AoR 59: Don McMoran and Kristen Vanvalkenburg, Total Farmer Health

Farmer and rancher mental health has been in the news the past few years, with farmer suicide rates alarmingly high. Farmers and ranchers are often seen as the embodiment of the American ideal -- the rugged individualist who is self-sufficient, doesn't need help, lives on the land, doesn't have problems . . . but the stresses of modern farming, especially financial stresses, leave many feeling hopeless and helpless. Don McMoran and Kristen Hinton-Vanvalkenburg discuss programs to help farmers and their families deal productively with the stressors and with mental health challenges unique to farming. There are several signs or symptoms to look for when stress has begun to take an effect on you or someone you know. If you see something, say something! Thoughts of hurting oneself Care of Livestock Declines Increase in Agriculture-Related Accidents Appearance of Farmstead Declines Children Show Signs of Stress Lack of energy/motivation to do usual tasks Loss of interest in favorite activities Alcohol and/or substance abuse/addiction Withdrawal from others Relational tension 


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>> Welcome to the Art of Range, a podcast focused on range lands and the people who manage them. I'm your host, Tim Hudson, range and livestock specialist with Washington State University Extension. The goal of this podcast is education and conservation through conversation. Find us online at My guests today on the Art of Range are Don McMoran and Kristen van Valkenburg. Dawn and Kristen, welcome to the Art of Range.

>> Thanks. Thanks for having us, Tip.

>> I've known both of you for some time. Kristen, I think I knew you 20 years ago when I came to Washington to work for the Cattlemen Association. Jim, I think Jim is your father, was and is still active in promoting a smarter wildfire response and more active forest management to limit wildfire in Washington State. And he definitely saw you as an up and coming influence in agriculture. And Don is the director of the WSU Skagit County Extension and agricultural extension faculty member, a colleague of mine here at WSU for how long now Don, 15 years?

>> Yeah, [inaudible] 15.

>> And Kristen, did I identify you correctly?

>> You did. Great job.

>> Jim is a force to be reckoned with. And I expect that much of that has brushed off. You're both involved in outreach program called Total Farmer Health or a concept called Total Farmer Health. And I think that term comes from the Agra safe network, which is --

>> That is correct. They were kind enough to allow us to use it. It is a trademarked slogan. And so it's great to be able to have that permission to use it because we feel it really embodies the work that we're doing here at WSU Skagit County Extension.

>> Yeah, I like that term. And I noticed that the Agra safe network has the motto, protecting the people who feed the world. Tell me about how the two of you came to be doing extension work and why you're interested in farmer health.

>> Yeah, it really goes back to our childhoods. I don't know if you're aware of this, Tip. But both Kristen and I used to show cows together in the forage circuit way back in the day. And about that time was really when my childhood and my upbringing really solidified kind of my career trajectory. And, you know, if you would have told me 25, 30 years ago that I would be working in total farmer health, I probably would have told you that you're nuts and that I would have been, you know, out in the shop, you know, welding on machinery or driving tractors or something of that nature. But amazing how life just flows and things that you thought you'd never end up doing, you end up doing. And so that's been a great honor to get involved in both agrability as well as farm stress and suicide prevention. You know, when I was a young boy, my mother tells this great story about how she walked into my room one day, and she saw me kind of army crawling on the ground. And she said, "Donnie, what are you doing?" And I said, "I want to be like Billy." And it's like, oh, that totally makes sense because Billy was this young man that worked for us that didn't have the use of his legs. And I really saw him as one of those kind of hero figures in my life, because Billy didn't let his disability slow him down. He did everything on the farm that any other of our workers could do. But it involved modification. So we had tractors on our farm that were hydrostatic that Billy could drive. We put hand controls and vehicles so that Billy could drive. You know, he would climb up and down tractors, and he would be, you know, army crawling to get fuel and being able to do his job. And I just really looked up to that. And I didn't realize how much I looked up to him until I had a good friend that fell out of a tree. We were in college. And he ended up breaking his back and losing the use of his legs. And I remember visiting him at the hospital and him just being really down in the dumps about his accident, what happened and how he was no longer going to have the use of his legs. And I remember telling him that hey, you know, this isn't the end of the world. You know, on our farm, we're able to have workarounds for people. And you're going to be able to live a very fulfilling life. Sure, it's not going to be the same as having the use of your legs. But you're going to be okay. You're going to be able to do amazing things. And this might slow you down a little bit, but it definitely doesn't stop things. And that just all kind of flowed into my work and extension. And there is this grant that's available through USDA called Agrability both at the national level and at the state level. And we had an individual come to us from Seattle that was really interested in going after this grant. And as soon as he gave me the spiel, I said, yes, 100%, we are interested. This is what we want to do. And so we started making the applications. And Tip, I'm sure you're well aware of USDA applications and what it takes to get funded in that process.

>> They're ugly.

>> Yeah. About an inch worth of paperwork. And you better have your Is dotted and your Ts crossed. And unfortunately, the first year we made the application, we didn't have that done. And we must have missed a dot or t crossing or something because we didn't get it out on time. And that was a painful profit process. But we were able to get our -- get our wheels back underneath us and applied three more times. And on the fourth time, we were funded and kind of here we are. And once we were funded, we realized, oh my goodness, we have a whole lot of work to do. And that's when I started looking around for someone to really lead the outreach portion on the ground, getting people to sign up for the program and what have you. And that's when Kristen made the application. And I thought, well, goodness, if Kristen can move this program forward like she used to back in the show ring when she was showing cattle, and what -- the competitor that she was back in those days, I better hire up real quick and get her on the books. And it's been really perfect. She's really hit the ground running and has done a lot for the program, especially during a pandemic. Goodness. Trying to get people signed up virtually and what have you. It's been fabulous. So with that, I'll turn it over to Kristen, and she can kind of give you her why as to how and why she got involved in the Agrability program.

>> Yeah, please.

>> Thanks, Don. Yeah, if anybody, Tip, would have said that Don was going to be my boss back in our forage days, I would have laughed hysterically. So my background is agriculture education. Those are definitely my passions, anything related to agriculture, anything related to education. And as I have aged, I definitely love anything involving PR, talking with farmers, trying to help farmers and farm workers any way I can, because, I like I said, my passion is definitely agriculture. And as, you know, life has unfolded, I've really seen my why transpire in front of me. So my dad, as Tip pointed out earlier, he's pretty passionate about his cattle and forest management and continues to drive that passion into his older years. And if I told you how old he was, he would probably shoot me because that's like a phone number. It's unlisted, as he'll tell people. So he is part of my why. As I watched him age, I have definitely seen that aging process taking effect and how well he can do things or not do things. So that is part of it. The other one is my sister had a pretty significant brain injury a few years ago off of a horse. And just watching her battle back from that has been quite an experience. And just watching her strength and resilience is mind blowing and awesome. So from that, I was looking for kind of a new path about a year ago. In fact, February was my one-year anniversary with WSU Skagit County Extension. And I was looking for something new. Don talked about this job. And I really got excited just to be able to A, help folks that are battling any sort of limitation. I hate the word -- hate saying the word disability, but any sort of limitation that basically keeps somebody from doing what they love to do when it comes to agriculture. So it really fueled my drive. I hit the ground running in February. I was so excited to be at the office. I don't know how your office is, Tip, but at Skagit County, it's just a fun place to work. There's just great people. Don has an incredible team together. And hit the ground running in February. I was all excited for this national conference. And then bam, the pandemic hit. And we came into this really, I shouldn't say awesome, but you might sense the sarcasm in my voice, digital age for the next year that we've been in. So hit the ground running, felt like I was drinking from a firehose and then slightly disabled all at the same time based on everything virtual. But with that said, it didn't slow us up much. I mean, we just figured out new ways to promote the program and get it going. So that's a little bit of my backstory.

>> Yeah. And the program is the Agrability Program. Is that your term? Or is that a national program that you're -- that you have funding to implement in Western Washington?

>> Right. So the program is called Agrability. It came out of the farm bill in the 1990s. And it's a program to be able to assist both farm owners and farm workers and getting them back to doing what they love doing. And we hope that's agriculture. And it's really innovative in that there's a whole bunch of work arounds. There's this thing called the agrability toolbox. You can check it out online. Just do a simple search, it'll pop right up. And it has thousands of tools and workarounds that people in other places across the United States have done to be able to continue to farm.

>> And Tip, just a quick note. So the agrability program in Washington is statewide. So yes, we are housed at WSU Skagit County Extension. But it's a statewide program. So it's open to any farmer or farm worker in the State of Washington.

>> Yeah, that's interesting. I've heard the term but have not been very familiar with it. I was looking at the -- a short publication on the objectives of the project. And it says that they offer worksite assessments for injured farmers. They have lending library kits that can be used throughout the state. And they also offer low interest loans and financial training. I think the thing that I had heard about was that the program was able to help farm businesses retool, like you described Don, to help deal with employees that have physical limitations. But it sounds like it is a little broader than that. If, you know, if, say, I'm a farmer, and I have an employee who's, you know, missing an arm, who would I talk to to find out what kind of help there is either for the employee or for the employer?

>> Yeah, that's great. You can call our office, you know, go to the Washington State Agrability website, learn more information about our program. And then chances are you'll get plugged in with Kristen. And she'll come out and do a site visit for you and your employee. And then she can kind of put together a program both through Agrability Washington state as well as other programs that are available, things like labors and industry as well as DVR. And between those two tracks, your employee should be able to get some resources available to them to be able to do their job better.

>> What are some examples of stuff you guys have done so far? Or maybe I should ask when did that -- does the grant that you're working on now, does that include the agrability work? Or is that primarily the ag stress assistance stuff?

>> Yeah, well, the ag stress assistance stuff, that's a whole other program. So we'll probably get into that a little bit later on in the interview. But the agrability was the first large total farmer health grant that we received. And it's just been fabulous. Kristen was able to set up a time for us to go up to Whatcom County, where one of our local equipment dealers had totally fabricated a system that would work for this lady that didn't have the use of her legs on her small farm. And just to be able to see this lady who went from really not being able to do a whole lot to totally being able to take care of her own farm, to be able to dig trenches with a backhoe for running electricity as well as water to her new shop, to being able to grade her driveway and being able to build a shop and mow her grass, I mean, talk about really making a major change in somebody's life for the better. And that's what we're seeing in agrability. And that's what we want to share across Washington State. We want people to give us a call so we can sign them up and help them find new tools to get them back to what they love doing.

>> And just a couple more examples. Tip, you asked, you know, how are we -- how are we trying to make an impact. We have a couple other clients. We've been able to help, one of which is an aging older dairy farmer, who was having, using that, or excuse, me losing sight and the ability to read and really see small print. So we've been able to connect him with some tools, some magnifying tools that allow him the ability and that freedom still to be able to read all sorts of different prints, as well as just get that independence back to be able to read because he's an avid reader. We're also dealing with another fellow who is a paraplegic and has had a major accident about five years ago. And we are currently proposing to him some recommendations after we did do a farm assessment, some recommendations for his lawnmower and his tractor so that he will be able to operate those two pieces of equipment and get some independence there again on the farm. And those are just a few of the examples we've been able to do here most recently. And we've got a couple other in the wings. So it's just -- it's really interesting and really gratifying work to be able to help anybody be able to do something they want to do but yet have some sort of limitation that is hindering them. And just a side note, Tip, is we, you know, look at Washington State and how many rural communities we have. Within our state, you know, a lot of times, especially the mentality of a farmer, who I greatly love, but they're probably the toughest and most stubborn people on the planet. And they get things done, and they figure out how to get things done. And many times, that's not looking outside their own wheelhouse. So they tend to use the duct tape and the welder and the twine and whatever they can. And they make these farm fixes. And they just make things work so that they can continue to do what they need to do. And hopefully, the advantage of agrability is being able to connect those farmers with additional resources that are going to make it easier for them versus harder, save them some time, hopefully save them some money, maybe some secondary injuries, so that they can actually see what's available in front of them. And kind of my tagline lately has been you don't know what you don't know. And once you kind of get perspective of what agrability is about and the tools that are available out there and what people have already manufactured -- Don talked about the toolbox. What people have already manufactured and are marketing to help folks is -- it's mind blowing. I mean, it really opens the doors to all the possibilities. In fact, one of the fellows we helped earlier in this year, that was exactly one of his comments, Tip, was, oh, my gosh, I had no idea half of this stuff existed. So that's also pretty awesome just to be able to open up the minds of folks as well.

>> No, that's -- it's funny that you mentioned that story. I was just quietly typing to myself here, thinking through the next question. I wrote to myself story about tractors retrofitted with frontend loader. You know, up until recently, farming and logging were the two most dangerous occupations based on the number of serious accidents and the percentage of accidents that result in death. And, you know, I know maybe two or three people, you know, secondhand, people that I never met, but I know firsthand the people who knew them, who had died in farming accidents. You know, one of them was a guy who had one of these tractors. And he, you know, did a homemade job of building a frontend loader. And it had this big crossbar that sat, you know, right above, you know, right above the engine compartment just in front of the steering wheel. He was going across some railroad tracks. And the hydraulics had slipped just enough that the front of the bucket, you know, caught the track. And he was moving fast enough that it took that bar that was, you know, that crossbar and just, you know, crushed him. And those are not uncommon stories. I know both of you have been somewhat involved in farm safety outreach. What kind of education is out there now? And I mean, I realize to some extent that any new equipment is very much designed with safety in mind. And that's been pretty effective. You know, I give kudos to equipment manufacturers for being able to incorporate a lot of these safety devices in a way that still maintains the functionality of the machine. But you know, like you said, farmers are prone to just slap a quick fix on, you know, ignore the risk to their persons and just charge ahead, you know, whether it's trying to, you know, pull something loose from a turning PTO without actually shutting it down. And, you know, you think it'll just take three seconds, and then pretty soon, you're wrapped up.

>> Yeah, thanks for bringing that up, Tip. So I lost a brother at the -- he was seven, I was five -- to attract a rollover accident. And once again, kind of another one of those stories where my childhood has shaped my future. And now I teach the gearing up for safety tractor safety course annually. That's a program that's put together by Purdue University. And it's a really quality curriculum to teach teenage youth how to be safe on equipment. And what we found is that same curriculum is also really good at teaching adults as well as our Latino community members. And so we've opened that course up annually to both adults and Spanish speakers and had a lot of success in reducing accidents here in Skagit County for tractor safety.

>> Well, I think that's also a really good point, too, as far as, you know, the amount of farmers farming with some sort of a limitation or disability is really huge. I want to say -- I don't have the stat handy in front of me, but I want to say it's -- oh, gosh, I wish I knew the number. Anyway, moving on. So however, about 60% of those farmers working with a disability or limitation are at a huge risk for secondary injury because of that exact reason, because they kind of do the farm fix or they don't necessarily think about or don't have the resources available to really think through how that could lead to more pain down the road. So that is, you know, with our team of folks we work with, we have an assistive technology expert we work with. And depending on whatever resources we are connecting that client with, there is a whole mindset of safety first. And how is this going to work for this particular client? And then, you know, safety. How is this going to -- what's the longevity of this particular tool or equipment and, you know, obviously promoting their safety, without giving risks to a secondary injury. So those are all huge key factors that kind of factor into any recommendation that we give.

>> Yeah, Chris. And we may -- we need to make sure we give props to our partners on the [inaudible]. So both WHATAP, which is the University of Washington, their assistive technology program. So this just goes to show you that Cougars and Huskies can get along from time to time, as well as the Northwest Access Fund. And they're the ones that do the low or no interest loans to our agrability participants that can't afford to buy the assistive technology on their own.

>> Boy, and Tip, that's a hard pill to swallow when you have to work with Huskies. But I'm telling you, as a Cougar, you know, we swallow our differences and we get through it and we joke about it often. In our work together, there's often a Cougar symbol thrown in a PowerPoint or a Husky thrown into PowerPoint because we have to, every once in a while, get our jabs in.

>> Yeah, proof that you all are open minded. I do want to make sure we have enough time to talk about farmer mental health. It seems like that topic has become more mainstream in the last few years. Is that because the problem has increased or because it's been recognized and talked about in the open for the first time? What are some of the factors in this kind of, you know, rising to the surface in the last few years?

>> Yeah, I think it's kind of both things, Tip. I think we've seen more agricultural suicides and people are talking about it more. So that's really brought it to the surface. So once again, how your childhood shapes your future, when I was a sophomore in college, our hired man took his own life. And I didn't realize at the time how much that would affect me personally. Something that I'm always thinking about, you know, wondering if I couldn't have done more, seeing the signs and what have you. And so as we went forward in my career, 2016 to 2019, we had three agricultural suicides here in Skagit County. The third one was a gentleman that I had worked for when I worked at the Skagit Conservation District. And he was, you know, that epidemy of the farmer, you know, the crotchety old guy that was going to make sure that you did things right, dang it. And when that happened, you know, I'd known him. I went to school with his niece. His niece has twins the same age as my twins. And those twins were over at my place. And I had to look them in the eye and ask them about their great uncle and how the family was doing. And oh, that was just really hard on me. And I came into the office the next day. And I said, that's it. I never want to see another agricultural suicide in Skagit County. And I sat my staff down, and I said, you know, would you be interested in combating this issue with me? And thank goodness, they all said yes. And we started looking for funding to be able to fight this epidemic. And so we're very fortunate in that the Washington State Legislature was also looking at agricultural suicides and wanted to do something about it. They'd given some money to the Washington State Department of Health. The Washington State Department of Health really didn't know how to work with agriculture. And so we offered our office as the first pilot program for a suicide prevention program in Washington State. And that felt really good. We're able to outreach to all of our workshops. We put a lot of messaging out. We put up a website. We did the social media push. And I think due to that work, we didn't see any knock-on wood agricultural suicides in Skagit County. And that felt great. But they were still happening in other parts of the state. They were still happening in our area and in the Northwest. And so that's when we sat down and we said, look, we did a good thing, but we need to do more. And at that time, the USDA put out a grant for FARSAN, Farmer Ranch Stress Assistant Network. And so we made an application for that grant. And we're really fortunate to get funded to do work in both Washington and Oregon. Once again, that felt really good. We're doing a lot of fabulous outreach. But we're still reading about agricultural suicides taking place in other parts of the country. And so we took it upon ourselves to go after the second round of funding, which expanded our geographical reach to all 13 states in the United States, as well as four territories. And so that really brought in both a lot more dollars, as well as a lot more responsibility to combat this issue in agricultural suicides that we're seeing in the West. So we do have -- go ahead. I was going to say we do have a wonderful website up. It's called Once again, that's And it has a clearinghouse that's on there. So if you're looking for, you know, who to call in your area, if you're seeing farm stress in anyone, please use those resources. We also have grant funding available, should anybody want to apply for those grant funds if you're interested in getting into farm stress and suicide prevention work. So maybe you work at, you know, a coop, a conservation district, some sort of ag agency, and you want to do some of that messaging, please sign up for these grants. It's really simple. You can get up to $10,000 per quarter, two-page application and turn it in and see what the committee thinks. And they'll get you some good feedback on that.

>> Yeah, I really like that. This is an intriguing topic. You know, there's a -- has been a huge stigma around mental health problems. A little bit ago, you use the term nuts. And, you know, we sometimes use the term nuts to refer to people who are crazy, certifiable, you know, name your adjective. But mental health is quite a bit more complex than that. And crazy is not the problem. It's often the people who are the most competent, who are extremely creative and innovative, who take big risks because they see great achievement that's possible -- those are the oftentimes the people who are at the highest risk of suicide. I think it's also intriguing because, you know, farmers and ranchers have been held up as the embodiment of the American ideal, you know, the rugged individualist who is self-sufficient, doesn't need help, lives on the land, doesn't have problems. You know, part of what is a little bit ironic about that is that, you know, men who are good at working with animals in particular are often, you know, not the ones who are really, you know, driven, type A, aggressive with people. You know, they're gentle people. And there's elements of the farming lifestyle, at least the way it used to be, that that had the effect, I think, of producing resilient persons. There was something about the manual labor and interacting with beasts of burden that was healthy in lots of ways. In fact, I think the saying that many people have heard is usually attributed to Winston Churchill, but he was just repeating an existing proverb. There's something about the outside of a horse that's good for the inside of a man, you know. But that's not the world of farming today. Today's farmers, most of them, as I think one of you mentioned earlier, are fully immersed in this fast paced, high tech information overload world that the rest of us are. And they have the added stress of, you know, carrying, some of them, the financial risks of a hedge fund manager. You know, is it primarily financial stress that's causing a mental health crisis in the farming community? How would you describe you this current crisis?

>> I think it is. I think it's a whole lot of factors coming together all at once. So, you know, think back to our childhood. You know, we were taught to have a stiff upper lip. You don't cry. You don't talk about it. You internalize your problems. So that's having a detrimental effect. And then we are throwing on these added financial pressures, because as you look to agriculture, the trend is get big or get out. And so a lot of our farms are taking on a great deal of debt to be able to get to that economy of scale that is profitable. Plus, we're seeing, you know, all of the input costs, the fertilizers, the tractors. Everything that the farmer is buying is going up in price. But yet, the commodity level that's coming out the other end of the farm is for all intents and purposes relatively flat and hasn't increased in the last couple decades. And so that puts a tremendous amount of pressure on our farmers. Then on top of that, you need to put on the generational pressures. So me, you know, I was to be the fourth generation to take over McMoran farms. And my whole childhood, I heard about how, you know, my great, great, great, great grandfather came from -- they did a stent from Scotland to Ireland, from Ireland to New York, New York to Michigan, Michigan to Kansas, Kansas to Oklahoma, Oklahoma to California, California to Skagit County. And they found this ideal place to farm. And they took this huge amount of risk and mortgaged everything, and they ended up making it. And by God, if you take over this farm, you're going to continue on this legacy, even if it kills you. And I think that's where a lot of our farmers are at. And they're looking, you know, kind of basically, I hate to say it, but looking at the end of a barrel, and they're seeing this -- all of these things culminate. And they're not seeing a way out.

>> Well, and I think to an interesting point, Tip, is your description of the typical farmer also bodes well with, you know, that persona of, you know, even if you're married and have children on the farm, you know, many times you don't leave the farm. You're not active -- actively going out within your community. Maybe you're not involved in too much outside the farm. And then with the pandemic, on top of that, you know, you really, really felt that solitude, whether you're a single person or, you know, married and have a family. You know, but just all, I think, on top of all of those multiple factors involved in agriculture. But now you have this, the pandemic on top of it and now all of this stress involved with just feeling even more isolated and alone.

>> Yeah. And that's what we're seeing with the -- the research we're reading indicates that when this pandemic is over, that's when we're going to see the most agricultural suicides in history. So there's this tsunami wave that's coming at us. We know that there's going to be a big problem. And we're doing our best to try to get ahead of it. So we have the grant funding. We're doing all of our educational pieces. We have great partners throughout the West. And we're just trying to get ahead of what we know is coming at us.

>> Yeah, that's interesting. I want to get to what some of the assistance programs are. But before that, you know, in estate planning, in farm succession planning, you know, anybody who's done some training in that will say that the most difficult thing is to get farmers to talk. You know, there's lots of legal options for how to structure a business, how to, you know, transfer assets from one generation to the next. But the most difficult thing by far is getting people to talk. So some of these effective estate planning attorneys are really just, you know, high paid counselors, who are being paid to get the 85-year-old guy, you know, whose 60-year-old son is still taking orders to talk about what are we going to do when I die, which could be tomorrow? And I see a similar obstacle in suicide prevention. You know, how do you get people to talk, you know, to open up? You know, say, I'm -- say I'm the neighbor of a farmer. I'm a farmer, and I know a guy. And I think he might have some struggles. But he's not talking about it. You know, what are some way -- what are -- I guess two questions. What are signs or symptoms to look for that somebody may be struggling? And then two, you know, how do you get them to talk about it so that you could even, you know, begin getting them some kind of help?

>> Yes. So let's start with the stressors, right? And if you see these things in somebody, that's when you start -- you need to start getting them help. So major changes in routines, decline in care of the farm or the livestock, changes in mood, if you see them anxious, agitated, or angry, if there's new or increased financial pressures, if there's loss of interest or hobbies and activities. And then the big one we see is when they start giving things away. Oh, you know that shotgun of my grandpa's, I really want you to have that. I'm not going to be here anymore. And so when you see things like that, that's when you need to jump in. And we do what's called a QPR training, question, persuade, refer. And we're happy to offer those trainings anywhere in Washington State and pretty much anywhere in the West. Feel free to reach out to me and my associates. We'd be happy to sign you up. But in that question, persuade, refer course, they really tell you to ask the hard question. You know, are you having suicidal thoughts? Are you thinking about taking your own life? And then if they answer yes to any of those questions, that's when we really got to jump in. And, you know, don't be afraid to take them to the emergency room, if you really think that they're going to go through it. I have an emergency room doctor that lives across the road from me. And he tells me that there's about a 15-minute period when a person is in crisis that if you can get them through that 15-minute period, they're going to be okay. But for some reason, the brain kind of checks out and they're just not thinking correctly. So remember that. Remember to ask the hard questions. And then also going back to getting farmers to talk. You know, Tip, I'll be honest with you, I haven't cracked the code on this one. When I do my workshop talks and we, we bring up the hard subject of suicide and suicide prevention, afterwards, I'll get this small group of farmers that will come up to me maybe individually and say, Don, I'm so glad you're taking on the subject matter. It's very important. You know, we lost so and so, so many years ago. And also, this stuff is really important because I have a neighbor that's stressed out. And I always kind of look at him because I know the farmers. I have a pretty good understanding of their financial position within my county. And oftentimes, it's those farmers that I think are kind of up against the wall that are telling me these things. So kind of goes back to some of those conversations we were having earlier about, you know, farmers, how they're taught to internalize things. Getting them talking is not easy. So some of the things that we're working on, you know, number one, you know, the farmer doesn't want to be seen at the local doctor's office. You know, their pickup trucks are known in the community. They don't want to be parked out front of a shrink's office. So thinking differently about that. There is a program that we're working on in our office is a Farm Aid call center. So in my mind, it's kind of the crisis -- the pre-crisis center, so to speak. So when we wrote this grant, we knew that most farmers are probably not going to call a suicide prevention hotline. Number one, they're probably just not going to call it because it's a suicide prevention hotline. Number two, if they did call it, the operator on the other end of the line probably wouldn't understand the plight of the American farmer or understand much of the verbiage the farmer is going to be using. And so we thought about putting our own call center and our extension office. And when you look at that, it becomes ridiculously expensive. And it's probably not really in line with what extension is, as you think about, you know, information from the university out to the public. And so we decided to partner with a group called Farm Aid. And many of your listeners might be aware of Farm Aid because of the concerts that Willie Nelson and the Dave Matthews Band and others have put forward to raise funds for farmers in the United States. So they have an existing call center. It's located in Massachusetts. And it's fabulous. You know, farmers can call in. They can talk about their problems. They can learn about resources, you know, which CPA to talk to, which attorney to talk to. And then in the process, while these operators are giving this information out, they can also be looking for signs of crisis and can jump in should the person on the other end need more help. So I want to make sure I give out that particular phone line. It is 1-800-FARMAID. So that's 1-800-327-6243. Once again, that's 1-800-327-6243. And that's for the Farm Aid Call Center, which is located in Massachusetts. And soon, April 1st, there's going to be an additional call center located right here at WSU Skagit County Extension in Burlington. And that's going to pick up an additional seven to eight hours a day. So we're expanding. We're getting to that five days a week, 16 hours a day. And, you know, it's my hope that we can at some point in time make that a 24/7 call center.

>> Yeah, that's tremendous. I want to go back to what you said earlier about acting when you see somebody who you think is in trouble and not relying on farmers self-referring. I just recently have been reading the newer Malcolm Gladwell book, Talking to Strangers. And one of his chapters is about the rise of suicides in England back in the '30s and '40s. At that time, in England, they had what was called town gas, which was a kind of natural gas that was used for both heating and cooking fuel. And the town gas had a significant percentage of carbon monoxide in it. And so, you know, people could -- what was common is people would turn on their gas range and stick their head inside and hang a towel over the top of the stove. And within minutes, they'd be dead, you know, painless, doesn't make a mess. And Gladwell brings up this point to talk about the phenomenon of coupling. It was -- you know, it was assumed that getting rid of the town gas and converting to natural gas, which is primarily methane and ethane and not carbon monoxide, wouldn't make a difference, because people had this idea that if a person is committed to taking their own life, they're going to find a way to do it. And this just happened to be the thing that was easiest. And he said the data actually shows that, you know, they had identified in their mind this method. And their brain would associate the thoughts of killing themselves with a specific context. And that snapping a person out of the context, which they've mentally identified with taking their own life, was effective in reducing the amount of suicides. And so when London switched over to natural gas away from town gas, it wasn't that the suicide level remained the same, but that the methods changed. The suicide level went down because this was too easy, too available, you know, too accessible in every single home in the world in London. And that, what was -- so there's, I guess, a couple conclusions. You know, one is to be aware of how people are feeling and what indicators they're giving off that you already mentioned on. The other is, you know, for most of us, it would be difficult to push somebody on that one because it -- because of the stigma. It feels like a bit of an accusation if you start asking somebody questions about this. But it seems like it's pretty critical that that's a risk we have to take if we see those signs. And my point here is to persuade people who know somebody who might be in trouble to not delay or to push past, you know, their own mental barrier and feeling like, well, I shouldn't talk to this person about that, because, you know, I'll be -- it's like me making a judgment of their mental condition. And I would risk offending them if I, by my questioning, indicate that I think they might be a suicide risk. And you're saying -- I think I'm saying jump in. I mean -- yup.

>> On the two suicides that happened that I was closest to, I have a lot of guilt personally because, you know, I was around these people. You know, after the fact, I see signs. I see signs of alcoholism. I see signs of stress. And in both cases, I didn't act. And because of that, there are two less people in Skagit County that were pretty fabulous individuals that should be with us today. I can't bring those people back. And that's part of the problem with a lot of this work within agricultural suicide is we won't -- we'll never know the people that we saved. We'll only know the people that we lost. Can't bring them back. But we can do a lot of good. And just being able to give back. And trying to make things better for the next generation has bought a lot of comfort to me personally, knowing that I'm doing my very best, so we're not recreating the same problem over and over again. So I'd encourage your listeners to do the same. Jump in, do what you can and then try to make it better for somebody else.

>> If you hear something, see something, then say something. I think you mentioned that there's a Western Regional Agricultural Stress Assistance Program. And then maybe internal to us, there's the Agricultural Suicide Prevention Program. Can you just briefly describe both of those and what their, you know, scope and focus is?

>> Yes. So the Washington State Department of Health funds are the ones that are doing the State Outreach. So if you go on and do a search for either Washington State Agricultural suicide prevention or WSU Skagit County Extension Suicide Prevention, it will bring you to that website. And we're doing a lot of great work there, getting these kits out across the state, little first aid kits that have, you know, band aids and first aid creams for burns and little things. And then it also has this -- a suicide card in it where it says, on one side, agriculture can be stressful, and signs to look for. And then on the other side, it has who to call, which includes that Farm Aid line that I previously mentioned, and then the National Suicide Prevention hotline, which is 1-800-273-TALK, which is 1-800-273-8255, as well as the resource site for the website, which is /gadget/suicideprevention. And so that's really state specific work that we're doing. And then the larger FARSAN grant, the title that we use for that one is WRASA, which is the Western Region Agriculture Stress Assistance Program. And that is the website. And that gives us that larger geographical outreach to all 13 states in the West, as well as for territories as well. And so combined, you know, it finally feels like we're doing enough. In fact, it's almost feeling like we're doing a little bit too much of sometimes as we're working later into the evenings and picking up some weekend shifts. But it's really the least that we can do to get this information out to make sure that we're helping those folks that are battling.

>> Now that's tremendous. I think those are excellent resources. The listenership of the podcast is roughly half of farmers and ranchers, mostly livestock producers, and then about half what I call natural resource professionals. And, say, for example, you know, a BLM office or a conservation district like you mentioned wanted to offer some training to their, you know, to their own shop on how to recognize some of the signs of stress and what to do about it, who could they contact if they want more information on that? Just call your office?

>> Yeah. Please, reach out to me personally. My email is dmcmoran. That's D as in delta, M as in Mike, C as in Charlie, M as in Mike, O as in Oscar, R as in Romeo, A as in Alpha, N as in November,

>> Great. And we'll put those links and the phone numbers for the Farm Aid call center and the Suicide Prevention line, as well as the contact information for you in the show notes. So it'll be you know, in print, attached to the episode in the show notes in whatever podcasting platform people are using. Don and Kristen, I love what you're doing. And I'm really thankful for your time to visit with me today.

>> Thank you, Tip. It's been a pleasure.

>> Thank you, Tip. It's been awesome just to get to talk to you again and share our passions.

>> Thank you for listening to the Art of Range podcast. You can subscribe to and review the show through iTunes or your favorite podcasting app so you never miss an episode. Just search for Art of Range. If you have questions or comments for us to address in a future episode, send an email to show at For articles and links to resources mentioned in the podcast, please see the show notes at Listener feedback is important to the success of our mission, empowering range line managers. Please take a moment to fill out a brief survey at This podcast is produced by Connors Communications in the College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences at Washington State University. The project is supported by the University of Arizona and funded by the Western Center for Risk Management Education through the USDA and National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

Mentioned Resources

WSU Extension Suicide Prevention. WSU and the Agricultural Suicide Prevention Program is not a crisis center. IF YOU ARE IN NEED OF IMMEDIATE ASSISTANCE, reach out to the National Suicide Prevention line, 1(800) 273-TALK (8255).

Western Regional Agricultural Stress Assistance Center

National AgrAbility Project

Hanna Ranch, the movie. Available on American Documentary and Amazon.

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