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MassGrown Wellness Peer Support Network

MassGrown Wellness welcomed 100 farmers, their supporters, and state and federal employees to a series of online and in-person peer support training sessions.
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A first step to addressing the challenges of farm life may be to speak with another farmer. Farming presents its own unique challenges which can create high levels of stress, anxiety and depression. They don't need to be faced alone. Reaching out to a fellow farmer may help identify the challenge and locate community resources in the Commonwealth designed to help with the mental health and wellness challenges associated with farming.

The MassGrown Wellness Peer Support Network team is a group of fellow farmers trained in listening skills, problem solving and resiliency building to help other farmers get through the rough spots the farming life may create.

A conversation with a Farmer Peer will:

  • Help you address situations that may feel overwhelming
  • Recognize your strengths and use them to improve conditions
  • Problem-solve with you
  • Make you feel heard by listening to your concerns
  • Help figure out next steps

Massachusetts farmers and those that support them may reach out to one of the peers in their geographic region, or a peer who may have had an experience similar to yours, in your category of farm products or a peer outside your area if that is more comfortable for you.

The peers can understand how you are feeling. You do not have to be alone when facing farm life challenges.

There are Farmer Peers throughout the Commonwealth in many different farming disciplines with a range of farm life experiences who are available for conversation on issues you are facing from your farming life.

 

Peer Support Team

 

Eastern Massachusetts

Allison Ostrowski

Allison O.

Diversified Vegetable and small fruit, non-profit community farm on leased land. 

Since 2016 Allison has been working for non-profit community farms growing on leased land. After three years working seasonally, she was given the opportunity to take on a management position and has worked as a greenhouse manager, CSA manager and farm manager. She realized “farm manager” was not a role she wanted to hold and chose to step down in order to work more collaboratively. She sees collective farming as the way forward.  

Allison feels most supported when she is talking about her work challenges with other farmers and hopes to offer that same support to folks that need it.  Available Monday 6:30 pm - 8 pm Wednesday & Thursday 4 pm - 8 pm, Allison.m.ostrowski@gmail.com, 617-299-9182.

James Tierney (he/him) 

JamesT

Vegetables/Flowers 

I am new to farming and just started at Mill City Grows in May of 2023 as the CSA manager. However, I have been gardening for years. I have a background in education and human services. I am currently in graduate school for my master’s in social work from the University of New England. I am passionate about increasing food access and supporting farmers. I am very open to discussing concerns whether they be family or farming related. I hope my empathy and compassion bring support to those in need. I am usually available Mondays between 10am and 12pm and Fridays between 3pm and 5pm. I have other days and times available. It’s best to send me an email to schedule a time to chat. james@millcitygrows.org  

Matt Eiland 

MattE

Diversified Vegetables

I have been farming for the last 8 years on different vegetable growing operations. After working as an assistant grower/manager for several seasons, I was able to start a small market garden in 2022 and have built on that experience as the current farm manager at Mill City Grows in Lowell. I’m fortunate to have worked under many different operations and management styles and have gotten to the point where farming is now my career choice. I hope to continue working collaboratively with others for years to come, and I feel the experiences and  lessons I’ve learned in navigating the multitude of challenges in this field are invaluable.  I’m available by phone Monday through Wednesday from 4 – 7pm, and Saturdays before Noon at 781-201-0451. 

Ellen Fine

EllenF

Fall/Winter Greens

For more than three decades, I have immersed myself in holistic health, reflexology, massage therapy and herbal medicine as a student, practitioner and for personal use in experiencing my own chronic health journey. I came to gardening and now, embarking on farming from my years of having been made ill from pesticides poorly applied by others for land care. I have learned a great deal in my health, research, and advocacy as well as practical hands-on skill building and intuition. 
 
As a very new farmer-gardener, at the ‘Resiliency Gardens Project’ we were weeks away from planting our first suburban fall and winter greens, when the first of three floods hit my home and community on August 2024 more than 250 homes and businesses were affected including our ‘Growing Space.” I’ve learned to infuse lessons of frustration with resilience and outreach to our Mutual Aid Community, NOFAMass, organic land care and farming professionals and soil scientists. 
 
Resiliency Gardens Project- CEG Food Bags was founded during Covid, as a Mutual Aid effort towards Food Security and Food Justice. We distributed raised beds with organic soil, seeds, soil amendments and gardening tools and supplies. I taught Zoom and in person classes in gardening, herbal medicine and the basics of farming practices infusing organic, Permaculture, Biodynamic and suburban small space farming. We run a weekly CEG Food Bag Distro for 200 people, while focusing on relationships with regional farmers and larger Food Security organizations. Our goal: on delay due to the flooding, is to establish our ‘Growing Space’ as a fall/winter greens outdoor production while ‘growing’ local, sustainable micro businesses and community on the inside. 
 
With these skills and life experiences, I am here to offer a listening ear, maybe a 5-minute guided meditation and some resources. Caveat: as a new farmer/gardener, if you have large acreage or technical questions and are looking to connect with someone about more practical solutions, I would refer you to one of my Farmer Peer Colleagues. If any of my story resonates with you, about new ventures, navigating chronic illness, Climate Crisis and how it affects all of us as we grow food and flowers, please give a shout. I am available Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 10:30am-1pm. Potential for other times too, please send an email resiliencygardensproject@gmail.com or call 781-226-4216. 
 
Please remember, though it might seem insurmountable now, you have a resilience in farming and life that brought you to this place and calling on these resources will strengthen and support you. 

 

South Coast / South Shore / Cape & Islands 

Lauren

Lauren

Diversified organic vegetable farm with four season CSA serving up to 150 members and wholesale distributor. 

I have spent 10+ years as a farmworker in organic vegetable production. Being a farm worker is often undervalued and seen as transitional where the goal is to own and operate, but I prefer my position. It has been most stressful to navigate finances and long-term goals as there are very limited resources for Farm Labor. I have learned through experience about addressing needs with managers/owners in a respectful way, negotiating for personal time, utilizing MA resources for low-income people, and understanding that my body is my number one asset in this line of work so as an older (40yrs) farmer, I have to take care of that and plan for the future. Availability includes Saturday/Sunday, anytime, lcroteau1@gmail.com.

Laura Smith

LauraS

Vegetables, fruits, herbs, laying hens and value-added products from our certified kitchen selling our products at our farm store and farmers’ markets. 
   
I am the daughter of parents in which they both grew up on family farms. My dad’s family had dairy cows. My mom’s family grew produce for their farm stand. My parents decided they would continue the farming legacy by growing vegetables, fruits, and herbs. My husband and I purchased additional farmland and expanded to include laying hens. Our daughters are involved with the farm as much as they can while working their full-time off farm jobs.  
 
Just like our daughters, my husband and I had off-farm jobs to fund our living expenses and to save enough to purchase more farmland. I decided to leave my job as an educator to help my mom care for my dad who has dementia. I stay involved with education through advocacy work and volunteering on several boards and committees. 
 
With both my husband and I farming full time, comes joy and challenges. Stress from weather, time management, finances, and working with family are just a few of the challenges. A few of my joys come from growing healthy food for our community, interacting with consumers to educate them about agriculture and nutrition, and being there for my parents and granddaughters. 
 
I have realized that my health must be a priority. As a farmer, I get to exercise daily and eat healthy. For my emotional well-being, I meet with my therapist once a month. Additionally, I have farmer friends that I can reach out to chat about farm issues. I understand the benefits of having someone an email or phone call away. With that said, I hope that my experiences can be a support to peers that would like to talk about managing their emotions, discuss actions that can be taken, and celebrate successes. 
 
I am always available through email, lanegardens@gmail.com, and happy to schedule a time for a phone call.  

Meg Riley 

MegR

Livestock, Ag Education

I have worked in and around agriculture for the past twenty years. Most of this time I have worked with youth in different forms through my roles as an educator. I currently work for Plymouth County Extension, and I have the privilege of working with a diverse group of farmers and stakeholders across the south shore. I am also a leasing farmer and currently raise sheep and pigs. I am a 4-H leader, a mom and a wife and I understand the stress that farming can put on families. I was diagnosed with anxiety at a young age and now as a parent, I am supporting one of my children through this as well. I am always happy to chat or text. I am available by phone most evenings and weekends, 781-424-3273.  

William N. McCaffrey 

WilliamM

Tree fruit, cranberries, strawberries, asparagus, hay, livestock - retail, PYO, and wholesale sales channels.  

After farming on a few different operations in upstate NY, I moved back to my family’s land in 2014 to add some new enterprises to the farm. Many excruciating family dynamics have been navigated in the meantime, along with the struggle to keep the farm in motion while losing friends and loved ones, starting a family, and triaging tasks when the kids are home sick. Sometimes the weather has been nice enough, and sometimes it has been devastating. If you would like to talk through whatever stresses you are carrying compounded by farming, I am here. Text me any time and we can coordinate a good time for talking, listening, problem-solving, venting, etc. at 774-218-6416. 

 

Central Massachusetts

Ginger Kelly

GingerK

Apiary, Vegetables, Poultry

Ever since she turned Eighteen, Ginger has been involved in farming. Starting with raising and training horses and gardening, then raising feeder pigs and beef cattle, farming has always been her first love. However, life takes its turns and Ginger had to adapt and change. 

After taking several years off from farming to raise her young family, work and complete her education, she spent several years as an active Bankruptcy attorney. Eventually, over the course of twenty years or more, Ginger was able to return to her heart and dream of farming.  

While working full time, Ginger started small.  In 2004 she started an urban homestead at her home, raising bees and producing enough honey, poultry, eggs and vegetables to supplement her families’ diet.  Over time, she moved to a slightly larger homestead and decided to expand her farming activities. Eventually, out of an abundance, her small farm was able to produce enough to share with others. She has been growing her farm ever since!  

Within the course of 12 years, Ginger and her husband Ken have expanded. Currently, they work two farms and several apiaries for honeybee nucleus colony and queen production and well as honey production.  They also maintain a flock of laying hens, raise meat birds, seasonal turkeys, maintain a small orchard and vineyard, several vegetable gardens and utilize a sawmill to produce lumber. Additionally, they manage timber, wetlands and are working to establish native wildlife habitats and pollinator meadowlands.  

In addition to her other responsibilities, Ginger is also the bookkeeper, marketing, and sales manager, selling bees, honey, eggs, poultry and seasonal vegetables at her weekend farm stand, farmers markets, various pop-ups and online. She has a wealth of experience that may be of help to others dealing with life’s ups and downs. 

Ginger’s philosophy of life and death is deeply rooted in her Orthodox Christian faith. She and her husband actively engage in prayer and worship and find this way of life very helpful and life-changing, particularly when dealing with difficult struggles and life’s challenges. 

Although Ginger is an active attorney in good standing, licensed to practice in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, she will not provide legal advice or engage in establishing attorney client relationships while volunteering in her capacity as a Peer Farmer. However, she may be able to help unravel and understand many general legal and financial issues and will try her best to listen and guide those in need to find meaningful help.  

Available most Sunday afternoons from 3 PM until 6 PM, except during Nativity (old calendar) and Pascha, kellyhomesteadapiary@gmail.com.

Laura Harlow Leighton

LauraH

Vegetable Farm 

Laura Harlow Leighton founded Rock Harvest Farm in 2016. In the beginning it was just a roadside farm stand in front of a friend's house, with vegetables growing in three towns, wherever there was land available. It has been a long and arduous journey to find a stable place to grow. Five years and three moves later, Rock Harvest Farm now operates on eight acres in New Braintree, MA, and has no intention of moving. 

 Laura is excited to work as a Peer-to-Peer counselor. She knows how vital it can be to connect with someone who understands what you're going through. After struggling to keep the farm growing on her own, Laura sought therapy for emotional support. Although therapy has been an immensely helpful tool, no one can relate to a farmer like a farmer. 

Laura feels she could connect and relate with women in agriculture who have struggled for equal treatment, as well as first generation farmers who are working to build their business, secure land and find funding.

Those looking to reach out can feel free to text or email any time to set up a phone call at  774-701-3566 or rockharvestfarm@gmail.com

 

Western Massachusetts

Alice Colman 

AliceC

Diversified vegetables and cut flowers. 

I’ve been farming in Wilbraham for the last nine years. The past few years of running a small farm through the isolation of COVID, unpredictability of climate-change related weather events, and adding a CSA to our business have brought their share of stress! I’ve gotten better at weathering these storms through talking to other farmers and working with a therapist. I hope that some of my experiences and techniques that I’ve learned can be helpful to other farmers as we all work to build more resilient and sustainable farms.  I'm available by phone except for Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons at 413-279-4125. 

Shannon Rice 

  

ShannonR

Dairy (goat and cow), Chickens (meat and egg), Produce (diversified)

I began farming in 1997 and expanded into food systems planning due to lack of existing infrastructure in 1998. Since then, I ran a successful organic cow and (conventional) goat dairy and creamery in central NY. I moved back to Massachusetts in 2012 to be closer to family while I completed a divorce and tried to set up shop here. I expanded into produce and poultry primarily to supply food insecure communities in my area. In 2022, I was finally diagnosed with Q-fever. Unfortunately, by the time I was diagnosed, it caused brain damage among other issues. It made me vulnerable within my farm community and I navigated some difficult stuff. I spent my time since then on healing. Based on my experience, I am here to help farmers across Massachusetts who are struggling with physical, mental health or other challenging medical issues while they navigate what that means to their farm business. You may email me at smrice08@gmail.com.

For more information on the program, or to connect to a Peer Network team member, contact Keri Cornman, Keri.Cornman@mass.gov.

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