Financial woes, mental health struggles plaguing North Carolina’s farmers

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Financial woes, mental health struggles plaguing North Carolina’s farmers 1

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Farmers — nationwide and in North Carolina — are in trouble. Many are facing financial struggles rarely seen in their communities. The stress and anxiety have forced many to file for bankruptcy, or even worse.

North Carolina farmers have dealt with hurricanes twice in the last three years. The effects have largely been devastating for their land and crops.

“That look in people’s eyes of desperation,” said North Carolina Commissioner of Agriculture Steve Troxler. “You’ve been standing in water for days and weeks. Your house has been flooded for the second and third time. You’ve got to be tough as a pine knot to even get through that.”

Troxler has worked the soil and knows the lifestyle. he hurricanes, coupled with the trade war with China, have meant financial hardships for many farmers.

“When you’ve got utter financial disaster and you can’t see your way out of it, not only have bankruptcies risen in the farming, (but so) has suicides,” Troxler said.

Robin Tutor Marcom added: “What we know is that the overall rural areas, in the last few years, that suicide rates have gone up by more than 25 percent.”

Tutor Marcom is the Director of the North Carolina Argomedicine Institute. She said the farming community is in the midst of a crisis.

“It is quite possible we have had deaths that have been attributed to other causes that farmers have made to look like accidents so their families could receive insurance benefits and be able to get out of some of their financial difficulties,” Tutor Marcom said.​

Russ Vollmer’s farm sits on 100 acres of land in Bunn. The farm has been passed down through the generations, but it hasn’t been easy. Like others, he’s dealt with depression and the shame of not being able to make ends meet. Vollmer has leaned on his faith, but a lot of other farmers haven’t been as lucky.

“It’s terrible,” Vollmer said of the climbing suicide rates among farmers. “A lot of them are not dealing with it, which is why it’s so important that this message moves forward.”

Vollmer, once a huge player in the tobacco industry, now grows less risky crops like fruits and vegetables. The barn that once sold fertilizers and chemicals is now an ice cream shop. He supplements his income by doing corn mazes, school tours, and estate sales.

Vollmer put aside his pride and searched for help, but many other farmers have not.

“They think that if they can figure out how to do what needs to be done to turn their situation around, that everything will be OK,” Tutor Marcom said. “That’s when they get in trouble.

“Farmers need to know that it’s not weak to ask for help.”

Russ Vollmer

The institute’s work helped Vollmer Farms when it needed it most, but their work is far from complete.

“Thank goodness those people are available now and there is an effort taking place within the agriculture community to address this problem because so many of my brothers and sisters in farming, we are losing them,”​ Vollmer said.

Only 2 percent of the population farms and produces food for the remaining 98 percent. Many believe the country can’t afford to lose another farmer to bankruptcy or, even worse, suicide. Farmers in need of help can contact the North Carolina Agromedicine Institute at 252-744-1008. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 1-800-273-8255.

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