Skip to main content

Sowing the Seeds of Hope

Summary 
  • Need: Agriculture workers and their families have high rates of psychological distress and suicide, but limited access to mental health services.
  • Intervention: The "Sowing the Seeds of Hope" (SSoH) program was created to provide affordable and culturally appropriate mental health services to individuals working in agriculture and their families in Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin.
  • Results: The regional program ran from 1999-2014 and successfully established a variety of interventions to help individuals in rural communities' access behavioral health services.

Description

Farm workers and their families face severe stress, rural isolation, and limited access to mental health professionals. As a result, this population is high-risk for behavioral health and substance abuse problems. In 1999, seven states came together to create Sowing Seeds of Hope (SSOH) program.

Each state operated a website along with a 24/7 crisis hotline providing advice to farmers and connecting them with a wide network of resources specific to their problem.

The program's original funding was provided by a Federal Office of Rural Health Policy grant, followed by additional federal grants, state appropriations, and in-kind assistance. Grants from foundations and other contributions augmented these efforts. The nonprofit AgriWellness, Inc. took over administrative functions in 2001 and helped secure funding for 13 more years. The SSOH program became the model for further funded interventions.

Services offered

Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, South Dakota, North Dakota, Nebraska, and Kansas each created a telephone helpline was partnered with a website for farmers and their families in need of mental health services. Mandatory background for helpline responders was experience in agriculture plus mental health training in order to provide culturally-appropriate assistance. Services were provided in English and Spanish.

Responders provided confidential advice for callers, as well as resources on topics such as:

  • Legal issues
  • Financial issues
  • Disaster assistance
  • How to obtain further mental health services

The SSoH program also provided:

  • Educational training for health professionals on how to provide culturally-appropriate care to agricultural workers
  • Statewide coalitions for mental health advocacy
  • Mobilization of state resources to assist farmers in other areas of life
  • Public awareness and marketing campaigns addressing mental health issues
  • Vouchers for farmers and their families to access mental health services they would otherwise not have been able to afford
  • Retreats for farm families and assistance in paying for help to work on the farm while they were away
  • Support groups for farmers and families

Results

During the 14 years the SSoH program was in place, the following results were noted:

  • Telephone calls and email requests for assistance to the hotlines varied over the years, depending on the level of farm economic difficulties and other related occupation-related strains each year. The program's annual crisis hotlines contacts varied between 10,000 and 30,000.
  • Nearly 300,000 people received agricultural mental health education.
  • At least 11,000 farm families received vouchers for mental health services and 90% were redeemed for professional assistance.
  • Over 5,000 professionals were trained to deliver mental health services to persons working in agriculture
  • 1,800 farm men, women, and families attended SSoH retreats and support groups
  • Over 420 outreach events and over 90 professional training programs
  • The program reached over 3 million people throughout the 7-state region with public awareness and marketing campaigns

SSoH was named a best practice model by Rural Healthy People 2010, and was also featured as a promising practice in the Department of Health and Human Service's 2011 publication Rural Behavioral Health Programs and Promising Practices.

For more information about the program:

  • Rosmann, M. (2008). Sowing Seeds of Hope. Behavioral Healthcare, 28(4). Free text.

Barriers

The largest barrier faced by this program was securing adequate funding and sustainability. Over the years, multiple sources of funding were used, including public and private grants.

Replication

This program was very successful in gaining the trust of the farming community. In part, this was accomplished by employing outreach workers familiar with agricultural life and culture, in addition to the barriers to assistance faced by farm workers and their families.

SSoH partnered with AgriWellness to provide many administrative expert functions such as grant writing, data collection, evaluation, and most importantly, agricultural mental health issues.

Programs wishing to replicate the success of the SSoH program should prioritize gaining the trust of their target population, and partner with an organization that can effectively and efficiently provide the essential day-to-day functions associated with comprehensive projects such as SSoH.

Contact Information

Mike Rosmann, Ph.D. AgriWellness
712.627.4679
mike@agriwellness.org

Topics
Cultural competency
Farmers and farmworkers
Mental health
Stress and stress disorders

States served
Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin

Date added
July 18, 2008

Date updated or reviewed
December 23, 2019


Please contact the models and innovations contact directly for the most complete and current information about this program. Summaries of models and innovations are provided by RHIhub for your convenience. The programs described are not endorsed by RHIhub or by the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy. Each rural community should consider whether a particular project or approach is a good match for their community’s needs and capacity. While it is sometimes possible to adapt program components to match your resources, keep in mind that changes to the program design may impact results.