Sowing Gratitude, Reaping Goodness: How Thankfulness Benefits Us

When it comes to reducing stress, building connection, and finding fulfillment, there’s no better attitude than gratitude. Studies have consistently shown that thankfulness produces a host of psychological, social, and even physical benefits: it increases positive emotions, decreases feelings of loneliness and isolation, and even strengthens our immune systems. As Lesley Kelly, Co-Founder of the Do More Agriculture Foundation, emphasizes in a recent article, gratitude is a vital element of building resilience and strength within rural communities. 

While the saying “count your blessings” has become somewhat cliche, there are many authentic ways to cultivate gratitude. What’s important is to find practices that are meaningful to you. Integrating gratitude into our daily lives can help us reframe the past, find pleasure in the present, and hope for the future. 

Planting Seeds

The simple act of expressing appreciation—both for yourself and for the people and places around you—goes a long way. Whether spoken, written, or enacted, these messages can change the way we think, feel, and experience life. Consider trying out practices such as these:

  • Say “Thank You” – These simple words often go unsaid, but they can have a huge impact on those around you. Make it a habit to let your family members, friends, teammates, and neighbours know that you value and appreciate them.
  • Keep a Gratitude Journal – A regular routine of recording what you’re grateful for can be a powerful means of cultivating a resilient and hopeful attitude. Try listing three specific things you’re grateful for each day, and see how your thoughts develop over time. 
  • Show Gratitude to Yourself – While we tend to think of gratitude as directed toward others, it’s a gift that you can give to yourself as well. Thinking about or writing down the things that you love about yourself can help you develop a healthy sense of self-esteem that will ultimately allow you to be more effective in caring for others too.
  • Do Random Acts of Kindness – Sometimes, actions speak louder than words. Taking a moment to do something small to brighten someone else’s day can help build a strong sense of community.
  • Live in the Moment – Connecting with the present can help us become aware of good things that would otherwise go unnoticed. This awareness is the essence of mindfulness, which can include a variety of practices beyond meditation. One variation is to take a moment before enjoying a meal to appreciate the food you eat, where it came from, and those who prepared it. You can also practice mindfulness while going about your daily tasks, such as taking a walk. Focusing your awareness on your physical sensations can help you cultivate a deep sense of appreciation for both your own body and the places around you.

Gathering the Harvest

The rewards of thankfulness routines and rituals such as the ones outlined above are fruits that we reap over time. A recent study on gratitude conducted by Joshua Brown (Professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Indiana University) and Joel Wong (Professor of Counselling Psychology at Indiana University) found that the positive outcomes of thankfulness practices tended to be things that people realized gradually. They also found that the mental health benefits of gratitude slowly but steadily increased, eventually leading to a positive snowball effect. So, if at first it seems that your expressions of thankfulness aren’t getting you anywhere, be patient and be confident that eventually these practices will pay off. 

Gratitude and Grit

Naturally, expressing thanks is easiest when things are going well, but it’s equally if not more important to do during challenging times. According to Dr. Robert A. Emmons (Professor Psychology at the University of California Davis and a leading expert on gratitude), life’s difficulties can provide fertile ground for gratitude. Going through difficult seasons can help us remember not to take things for granted, and recollecting the bad times can help us see how far we’ve come. Furthermore, Emmons notes that there is an important distinction between feeling grateful (which is subject to emotions that are not always under our control) and being grateful (which is a choice that we can make even in the midst of loss). Being grateful doesn’t mean ignoring suffering; it means choosing to put these challenges into a larger, more hopeful context. 

The bottom line is that gratitude is foundational to cultivating a strong sense of overall well-being. It benefits us both as individuals and as members of a larger collective, and it has been shown to have lasting impacts on the brain. Finding ways to give thanks boosts our mental health and makes us better able to enjoy life, come good days and bad days.

Further Resources

Interview with Gerry Friesen, the Recovering Farmer

This past summer, Andrea Paquette, President and Co-Founder of the Stigma-Free Society, interviewed Gerry Friesen, the Recovering Farmer. Today, Gerry shares with us some more about his experiences and core messages as a mental health advocate.

On your website, you identify as “the recovering farmer.” In a few sentences, can you please tell us about that tagline and what it means to you?

In 2007, as our farm was winding down, I identified myself as the Recovering Farmer. I suspect it was done facetiously, but somehow it stuck. It was some years later that I delved into the actual meaning of the name. The dictionary defines recovering as “returning to a previous level of health, prosperity and equanimity.” Equanimity, defined as keeping an evenness of temper even when under stress, is something I continue to struggle with. And perhaps that’s why I am still recovering and not recovered.

What motivates you as a mental health advocate?

Since 2003 I have had my own journey with anxiety and depression. In that time I have dealt with numerous farmers and others, many of them facing similar challenges due to ongoing and increasing stress. As I have interacted with these folks, I have learned that talking and sharing has been helpful for myself. That has given me a real passion to “talk about it” in whatever forum I can. To see others begin the road to recovery invigorates me. To see the stigma decreasing encourages me.

 I understand that your work has involved specifically addressing the stigma that men face regarding mental health challenges. Can you tell us more about this aspect of your work?

Whether it’s a function of upbringing, culture, or society, men have traditionally been hesitant to talk about mental health issues. Oftentimes, and I know I fell into this, men were told to “work” their way out of it. That is the ultimate stigma. So in response men have a tendency to isolate themselves, withdraw from their community and attempt to deal with this on their own. The good news is that through the work of various key organizations such as the Do More Agriculture Foundation, the Stigma-Free Society and Farm Credit Canada, to name a few, the stigma is slowly dissipating.

But more needs to be done. I cannot stress enough how much “talking about it” helps. We learn from each other by sharing our stories. I find that when I open up about my journey, my ways of seeking help and the proven results others open up as well. We learn from each other. We build awareness and understanding of ourselves when we seek help from professionals such as counsellors or therapists.

As has been recognized to the highest echelons of governments, both federally and provincially, there is a continuing need to build on the resources already available. We need to ensure that each and every one of us has the ability to reach out and get the help that is needed. 

Your website describes you as a “humorist.” What have your lived experiences taught you about the power of humour when it comes to talking about mental wellness?

Sometime after my journey of discovery and recovery began, I was sitting by myself watching a sitcom. I started laughing out loud because of something I had seen. My teenage daughter stuck her head around the corner and asked whether I was okay. She told me she had never heard me laugh before.

I found that heartbreaking. I thought I had always had a sense of humour but realized that my mental illness had all but taken that away from me. I decided that day that I needed to laugh more.

Having said that, I now recognize that often people’s experiences of humor vary, and humor serves many different functions in our daily lives. Sometimes we use humor as a coping mechanism when things are not going well, and other times we enjoy a good laugh whether with others or even on our own.

A good hearty laugh reduces stress and anxiety, decreases pain, strengthens resilience, and calms our nervous system. It can turn a negative experience into a positive one. It has the potential to brighten your mood for the rest of the day.

 In a sentence or two, what is the core message that you would like to share with our readers?

There is hope and there is relief. Finding ways to cope, to heal, and to recover is possible. It simply becomes a matter of being aware. Stress, and along with it anxiety and depression, have an insidious way of getting to us, but if we learn to be aware and recognize when our mental health is suffering, we can be proactive in dealing with issues as they arise.

How can we best stay in touch with you?

Whether one on one, through presentations or in interviews I enjoy “talking about it”. Visiting my website at www.gerryfriesen.ca will provide more information on who I am and how best to contact me.

Thanks for taking the time to share with us, Gerry!

 

Tools for Transformation: Peer Support Worker Training

In partnership with Robyn Priest LIVE YOUR TRUTH, the Stigma-Free Society is proud to announce our upcoming Peer Support Worker Training sessions, tailored specifically for rural residents in Canada. This two-day virtual course will be held on November 1st and November 8th (8am – 4pm PDT, 10am – 6pm CDT, 11am – 7pm EDT, with breaks). This training will equip participants to facilitate peer support programs and become leaders in their communities. 

These sessions empower individuals with shared backgrounds to work together to develop wellness-related skills. Taking this training is a great opportunity to find and provide support for mental health, along with those who understand each other’s challenges!

What is Peer Support?

The Mental Health Commission of Canada describes peer support as “a supportive relationship between people who have a lived experience in common.” The benefits of this approach to emotional and social support have been proven time and time again.

One of the most reputable Canadian peer support training providers is Robyn Priest LIVE YOUR TRUTH, an organization that offers online training for both individuals and families. The training focuses on holistic approaches to wellbeing and practical strategies for promoting empathy and communicating effectively. Robyn Priest emphasizes that “peer support isn’t limited to mental health or addiction issues. It can be about anything anyone is going through; about life.” As human beings, we have a deep need for belonging. In addition to bridging gaps in professional mental health services, peer support can help us to build the connections we crave.

Peer Support in Rural Communities

Recent publications from the Mental Health Commission of Canada have emphasized that those living in rural and remote communities face specific challenges when it comes to maintaining wellness. These challenges include a relative lack of professional support services such as psychologists or counsellors. In these contexts, peer support is a great option. Because peer support can be easily done over video chat, it is a highly accessible resource.

No one understands the life and struggles of those living and working in agricultural communities better than those who have that shared experience. Within rural communities, shared experiences might include dealing with loneliness, burnout, stress around crops, unique family challenges, addiction, and so much more.

Robyn Priest herself reflects on the tremendous benefits of speaking with those who understand what you are going through: “I know having moved from the city to a farming community was a culture shock and being able to chat with others who had experienced that, or even just chatting with others who had dealt with dealing with crops, animals, the ever changing seasons, helped enormously. It was like – ahhh you get it.” These shared experiences allow us to empathize from a place of deep understanding. Training as a peer support worker will help you to translate that empathy into compassionate action. 

Key Benefits

Participants will gain an understanding of peer support fundamentals, as well as how to apply them in the contexts of one-on-one support and group facilitation. They will also learn how to share personal experiences in ways that help those facing similar challenges, including tips about demonstrating self-reflection and vulnerability while still maintaining professionalism. 

The training includes discussion and reflection on the importance of self-care as a regular practice. Supporting others can be an emotionally challenging task, making it all the more important to take a holistic approach to your own wellbeing. 

Overall, participants can expect to gain valuable knowledge and skills that will help them to do work that is nourishing, caring, and empathic—as a peer support worker or a support group facilitator, and indeed in all walks of life.

This rewarding work opens up many opportunities to cultivate strong and supportive communities. The possibilities are there for you to discover!

Training and Registration Details

Tailored specifically for rural residents in Canada, this two-day virtual course will take place on November 1st and November 8th (8am – 4pm PDT, 10am – 6pm CDT, 11am – 7pm EDT, with breaks). 

Thanks to a generous grant from Pacific Blue Cross BC, this training is free of cost, with a $50 deposit required to secure your spot. Your deposit will be refunded once you attend the session, unless you choose to donate the $50 to the Stigma-Free Society. Donations are always welcome! Deposits for those who do not participate will not be refunded and allocated to the Society. 

For more information and to register, please go HERE or email info@stigmafreesociety.com.

Spots fill up quickly, so register today! Don’t miss this amazing opportunity to build skills for cultivating empathy and understanding in your local community.

Combating Isolation in Rural Communities: Tough Realities and Tools for Resilience

Isolation is a formidable challenge, but it can be overcome. Unlike moments of solitude, which may be both peaceful and refreshing, prolonged social isolation is a risk factor for both physical and mental health. While loneliness is something of a universal human problem, it poses particular obstacles within rural communities because access to support services may be more limited here than in urban areas. Furthermore, rural residents tend to be less likely to reach out for help than city-dwellers. However, you do not need to stick it out on your own. Facing these tough realities with gritty determination and forging new partnerships based on local connections can provide powerful tools for resilience. 

Cultivating Awareness

The more we acknowledge the problem of social isolation, the better equipped we become to find effective solutions. Recent publications from the Mental Health Commission of Canada (2020) indicate a growing awareness of the unique challenges faced in rural and remote communities. These challenges may include the need to travel greater distances to find professional services, as well as limited internet bandwidth, which can make it more difficult to take advantage of the growing number of virtual support systems.

Addressing these issues requires collaboration across a range of different sectors, from transportation, to technology, to infrastructure. Such changes involve complex and time-consuming processes. In the meantime, it’s important not to ignore the problem or hope that it will resolve itself. According to the results from a 2018 study conducted by the National Survey of Farmer Mental Health, 35% of Canadian producers met the criteria for depression classification and 58% met the criteria for anxiety classification. Even so, 40% of respondents indicated that they would hesitate to seek professional help due to concerns about how they would be perceived by others. As increasing numbers of people speak out about the very real challenges posed by isolation, the underlying stigma surrounding mental health issues can be slowly yet steadily vanquished. 

Challenging Attitudes

To overcome stigma, we must create an environment where people recognize that asking for help is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of strength. Doing so can be especially difficult within smaller communities where it may be more difficult to maintain privacy and where there may be an expectation of self-sufficiency. Edward Staples, President of the BC Rural Health network, observes that rural communities not only face “access issues” to mental health care but also have to contend with a common mentality along the lines of “I don’t need anyone’s help.” While hard work and independence can be powerful values, this myth of self-reliance seems likely to do more harm than good. Believing that you have to go it alone can take a tremendous toll. Moreover, such an attitude ignores that human beings, like all living creatures, exist as part of a larger ecosystem. Recognizing this connectivity and reaching out as needed should be seen for what it is: a courageous act of bridge-building.

Building Bridges

Fighting isolation within rural and remote communities requires innovative solutions, and recent success stories indicate that flexible, informal, and place-based approaches tend to work well. Rather than fixate on the challenge, it may be more productive to maintain a positive focus on small opportunities for connection. As suggested by a recent policy brief from the Rural Health Research Centre at the University of Minnesota (2018), volunteer activities like joining a choir or other acts of community service can provide opportunities for bonding based on shared interests, without making the issue of loneliness front and centre. One initiative that has gained global traction since its inception in Australia is the concept of Men’s Sheds. These workshops counter the problem of male loneliness by providing a context for hands-on work with individual or community projects. Another approach involves forming intergenerational connections that connect youth and older adults in relationships of mutual support, such as the AGE to age initiatives that have seen much success throughout northeastern Minnesota. These examples suggest that the key is to think outside the box, to be creative and proactive in seeking opportunities for engagement.

As a growing number of voices join this conversation, we can find even more effective interventions. The social distancing necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic has brought increased challenges, yet it has also helped to shine a spotlight on this problem. In this moment of imagining a new post-pandemic reality, the time is ripe for action.  

Further Resources

Check out the following initiatives that seek to promote mental health awareness and build community among rural populations in Canada:

LandLogic: Connecting Health and Identity 

LandLogicTM was born in the hallway of my parents’ home as I studied the aerial photo of the sturdy red barn, weathered windbreak, and glistening pond that make up my family’s generational farm.  Seeing this picture reminded me of the peaceful, wide-open spaces, and family closeness that defined my picturesque childhood, as well as my father’s own bout with deep despair as he attempted to manage the harsh realities of sustaining a small farm-ranch operation amid the 1980s farm crisis. 

What if, I thought, agricultural producers could connect with tools to improve their mental health on their own terms instead of suffering like my dad?

The vision behind LandLogicTM is to involve agricultural producers in the design and implementation of an online, interactive platform that allows farmers and ranchers to discreetly access evidence-based therapeutic tools to improve their mental and emotional wellbeing.  This capacity-building model would incorporate the various sectors within the agricultural industry (beef cattle, oilseed and grain, dairy, poultry, fruits and nuts, etc.) with common mental health topics.   

Rather than expecting farmers and ranchers to access behavioral health education through traditional channels where stigma runs high, this resource model would reach producers through their core identity: connection to the land.   

As a descendant of five generations of farmers, I experienced what Dr. Michael Rosmann calls The Agrarian Imperative: an innate connection to land that drives agricultural producers’ industriousness, resilience, and determination to protect it at all costs.  American farmers and ranchers self-reported financial stress, state of the farm economy, farm or business problems, and fear of losing the farm as the top four stressors in their lives.  Whether it be for the satisfaction of producing quality food, overseeing the lifecycle of crops, carefully tending to livestock, or the love of the outdoors, farmers and ranchers continue to endure this difficult life because they love what they do. 

Rural agricultural producers are at a growing risk of debilitating behavioral illness (anxiety, depression, SUD, etc.), and ultimately suicide when compared to their urban counterparts. Mental health deserts in our most rural or impoverished counties perpetuate these disturbing disparities and geographic isolation, cost of services, and gaps in insurance coverage further exacerbate the problem

In addition to structural barriers, there are significant cultural obstacles for farmers and ranchers accessing the behavioral health system through its traditional channels.  Stigmas are high, mental health literacy levels are often low, and existing care approaches do not adequately consider the nuances of agricultural life and culture.  Moreover, providers rarely possess the lived experiences or training to understand the specific challenges that plague agricultural producers. 

That aerial photo of our family farm reminds me that farmers and ranchers have a unique vantage point.  The land by which they experience joy and struggle also offers the ability to experience life through the five senses.  Research shows we retain 10% of our information through reading, 20% through seeing, 30% through hearing, 50% through seeing and hearing, and 80% by doing.   

Clinicians could better serve their clients by integrating the daily aspects of farming and ranching into behavioral health education.  This approach – which may include a research-based certification process for clinicians – could literally save lives. 

LandLogicTM would allow mental health professionals to harness the innovation, industriousness, and creativity of agricultural producers as they solve their own problems, ensuring the health and vitality of future generations.   

It is time to rethink how behavioral health connects with farmers and ranchers.

 

For more information, please email kandersonlmsw@gmail.com or send an Instagram message @kaila.s.anderson

Author: Kaila S. Anderson, LMSW 

M.A.D. by Cheyenne Glade Wilson

When you see the word “mad” what does it mean to you? I used to think of “mad” as being upset about something, but the meaning of “mad” changed for me seven years ago when I began my online health/wellness and coaching business. Even though I’m a fifth-generation rancher who literally lives in the middle of nowhere, I never let my location stop me from growing several businesses. One of the upsides of the internet and social media is that it can connect you to so many people all over the world if you utilize it.

I was suddenly surrounded by all sorts of positive thinking entrepreneurs who introduced new ways of thinking to me. One gal in particular struck me to the core when she told me about achieving goals. She said that she had to get “mad” in order to do anything well. She said “mad” in such a way that I asked her what she meant. She told me that “mad” meant “make a decision”. I was elated as I felt like I had just found Eldorado!

What she said made so much sense to me back then and it still does today. It’s easy to get caught up in the negativity going on around us or even the chaos of the world. We can feel insignificant or even out of control if we sit back and allow ourselves to go down that road. One way that I’ve found to grow beyond situations like that is to make a decision not to go there. Instead, make goals for yourself that scare the heck out of you. Be bold. Dream big. Never give up. You can achieve whatever you set your mind to. See it. Believe it. Achieve it.

We all only get one chance at this thing called life. It’s too important just to sit back allowing others to plan our lives for us. By making a decision about what you want you are signalling to yourself that you will not sit idly by and that you will not give up. There is no quitting…this is your life after all!

So, what is it that you want to do? What are you constantly thinking or dreaming about? What makes you happy? What sets your soul on fire? If you know what it is…awesome! If you don’t…figure it out! When you do, MAKE A DECISION about what you want to do and go do it. Yes, it’s that simple. We can make all the excuses we want in life, but they aren’t going to get you where you want to go. Shut out the noise. Cut down distractions. Don’t listen to naysayers. Listen to your inner voice. It’s telling you what you need to do. Perhaps the first step is to get “mad” about following your heart’s desire.

Just remember at the end of the road only you will look back on your life. Only you will see what you’ve accomplished and only you will feel regret if you don’t fulfill your dreams and goals. Make sure that you will be happy about what you will see. You are the captain of your own ship. Sail in the direction that suits you and do it with a smile on your face!

Cheyenne Glade Wilson is a fifth-generation rancher and a tribal member of the Oglala Lakota Sioux tribe. She and her husband and son own and operate the Lazy Six Nine Ranch. They have a cow/calf operation and raise half-draft and draft cross horses specializing in Percheron/Quarter Horse and Gypsy Vanner/Quarter Horse crosses. Cheyenne is also a health/wellness coach and leader, photographer, writer, and blogger. You can find her at www.thenativecowgirl.com and on Instagram/Facebook @thenativecowgirl.

 

Young Agrarians Supports Young and New Farmers in Canada: an Interview with Young Agrarians

What is Young Agrarians? 

Young Agrarians (YA) is the largest educational resource network for new and young ecological farmers in Canada. YA offers farmer-to-farmer programming to grow the next generation of food growers. YA programs work to create access to education, training, land, business mentorship, and resources. The long-term goal of YA is to increase the number of viable and ecological farmers in Canada.”

Why was Young Agrarians created?

“Of the 1.7% of the Canadian population that farm, just 9% are 35 and younger, making up less than 25,000 farm operators (Stats Canada 2016). Cost of land and production are the biggest barriers to entering the sector. Since YA began in January 2012, the network of participating farmers and collaborating organizations has grown at the grassroots level coast-to-coast through farmers organizing and building community, representing over 13,000 participants at 300+ educational events. In 2020 we worked with approximately 1400 farmers at all different stages of their journey info farming and starting farms. Currently, YA programs are focused on Western Canada from B.C. to Manitoba: YA’s Grow-a-Farmer strategy in B.C. engages new, young and potential farmers through resources and opportunities online, brings them together to network and learn together on and off farms year-round, and when ready to start farms, supports them to access land and receive business supports and mentorship from a seasoned farmer. In the Prairies, the program has grown online and through events, as well as an on-farm Apprenticeship Program in Regenerative Agriculture.”

What connection have you noticed between agriculture and mental health? 

“Farmers work really hard. Young Agrarians hears about these challenges from farmers all the time – there is a huge burden on farmers to be superheroes! We know how much loving care farmers put into their crops and animals, but it can be hard to find the time to care for themselves too. Many farmers live in rural areas, which can feel isolating and comes with its own suite of challenges. Young Agrarians appreciates the wonderful resources provided by Rural Mental Wellness, and disseminates them to support farmers to look after their mental health.”

What programs and services do you offer to your members?

“YA operates both online and offline programming to build the food and farm community: 

Business Bootcamp – an online, community-based program to give new and prospective farmers the space and skills to write a stellar business plan to launch the farm of their dreams.

B.C. Land Matching Program – provides land matching and business support services to new farmers looking for land to farm, and landowners interested in finding someone to farm their land. Offers support developing leases and other land agreements.

B.C. Business Mentorship Network that pairs new farms in start-up with experienced mentors. 

Prairies Apprenticeship Program – advanced, hands-on apprenticeships in regenerative agriculture in Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba.

Event series – regular year-round events ranging from farm tours, webinars, potlucks, and small-scale farming workshops to two-day mixers and more.

Online Resources:

Farmer blog – our website features job and apprenticeship postings, farmer profiles, prospective land to farm, funding opportunities, and more.
U-MAP – a self-serve, crowd-sourced map that aggregates farm resources across Canada.
Online tools – business resources and downloadable tools, such as land lease and license templates and a BC Land Access Guide.

Social media channels

– buzzing networks that share opportunities, experiences, and connect our network across the country. Join the conversation on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Hashtag #youngagrarians and grow the network with us!” 

“The B.C. Land Matching Program is funded by the Province of British Columbia, with support from Columbia Basin Trust, Bullitt Foundation, Cowichan Valley Regional District, and Patagonia.

Gratitude to all of our amazing funders, sponsors, and donors for making the work we do possible.

All photos by Sara Dent”

Visit the Young Agrarians Website: https://youngagrarians.org/

Supporting Rural Women in Business: An Interview with the Founders of The Rural Collective

What is the Rural Collective? 

Started by Jan and Erin Johnson, “ The Rural Collective is a member-based community where enterprising rural Canadian women can come together for mutual support, ideas and to network with potential collaborative business partners, all with the aim to build and grow sustainable, successful businesses. We have women who are makers, farmers, producers, ranchers, specialty product and service businesses in our community… and a whole lot more. Rural women are creative and innovative in the ways they choose to grow their entrepreneurial ideas and we love seeing all the ways they show up in the marketplace.”   

“Alone, women have power… collectively, they have impact.”

How and why did you create the Rural Collective? 

“We have been working with enterprising women in a lot of ways over the years – from developing and delivering workshops and courses, to writing books and working one-on-one to build websites and develop branding. Helping enterprising rural women is a niche that slowly developed for us over time and we absolutely love helping women get grounded in and grow successful businesses. Launching The Rural Collective in the middle of a pandemic is not something we could have predicted, but it has proved to be the best timing as it has brought women together from across Canada to connect and be in community with each other in a time when disconnection and separation have dominated our lives.” 

What are some next steps for the Rural Collective? 

“The Rural Collective Membership currently includes a directory listing, peer learning sessions, an online group and member profiles on our social media. We’ll soon be launching The Rural Collective Mastermind – a combination of brainstorming, education, peer accountability and support in a group setting that will sharpen a woman’s business and personal skills – and The Rural Collective Marketplace – an online multi-vendor platform where rural women can set up storefronts to sell their products. Everything we do is geared to help women grow and succeed in their businesses with the tools, mindset and resources to help them do that.”

What is the importance of mental wellness in your lives? 

Mental wellness is something we talk about and think about often. We have been juggling a lot of business projects in the past year and often we feel stretched and sometimes overwhelmed. Stepping away from our business roles to do other enjoyable things, talking with our team about how we are all doing with the large number of tasks and responsibilities on our plates, and having open conversations and supporting our members are a few of the things we do. We also partner with other businesses and organizations to share and promote mental wellness for rural women and their families.”

To visit the The Rural Collective website, go to theruralcollective.com.

Check out the Stigma-Free Society’s latest article on rural women entrepreneurs:  “Women Entrepreneurs in Rural Communities: Their Challenges and Successes

Women Entrepreneurs in Rural Communities: Their Challenges and Successes

Starting a small business in a rural community can come with its fair share of challenges. A small business is defined as a firm that has fewer than 100 employees. These small businesses can come in many forms, serve the diverse needs of populations, carry different products and encompass many forms of work. Entrepreneurs and small business owners are the backbone of rural and agricultural communities. Small businesses dominate the industries that keep rural communities viable, such as forestry, fishing, hunting, etc. However, owning and operating a small business in a rural community can pose some unique challenges to entrepreneurs. 

Some of the key challenges that rural entrepreneurs face include:

  1. Low population density/remoteness
  2. Depressed access to markets, capital, and labor 
  3. Lack of necessary infrastructure 
  4. Geographic isolation from support networks 
  5. Infrastructure gaps, including reliable internet and telephone service 

Women entrepreneurs who own small businesses in rural and agricultural communities face even more unique challenges to keeping their business up and running. One of the main challenges female entrepreneurs face in these communities compared to the urban dwelling counterparts is higher poverty rates. This can create issues for securing capital needed to get a business up and running, and also for maintaining the business if times get hard. Once women in these communities have successfully started their small businesses, other challenges have been cited. According to the Rural Women Entrepreneurs Report, challenges with training programs, personal support systems, identifying financing, and finding qualified employees have been noted by women who run small businesses in rural communities.  

A very interesting area of growth and success for female entrepreneurs has been in the area of agriculture-related business endeavours. According to The Center for Women in Business’ report, over the past three decades, the share of U.S. farms operated by women nearly tripled to comprise 14% of all U.S. farms. In this typically male dominated space, women are getting more involved and are becoming increasingly successful. However, being a woman in a male dominated field can pose challenges. Women might feel as though they have to do more in order to stay competitive with their male counterparts. Regardless of these challenges, the above statistic makes it evident that women are getting involved in the agricultural business in a big way. 

For female entrepreneurs in rural communities, the unique hurdles and successes they face can make them feel isolated and alone. Finding community in rural areas can be a challenge in and of itself, but for women who own a small business in these geographic regions, finding that community can be even more of a challenge. This is where Peer Support Facilitator Training for Rural Women Entrepreneurs comes in. Women entrepreneurs in rural communities do not need to face their hurdles or experience their successes alone. With this peer support training, they can find a community of women who can understand and support them in profound ways. 

In this training, Rural Women Entrepreneurs will gain an understanding of peer support fundamentals and learn how to apply them effectively when supporting their peers facing similar challenges. They will also learn how to effectively communicate and share personal experiences to enhance interactions as a peer supporter and support group facilitator. Participants will gain an understanding of the importance of self-care and how to apply this practice in their lives. 

Finally and most importantly, individuals will learn how to become great peer support facilitators! This work is extremely rewarding and can lead to so many amazing opportunities for trainees. Individuals who participate in this training will be able to apply the skills they learn to do work that is nourishing and steeped with care and empathy. Participants don’t need to have experienced/be experiencing mental health challenges to participate. All are welcome to join! 

The Peer Support Facilitator Training for Rural Women Entrepreneurs will be a 2-day virtual course taking place on July 21st and 28th 2021, from 9AM PST – 5PM PST (with breaks). 

Registration is by donation to the Stigma-Free Society. 

To register for this remarkable program, or a future training, please click HERE to visit our peer support landing page.

Sources:

U.S. House of Representatives, Small Business Committee

 

A Glimpse into the Rural Peer Support Training Program

What is Peer Support?:

According to the Mental Health Commission of Canada, Peer Support is “a supportive relationship between people who have a lived experience in common. The peer support worker provides emotional and social support to others who share a common experience. But despite evidence of the benefits, for both individuals and families, peer support programs have yet to receive the focus, funding, and attention needed”. 

Simply put, peer support is a way for individuals with a similar background to connect with each other and ensure that they are taking care of themselves on their specific needs and experiences. Peer support workers are trained on how to work with individuals with lived experiences that are reflective of their own and support from a place of empathy and understanding. This program is designed to truly empower both the support worker and the individual seeking support, as they work together, sharing experiences and developing wellness-related skills. 

To become a peer support worker, individuals must go through a training process. There are many organizations that offer peer support training. One of the best is Robyn Priest LIVE YOUR TRUTH, an organization that is currently offering online training for individuals and families. 

According to Robyn Priest, “Peer support isn’t limited to mental health or addiction issues. It can be about anything anyone is going through; about life.” This type of holistic, well-rounded support is imperative for everyone, as we all have unique experiences and struggles and want to connect with others who can understand what we might be going through. 

Why peer support in rural and agricultural communities?:

Peer support is led by trained people just like you who have lived experience with mental health challenges, but also get what it is like working in agriculture or living rurally. Since there aren’t that many mental health services in rural communities like psychologists or counsellors, peer support is a great option. Peer support can also be done over video chat, so you can keep it personal and private and makes support extremely accessible during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Robyn Priest notes, “I know having moved from the city to a farming community was a culture shock and being able to chat with others who had experienced that, or even just chatting with others who had dealt with dealing with crops, animals, the ever changing seasons, helped enormously. It was like – ahhh you get it.”

No one understands the life and struggles of those living and working in agricultural communities better than those who have that shared experience. The unique challenges individuals face are best supported by those who have been through similar things and can empathize from a place of deep understanding. For rural communities, these might be experiences with loneliness, burnout, stress around crops, unique family challenges, addiction and so much more.

What are the benefits for Peer Support training participants?:

There are so many benefits to participating in this training experience. First, participants will gain an understanding of peer support fundamentals and how they can apply them effectively when supporting peers in individual or group facilitations. These foundational skills can be useful in these facilitations, but also for supporting loved ones and other individuals in one’s life. 

Another benefit for participants is learning how to effectively communicate and share personal experiences in order to enhance interactions as a peer support worker and group facilitator. This unique way of communicating will aid trainees in their ability to connect and share reflectively and vulnerably with others, while maintaining professionalism. 

Thirdly, participants will gain an understanding of the importance of self-care and how to apply this practice in their lives. This skill of self-care can be carried throughout one’s life and can support the trainee’s mental wellbeing in all areas. It can also aid in their ability to take time for themself when supporting others, which can be an emotionally challenging task. 

Finally, and most importantly, to learn how to become a great peer support facilitator. This work is extremely rewarding and can lead to so many amazing opportunities for trainees. Individuals who participate in this training will be able to apply the skills they learn to do work that is nourishing and steeped with care and empathy. 

Please continue to check in with the Stigma-Free Society, as we add training sessions in the coming months!

Check out our peer support landing page HERE for more information.