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AgriWellness, Inc. History

The conceptual underpinnings of AgriWellness trace back to the summer of 2001 when 11 Iowans met to consider the need for a nonprofit organization to coordinate and build behavioral health programs for the agricultural population.  This group included representatives from academia, agriculture, service providers, the faith community and state government.  The group named the organization AgriWellness, Inc. and set the initial mission:  to establish an integrated network of behavioral health care supports for the rural agricultural population.  The group offered to coordinate Sowing the Seeds of Hope (SSoH) activities in Iowa and the Wisconsin Office of Rural Health and Wisconsin Primary Health Care Association who administered this project regionally chose AgriWellness for this work.

The Sowing Seeds of Hope project was begun in 1999 and includes seven Midwestern states:  Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin. The SSoH project was designed and initiated by the Wisconsin Office of Rural Health and Wisconsin Primary Healthcare Association and supported by grants from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Rural Health Policy and Bureau of Primary Healthcare.   The mission of the SSoH Regional Network was to provide accessible behavioral health services to stressed farmers, ranchers, farm workers, their families and rural communities dependent on agriculture.   The Wisconsin Office of Rural Health and Wisconsin Primary Health Care Association indicated a desire to find a different administrative entity for the regional program at a planning meeting in Bloomington, MN in December of 2001.  SSoH project leaders selected AgriWellness as the regional organization to provide administrative support for all the seven states that comprise the SSoH project.

During the December 2001 meeting the project leaders identified 12 core services:

  • Outreach to the farm population by trained outreach workers
  • Provider training about the farm culture and behavioral health
  • Community education
  • Crisis hotlines
  • Information clearinghouses
  • Direct services through vouchers
  • Prevention services
  • Coalition-building among state and regional partners
  • Advocacy at local, state, regional and federal levels
  • Social marketing to the general population and general public
  • Educational retreats
  • Support groups

The project leaders decided that a regional Board of Directors was needed and that all states should have equal voice in determining the affairs of AgriWellness, Inc. and in carrying out its official business.  Understanding this need, several Iowa board members resigned to facilitate the new organizational arrangement. The board amended the bylaws to allow each state one vote, regardless of the number of board members that reside in the state.  Each state has a minimum of two and a maximum of three board members who confer together by consensus or by majority vote of the board members of the state to declare the official position of their state on all board actions.  At the time AgriWellness was selected as the administrative entity for Sowing the Seeds of Hope projects, AgriWellness turned over the administration of Iowa’s portion of the SSoH work to Ecumenical Ministries of Iowa.  AgriWellness, Inc. applied for and received funds from Office of Rural Health Policy and congressional appropriations.

In May, 2003, The National Rural Health Association and the State Public Policy Group, a Des Moines-based issues and policy development company, joined with AgriWellness, Inc. to sponsor the first The Clock is Ticking for Rural America:  A Behavioral Health and Safety Conference (TCIT).  The second TCIT was held in Minneapolis, Minnesota in July 2005. AgriWellness convened the most recent TCIT in February 2007 at Sioux Falls, SD. For more information about these conferences please click here.

In 2004, SSoH project leaders determined that an optimal set of SSoH services in each state would include a telephone hotline/211 service information and referral service which would also serve as a clearinghouse of information for the agricultural population to link callers to professional behavioral health services (i.e., mental health and addictions treatments) and to supplement the cost of these professional behavioral health services when the target population cannot afford necessary assistance.  Project leaders agreed to share training techniques.  For more information about SSoH click here.

The SSoH work and AgriWellness have been nourished by a variety of federal grants, including these: a rural health outreach grant from the Office of Rural Health Policy that began in 2003 and ended in 2006, a one year grant from the Compassion Capital Fund that began in 2006 and ended in 2007, a network development grant from the Office of Rural Health Policy that began in 2007 and is slated to end in 2010, several federal appropriations that were managed through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and several awards for research and conference activities.  Several significant private foundation grants have been obtained from the Land-O-Lakes Foundation and the Farm Foundation, along with several smaller awards from other organizations.  State appropriations, various faith-based contributions, private donations and in-kind and monetary contributions also have supported the network activities.

In 2004 AgriWellness expanded its work to include projects and contracts to revise the Iowa State Disaster Behavioral Health Plan, to train a Ready Reserve of disaster behavioral health responders, and to manage two federally funded crisis counseling programs. The first crisis counseling program, Iowa Recovers, helped Iowans deal with the emotional turmoil that accompanied the many tornadoes and floods that struck Iowa in early summer 2004.  In 2005 the Responding to Katrina program began to assist persons relocated to Iowa by Hurricane Katrina.  Another crisis counseling program, Responding to Iowa’s Tornadoes 2005, was organized by AgriWellness.   AgriWellness managed two crisis counseling programs in the summer of 2007: one in western Iowa after significant flooding caused widespread damage and one in three counties in eastern Iowa after tornadoes caused significant damage.  For more information about these programs, click here.

In 2004 the AgriWellness staff increased significantly.  AgriWellness hired a research/training coordinator, publicity coordinator and a fulltime secretary.  AgriWellness began publishing two electronic newsletters:

  • Healthy Farmer, a newsletter for agricultural producers and the agricultural community in general;

  • AgriWellness Partners, a newsletter for individuals, organizations and agencies that have interest in behavioral health, agriculture and related topics.

The AgriWellness board of directors met in Bloomington, MN on December 7-8, 2004 to undertake strategic planning for the future of the organization.  The board members/project leaders determined the following visions:

  • Sowing the Seeds of Hope is a sustainable, fully-funded, regional strategic partnership that provides culturally competent, accessible, affordable behavioral health services to the agricultural community.

  • AgriWellness, Inc. is the recognized leader of behavioral health supports for the agricultural community.

The AgriWellness mission has been refined twice.  The current AgriWellness mission is:

  • AgriWellness, Inc. promotes accessible behavioral health services for underserved and at-risk populations affected by rural crisis in agricultural communities.

The coalitions of supporters nurture the Sowing the Seeds of Hope program in each of the seven states that form the AgriWellness network.  The network is unique in that its organization depends on grassroots support to assist the state partners who work within the regional framework to build behavioral health supports that bring hope and health to the agricultural population.