Oklahoma farmers and ranchers honor the late farmer advocate Mona Lee Brock
The Oklahoma Department of Agriculture Food, and Forestry and the American Farmers and Ranchers Cooperative gathered to honor the late farmer advocate Mona Lee Brock with a bronze sculpture and display case of mementos.
Brock became a suicide intervention counselor for farmers in the 1980s when she and her husband noticed a need in their community after losing their Lincoln County farm.
During the Farm Crisis of the 1980s, when farm foreclosures soared, crop insurance prices dropped and production costs went up, suicide rates among farmers began to rise. Brock stepped up to support farmers during those troubling times, said Scott Blubaugh, president of the American Farmers and Ranchers Cooperative.
“Most farmers were not equipped to handle the incredible stress and heartbreak for those that reached out,” Blubaugh said. “Mona Lee was one of the few that understood she was now not only ‘the angel on the other end of the line,’ but she was really a pioneer in farmers' mental health.”
Farmers and ranchers are almost twice as likely to die by suicide in the U.S. compared to people in other occupations, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The uncertain factors that come with being a farmer, such as weather and changing commodity prices, can lead to a lot of stress.
“Mental health in our rural areas and our farming community, people were taught not to express your feelings, not to ask for help, pull yourself up by the bootstraps… and there's just certain times in people's lives that that's not enough,” Blubaugh said.
Farmers and ranchers who were helped by Brock also attended the dedication and shared how she impacted their lives and how they inspired them to go on and help others.
Jim Esbenshade, a farmer from Colbert, shared the difficult time in his life when his son had suddenly passed away at the same time his farm went under foreclosure and Brock helped him and his family through it.
“She let us know it wasn't the end of the world, that there's light out there and there's people to help us. And I’m proof of that today,” he said. “She filled a big spot in my life and in a lot of people's lives. And I went with her to see people that were on the verge of committing suicide.”
AFR offers mental health resources to farmers through its Farm Stress Management Team, as well as trains producers to work with struggling farmers. In 2021, the U.S. Department of Agriculture allocated $500,000 to ODAFF to expand mental health resources to farmers and ranchers.
“The farm suicide rate is once again beginning to increase over the last decade, but I am proud to say that thanks to Mona Lee’s original efforts, we are more prepared this time, and there are many more people that are willing to answer calls and help our farmers and ranchers,” Blubaugh said.
People can visit the dedication display for Mona Lee Brock and learn more about her legacy at the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry building.