Earth Focus: For the Love of the Land

by Nicky Milne | @nicolamilne123 | Thomson Reuters Foundation

By Nicky Milne

Financial instability, rural isolation and harvest worries have long taken a heavy toll on farmers' mental well-being, in the United States and elsewhere.

Today, climate change is adding to their stresses, and leaving many farmers mourning the impact of global warming on the land to which they are innately connected.

"You can do the best job, be the smartest person out there but mother nature really has the final say," says John Bucher, a dairy farmer and wine grower from California, who has seen wildfires encroaching ever closer to his land and animals in recent years.

"When you're in the middle of it, you're almost on auto-pilot ... so the stress for me, it manifested itself later," he said.

More than 80% of young farmers cite mental health concerns, according to Britain's Farm Safety Foundation, and farming is the profession with the highest risk of suicide.

But discussing issues such as depression remains taboo in many farming communities, where ideals of rugged individualism and self-reliance prevail. 

"For the Love of the Land" tackles such taboos with stories of personal struggle, resilience, and hope in the face of changes in the landscape linked to climate change - from California to the undulating fields of Wisconsin.

In the parched plains of Arizona, Leonard and Maybelle Sloan, proud Navajos, are haunted by the drought as they travel to collect water to keep their animals alive. The state faces the worst drought since records began more than 110 years ago.

Their story demonstrates the sadness many farmers feel over the effects of rising temperatures and extreme weather on the land they cherish. 

Nearly 2,000 miles away in Wisconsin, which has been hit by unprecedented flooding, Brenda Statz tells of the loss of her husband, who took his own life, and Randy Roecker recounts his battles with feelings of despair.

Together, they have helped set up the Farmer Angel Network to provide support and overcome the taboo around mental health.

"I'm hoping we can help people find their joy and realise, hey, maybe it isn't so bad. I can get through this," says Brenda as she sits before the cattle stalls in her barn.

"It's a hard life yet it's a wonderful life - don't give up ... because this is your legacy," she adds, fighting to hold back tears.

This film is part of 'Earth Focus', an investigative series that reports on our changing environment and how it affects people around the world.

Thomson Reuters Foundation co-produces this series with KCET, a content channel of the Public Media Group of Southern California.