PROVIDENCE – Lieutenant Governor Sabina Matos, the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM), and the Center for Mediation and Collaboration Rhode Island (CMCRI) announced today a $477,996 award from the United States Department of Agriculture's Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network to launch a mental health and wellness program for farmers, commercial fishermen, and workers in forestry-related industries. Workers in the farm, fisheries, and forestry (FFF) communities work in isolating, dangerous, and economically uncertain occupations where depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts are not uncommon.
DEM and CMCRI have signed a cooperative agreement through which CMCRI – an organization whose expertise is empowering people and groups to engage in constructive dialogue, effectively manage conflicts, and resolve disputes – will develop resources for the Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network Program (FRSAN-RI) initiative. CMCRI will provide direct support to the FFF industries through mental health services, crisis assistance, business planning and support, vouchers for health and wellness programs and child care needs, stress reduction, digital technology and marketing training, coaching, and apprenticeship programs aimed at supporting diversity, equity, and inclusiveness in FFF industries.
"Many employers including the State of Rhode Island offer wellness solutions to help their employees cope with everyday stressors, work productively, reach their full potential, and hopefully thrive," said Lieutenant Governor Sabina Matos. "Governor McKee and I are proud to join DEM and the Center for Mediation and Collaboration Rhode Island in supporting the mental health and well-being of workers in occupations that are typically solitary, demanding, and economically uncertain."
"At the Center for Mediation and Collaboration RI, we are well-known for our expertise in mediation, building collaborations, and conflict resolution," said Executive Director Martha Machnik. "We will use that expertise to convene and facilitate the Farm Ranch Stress Assistance Network RI (FRSAN-RI). We have been connected with the farming community for many years though our USDA-certified Agricultural Mediation Program. We are excited to strengthen our partnership with USDA and DEM to bring much-needed mental health and wellness support and education to the farm, fishery, and forestry communities in Rhode Island. Our mission is to provide individuals, organizations, and businesses with constructive skills and processes to effectively resolve their differences, and we look forward to advancing our mission with this important FRSAN-RI work."
"When we go to our workplaces, it's easy to take for granted the mental wellness supports that employers have in place helping to manage stress, helping to identify those at risk, and connecting them to treatment," said DEM Acting Director Terry Gray. "Most family farmers, commercial fishermen, and foresters don't have these supports. This is a whole new program for DEM that we're excited to undertake, and we're very grateful to our partners at the Center for Mediation and Collaboration Rhode Island for helping us deliver it."
This is a period of intensified stress for farmers, fisheries, and foresters locally, regionally, and nationally. The coronavirus pandemic has caused a dramatic shift in how the FFF community must operate and meet the demands of an everchanging population.
According to the US Centers for Disease Control, the suicide rate for farmers is five times higher than that of the general population. The nature of farming, fishing, and forestry are largely influenced by factors outside of the jobholder's control. Weather, disease, price, and interest rates all are factors constantly weighing on these workers. This grant program will provide not just much-needed resources to the FFF communities but in so doing invest in the future of Rhode Island agriculture, commercial fishing, and forestry-related industries.
FRSAN-RI is a network that connects individuals who are engaged in farming, ranching, fisheries, forestry, and other agriculture-related occupations to stress assistance programs. This network assists the FFF community in time of stress and is a conduit to improving behavioral health awareness, literacy, and outcomes for agricultural producers, workers, and their families. FRSAN-RI brings together disciplines of financial, legal, and behavioral health support and will include appropriate infrastructure for providers to connect, refer to, and integrate their services; provide ongoing peer support and education; and offer trainings and resources that increase the capacity of service providers. A focus of this network will be on equity and environmental justice, stress reduction, and education vouchers.
For more information about DEM divisions and programs, visit www.dem.ri.gov or follow us on Facebook, Twitter (@RhodeIslandDEM), or Instagram (@rhodeisland.dem) for timely updates.