What happens when a farm family loses their life’s work?

The loss of a family farm can be very stressful.

The loss of any job is a stressful event. When your job is also your way of life, as farming typically is, the loss can be more devastating. To lose your farm is to lose a critical part of your identity.

According to Dr. Val Farmer, a well-known clinical psychologist and syndicated columnist, losing a farm is so serious that it can be compared to the loss of a family member. There are many different reasons that a farm is lost: debt, low prices, disease or other issues. After the loss of the farm, you may begin to question yourself and the decisions you made. This could cause a number of different feelings:

  • Potential guilt for the farmer who questions his or her decisions
  • Trust violation and personal loss
  • Anger, resentment and a sense of betrayal towards individuals or larger institutions

The loss of a farm is a challenging, frustrating event, usually with few clear-cut answers about why it occurred or how it could have been prevented. Recognition and acceptance of the farm loss is a long, hard road with good and bad days. It is not a single event, but it is a process. All areas of your life may be affected:

  • The loss of the family farm may affect your role or place within your community.
  • Your personal pride may be damaged, and your abilities may be called into question.
  • Your financial and economic situation may be altered potentially affecting future plans. Long- and short-term planning may seem very difficult to do under such uncertain circumstances.
  • Relationships with your family and friends may change. Some relationships may even become strained or be in conflict as you move past the loss.
The loss of the family farm is very stressful

In addition to the loss of the family farm, all of these other changes within your life can cause an extreme amount of stress. The stressful changes are potentially overwhelming for you and your family leading to crisis situation. However, with these changes comes opportunity. Things WILL NOT and CANNOT be the same as they were before the loss of the farm. Many activities and events will be markedly different. Remember the following as you move through this difficult stage in your life:

The Help Guide. Org explains how people experience loss in many different ways. In general, they go through the following stages of grief or loss with some consistency. These stages are gradual and part of a process that takes time:

  • Shock and denial
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Despair
  • Acceptance
  • Incorporation (becomes a part of everyday life)

You may also experience a number of different feelings and reactions that are normal such as:

  • Feeling tired, having trouble sleeping and eating, headaches or feeling dizzy
  • Having trouble focusing on things or working through problems. Your memory may be affected, and you may have trouble remembering familiar people and places.
  • Feeling guilty and helpless, or becoming overly sensitive. You may doubt yourself and your choices, and you may become moody or angry.
After the loss of the family farm

The loss of the family farm is an enormous loss for you and your family. In order to move forward, you will need to make changes for your future success such as determining what you want or need to change and developing a specific plan to change it.

Do you need to start a new career? Find a new home or living situation?

Start by developing a series of action steps that you or your family need to take to make these changes.

  1. Pick one change at a time so that the stress is manageable.
  2. Develop an action plan by using the SMART goal process, specifying what steps need to be taken to reach your goal
  3. Carry out your action plan.
  4. Evaluate how the change is working after a week, a month, and long-term. Update your plan as needed.

Michigan State University Extension’s RELAX-Alternatives to Anger workshop can help you learn to let go of the things that you cannot control. Know the difference between what you can change and what you cannot. It is not healthy to spend time dwelling on the things you cannot control. Develop a list of the things that you can control, and post this list where you are able to see it regularly.

Try some of the following as you and your family move forward:

  • Structure your time by keeping busy with your everyday activities. Try to live your life as normally as possible.
  • Talk to close friends and family members. In addition to those who have been affected by the loss of the farm, it is important to talk to others who may be able to offer you a new or different perspective.
  • Avoid using drugs, alcohol or nicotine.
  • Write down your feelings in a journal. Also try to write down your blessings in a journal daily.
  • Use deep breathing when your start feeling stressed.
  • Attend a workshop offered by Michigan State University Extension such as:
    • Stress Less with Mindfulness
    • RELAX-Alternatives to Anger
    • Make time for yourself as often as possible. Do the things that you enjoy and that calm you down. Take a morning walk, talk with a good friend or relative, or do whatever hobby or activity that interests you.
    • Take life one day at a time knowing that you will get through this.
    • Use this time to reflect on the changes that are taking place in your life and what has occurred, focusing on the positive.
    • If your stress levels are worrying you or members of your family, consider a visit to your doctor or other health care professional in your area.


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