Meet Jac Wypler, who works for the National Young Farmers Coalition on the Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network-Northeast (FRSAN-NE), a collaborative network that supports farmer mental health in the region. It's a big job. Jac gave us the scoop.
Q: How did you get interested in farming and agriculture issues?
A: I grew up in New Jersey, the Garden State, but I didn’t become connected to food systems until I went to college in the Granite State. Volunteering on my college's farm helped me overcome an eating disorder and as I reconnected to my body through farm food, I also realized my queerness. For me, farming has always been connected to mental health, healing and sexuality.
Q: What kind of mental health issues are you addressing in your work?
A: The Coalition did a survey in 2017 that asked young farmers about the biggest challenges they faced. The top four were access to land, student loan debt, labor, and health insurance. FRSAN-NE aims to address these root stressors for farmers, not simply provide Band-Aid remedies. For example, how can we facilitate access to land? How can we change agriculture systems to reduce structural stressors like systemic racism and climate change?
Q: Do young queer farmers face additional challenges?
A: Queer farmers face the stressors common among young farmers, but also those among queer community - like microaggressions, safety concerns, and social isolation. For example, loan officers may assume a farmer's gender or partner - placing a farmer in a potentially compromising position. Queer rural and BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) farmers may question their safety on land or lack support networks that are crucial for both thriving businesses and personal wellbeing.
Q: It sounds, well, stressful.
A: It can be overwhelming. Famers and queer people are both groups with high suicide rates, so it's easy to think that queer farmers have bleak outcomes. Yes, queer farmers face challenges. And I’ve witnessed queer farmers coming together in innovative and creative ways to form resilient communities that support farmers and queers. Queer approaches to farming - like cooperatively owned farms or community based mutual aid - could be models to combat stressors in the farming community like severe isolation as well as stressors in queer community like food insecurity. To me, the future of farmer wellness is queer.