FACS conference connects female farmers to build stress management skills
September 15, 2022

Female farmers have to wear multiple hats – often that of mother, caregiver to elderly parents and more.

Many also work off the farm to bring insurance and supplemental income to support their families. 

In an effort to connect female farmers and build community, the University of Georgia’s College of Family and Consumer Sciences recently hosted a virtual conference, agrileadHER.

“Having people in your inner circle that understand what you are going through is key to thriving,” said conference director Rebecca Brightwell, a UGA Public Service Faculty member and associate director of the Institute on Human Development and Disability.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture established the Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network in 2020, four regional projects designed to improve behavioral health by providing stress management assistance for people in farming, ranching and other agriculture-related occupations.

UGA is part of the FRSAN southern region project, coordinated by the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture. Brightwell and Diane Bales, professor and UGA Extension human development specialist, lead the effort in Georgia.

Brightwell’s desire to offer the conference, held Aug. 17-18, stemmed from personal experience.

She grew up in rural Georgia where her family owned a cotton gin for over 80 years. 

“Although the cotton gin was closed before I was born, farm values, farm culture and a strong work ethic are a big part of who I am,” Brightwell said. 

Today, she and her brother, Jay, jointly run a small forestry business.

One of the things she is most proud of is the legacy the women in her family had in running and operating the farm. 

“After my grandfather passed away unexpectedly, my grandmother not only had two boys at home but suddenly had to run the cotton gin on her own,” Brightwell said. “With the help of the local farming community, she managed to get through that time and rebuild their lives. She will always be my inspiration.”

The conference attracted 138 attendees representing 29 states and was an immersive experience mimicking an in-person event. From moving avatars to virtual roundtable discussions, the platform encouraged attendee participation.

“The networking opportunities were phenomenal and allowed for additional side conversations,” one attendee wrote.

Brightwell and her team are now forming an agrileadHER community that will allow conference attendees to maintain connections established during the conference. The community will include monthly webinars, chat rooms and other activities.

Plans also are under way for another virtual conference in 2023. For more information, visit agrileadher.com.

 “It was a very rewarding experience to see so many women make important connections and establish a community to help with stress management,” Brightwell said. “We look forward to building on the foundation established via this conference to continue providing critical assistance to this community.”

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