Nebraska.
The council assists farmers and their families with financial needs, and its Counseling, Outreach, and Mental Health Therapy program is available to help deal with stress, depression and other mental health issues.
Ken explains that they weren’t expecting the program to last this long. “When this organization was established by Interchurch Ministries, they thought this would last for six months” but the farm crisis continues in rural communities today.
“Hunger in Nebraska is invisible and attention is focused on urban areas, and people are not aware of the needs and issues being faced in rural parts of the state,” says Ken. “Rural communities were once safe and prosperous areas where people could raise kids, and now that’s not the case. For a lot of rural families to survive, they still need one or two extra jobs in the household to make ends meet.”
Asking for help can be difficult
ELCA World Hunger, through its Domestic Hunger Grants and other resources, supports ministries that offer hope and assistance to many thousands of people who experience hunger and poverty in the United States. The Farm Crisis Response Council received an ELCA Domestic Hunger Grant in 2014 to help support its continuing work with people living and working in rural areas.
“We really appreciate the grant. We have limited funds, and we have to stretch them to help as many folks as we can. We help just short of 4,000 families each year,” Ken says. “The grant gives us discretionary funds to help when we have an emergency.”
“A call came in recently from a dad, who works as an organic farmer with 11 children, who found out he has a brain tumor. Because of that health issue, he hasn’t been able to work on the farm. So what we were able to do - with confidentiality - was to provide money for them to buy groceries,” explains Ken.
When situations like this come up, it’s critical to have funds on hand to meet the basic needs of people who work on their own but still struggle.
Interchurch Ministries of Nebraska, through the Farm Crisis Response Council, also makes asking for help easier. Because many of those who are struggling find asking for help difficult, they try to get by on their own. “It’s difficult for them to ask for help from the state because of the stigma, but they feel safe asking for help from the church. It’s important for the church to be there, and Nebraska has recognized that,” says Ken. Help or assistance can be less intimidating or humiliating to access when people know that it’s coming from the church instead of the state.
Although the people that benefit from the counseling program are surrounded by a high degree of confidentiality, the expressions of gratitude they share speak loudly and emotionally of how their lives have been touched through the services and care they have received:
- “My daughter is too young for Medicaid to cover mental health help. I am very grateful for this program! Without the assistance my husband and I would struggle to pay the bills plus therapy.”
- “ I’m a single parent and live and breathe livestock. The stresses of work and a child can be a lot. If it wasn’t for this, I wouldn’t be able to get therapy and be healthy and better myself.”
With help from the ELCA and many other groups, the Farm Crisis Response Council is able to help farmers and ranchers care for themselves, their families and continue to do what they love – farm and ranch.
Charity Springer is a recent graduate of Northwestern College in Orange City, Iowa, and now lives in Dorchester, Neb