The Coffee Break Project
- Need: Men in the agriculture industry face high suicide rates due to factors including long hours, geographic isolation, lack of social opportunities, and stigma surrounding mental health care.
- Intervention: The Coffee Break Project, a program led by the Southeast Health Group in southeastern Colorado, encourages mental health check-ins for farmers and ranchers through a public awareness campaign and casual coffee gatherings that utilize COMET, an intervention model developed specifically for rural communities.
- Results: Between eight and 20 people typically attend each coffee gathering.
The Coffee Break Project is a community-driven model to support the mental health and emotional wellbeing of farmers and ranchers in rural eastern Colorado. The program is led by Southeast Health Group, in partnership with a number of local businesses and organizations in the region, with biweekly gatherings held in the town of Rocky Ford. Southeast Health Group created the program in 2018 after forming a local advisory committee to explore potential ways to address high suicide rates among men in the agriculture industry. The advisory committee was made up of community members who worked in agriculture themselves; many of the committee members had personally known a friend or family member who died by suicide.
With the tagline "Do you look after your neighbors as close as your crop or herd?," the Coffee Break Project encourages mental health check-ins for farmers and ranchers through a public awareness campaign and through twice-weekly gatherings featuring free coffee and donuts. These casual gatherings allow farmers and ranchers the opportunity to talk amongst themselves and check in on one another in the process. While women are welcome to participate in the Coffee Break Project's programming, the program is primarily aimed at men due to the fact that men experience higher suicide rates and tend to be less likely to seek out mental health services.
The Coffee Break Project utilizes and hosts trainings in COMET (Changing Our Mental and Emotional Trajectory), an intervention model for rural communities developed by rural community members and researchers at the High Plains Research Network. The COMET model trains community members to engage with a friend or acquaintance who may be experiencing mental health challenges using a set of simple questions and guidelines.
The program was initially funded solely by the Southeast Health Group, but has since received grant funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and other organizations. The Coffee Break Project has also received grant funding from the High Plains Research Network.
Partners of the Coffee Break Project include:
- 4 Rivers Equipment
- Arkansas Valley Seed
- First National Bank
- High Plains Research Network
- La Junta Livestock Commission Inc.
- Lucero Farms
- Otero College
- Perkins Chevrolet Buick GMC
- Southeast Area Extension - Colorado State University
Two mornings a week, the Coffee Break Project hosts casual gatherings in Rocky Ford for farmers and ranchers to meet up and chat about life and work. These gatherings, where free coffee and donuts are provided, offer participants an informal opportunity to check in on one another. All coffee gatherings are held at a building owned by the Southeast Health Group in downtown Rocky Ford.
The Coffee Break Project offers COMET trainings in southeastern Colorado and has occasionally hosted trainings in other parts of the state. Some trainings are open to the general public while others are targeted toward those working in specific professions, such as first responders, hospice workers, or massage therapists.
Public awareness campaign
The Coffee Break Project began its outreach to the community by partnering with local businesses to hold monthly giveaways of items such as coolers and stadium chairs. Since then, the Project has continued to spread awareness of its services and mission through bumper stickers and a traveling display featuring the tagline "Do you look after your neighbors as close as your crop or herd?" and by driving around to distribute lunch boxes with snacks and informational materials to agriculture workers when they're on the job.
The Coffee Break Project's promotional materials prominently feature the logos of nine local and regional businesses and organizations that the Project has partnered with, most of which are likely to be familiar to farmers and ranchers in the area. These partners include a local seed distributor, the regional livestock commission, a farm in Rocky Ford, and a tractor dealership. By displaying the logos of familiar and trusted businesses and organizations, the Coffee Break Project aims to alleviate any stigma or fear that may be associated with mental health care.
About eight "regulars" attend each coffee gathering, with as many as 20 people participating on any given day.
Mental health often carries a stigma in the agriculture community, leading to a reluctance among some farmers and ranchers to talk about their own challenges and needs. From the start, the advisory committee for the Coffee Break Project acknowledged that some men may not feel comfortable participating in the coffee gatherings or other events – and that to reach these men, some outreach to their spouses or other female friends or relatives may be needed. The Project's outreach coordinator has worked to make connections in the agriculture community to reduce any stigma that may be associated with the program, and a number of women in agriculture have been trained in the COMET model.
The geography of sparsely-populated southeastern Colorado has also created challenges for the Coffee Break Project. Because the Project covers a broad swath of the state, reaching some of the more geographically isolated farmers and ranchers – including those who might live too far away to regularly attend coffee gatherings – has been difficult. Insufficient broadband access and cell phone service in some parts of the region complicates things further, making it difficult for many farmers and ranchers to access informational materials or telehealth services.
Southeast Health Group attributes much of the Coffee Break Project's success to the ongoing involvement of its advisory committee members, who meet monthly and regularly attend outreach events for the program. The program's leadership team also sees its partnerships with local agriculture-related businesses and organizations as key to gaining the trust of the farming and ranching community.
Contact InformationJennifer Pollmiller, Director of Communications
Southeast Health Group
The Coffee Break Project
Community engagement and volunteerism
Farmers and farmworkers
Suicide and suicide prevention
July 25, 2022
Suggested citation: Rural Health Information Hub, 2022. The Coffee Break Project [online]. Rural Health Information Hub. Available at: https://www.ruralhealthinfo.org/project-examples/1100 [Accessed 27 March 2023]
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