ByAmanda Perez Pintado / Investigate Midwest and Report for America |
Linnea Kooistra’s roots in farming go back 10 generations. She and her husband, Joel, were both raised on dairy farms, and they operated their own in Woodstock, Illinois, for over 40 years. But in 2018, they were confronted with the hard decision of selling their herd of almost 300 cows. After months of deliberation, they decided to sell the herd in part because they relied on immigrant workers to care for and milk the cows, and they feared losing their workforce. “The labor situation, you know, it was just so hostile,” Kooistra said.
Through the years, the Iowa Legislature is the place where Iowans gather to debate the biggest issues and challenges facing our state. It has been this way for 175 years.
The 2021 session is days from adjournment, but there has been precious little time spent discussing one of the thorniest problems confronting this state in decades or looking for solutions. The issue is the quality of our water. Our lakes, streams and rivers are so polluted with agricultural runoff that experts urge people, for health reasons, to not swim in many lakes and to avoid eating fish caught in certain rivers. While most lawmakers dodge this issue, a University of Iowa researcher has become a no-nonsense voice on the problem and its solutions. Chris Jones is a scientist at the Iowa Institute of Hydraulic Research. Water quality is his area of expertise.
Farmers market managers and vendors are still waiting for guidance from state officials, even as the outdoor season approaches, causing some to postpone their seasons. Jam-packed lines, and even live entertainment during the markets, will be relegated to the past — at least for now — in light of changes underway in response to the novel coronavirus pandemic. “It’s a whole new world,” said Bob Shepherd, the market manager in Washington. He also serves on the board of the Iowa Farmers Market Association. While the Washington market plans changes for its upcoming season, others remain in limbo.
This podcast of an original IowaWatch Connection radio report lets those in the Midwest U.S. trying to attract the necessary resources to meet mental health care demand in flood-stricken regions tell you about the problem. It includes one health care center that is trying to address the health care worker shortage head-on with a full-time recruiter.
Psychologist Lauren Welter says she faces an ethical issue with no easy answer on a regular basis: Should she take on more clients and provide less care to those she already sees, or turn away potential clients who have no alternatives?
FLOODED SENSES: MEETING MENTAL HEALTH CARE DEMAND IN DISASTER-STICKEN IOWA. Iowa does not have enough psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists or other mental health care providers to handle an increasing need to care for farmers dealing with relentless flooding this year, several mental health experts IowaWatch interviewed warned.
A stigma exists in agricultural communities when it comes to seeking mental healthcare. Moreover, Kyle Godwin, who recently researched patterns in farmer suicide for his University of Iowa School of Public Health master’s thesis, said his research data might suggest that doing anything to improve farmer mental health care will be difficult unless something is done to end this stigma. Paradoxically, Godwin’s research showed that in regions of Iowa that had a higher saturation of mental healthcare professionals, there were more farmer suicides, not less. “Of course, naturally, you want to think that the places with mental health centers are going to have lower suicide rates, and studies have found that with the general population, that a higher proportion of healthcare providers and mental healthcare providers have generally related to lower suicide rates,” Godwin, who grew up on an Iowa farm, said in an IowaWatch interview. “But then I think we have to remember that for when we’re talking about farmers… just in rural areas, in general, I should say, you know, stigma may play a more prominent role.”
Many mental healthcare providers IowaWatch spoke with pointed to stigma as a major roadblock when trying to treat farmers.
While one in eight Americans are considered to be “food insecure,” an estimated 40 percent of the nation’s supply of fruits, vegetables, dairy and meat goes to waste, discarded by farmers, retailers, restaurant owners and households. Three federal agencies have agreed to work together to cut that food waste in half by 2030. But a recent government oversight report found that the agencies – the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration – have made little headway, despite some initial actions. The EPA and USDA announced the national goal in 2015, with the FDA joining the effort last year. That was when the three agencies signed a formal, two-year agreement to develop a strategic plan to “increase collaboration and coordination.”
Yet according to the non-partisan Government Accountability Office, the roles of the agencies remain undefined, and their 2030 goal faces widespread challenges.