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Soil Sisters: Our mental health is worth fighting for
Betty Anderson

Since this is my second Soil Sisters column, I thought I’d do a little check-in with y’all.

How are you? No… I mean how are you, really? How are you in the ways that aren’t easy to talk about? Living with the horrors that COVID-19 has left in its wake has many of us struggling with both our physical and mental health. For me, a Navy vet, trauma survivor and someone who has battled depression it hasn’t been easy. I’ve had to use all the tools in my kit to get through without spiraling down, including:


One thing military vets and farmers have in common is that we get the job done. It’s a mindset really. We just do, no matter what happens, we put our heads down and get ‘er done. To tell a farmer to take care of themselves pretty much means take care of everyone else around them. But self-care is important. If we don’t take care of ourselves, we aren’t giving our finest to the folks around us.

One of the best things I’ve done for myself recently is re-do my bathroom. I put in a tub with jets and made it my refuge, the place I go when I need recharging. I jokingly call it my office, but it’s not a joke. Most of my inspired thinking happens there because I’m relaxed. The other day as I was soaking, I tossed in a bath bomb. I received some for Christmas in the shape of fortune cookies! When it was all done fizzing my ‘fortune’ floated to the surface. It said, “If u love someone keep fighting for them”. 

I don’t believe in fortunes or horoscopes, but I DO believe in promptings. I immediately thought of a friend who has battled severe depression for years, so I called her up. Guess what she was doing when I called? She was baking cookies – for me! Well, I was surprised, and I wasn’t. A great coping mechanism when you are feeling low is doing something nice for someone else.

Stay active – and share

Because of COVID I haven’t been marketing my farm products lately, such as the jams, jellies and pickles I sell out of my home kitchen under Wisconsin’s ‘pickle’ bill. I’m still putting up all the things I grow, but this year I had time to focus on putting up whole meals instead of just condiments and sweet treats to sell. This has given me so much joy! 

Farmers are busy, hardworking folk and sometimes finding time to eat the good food we raise is difficult; it’s ironic, really. Now, when we are too tired to cook, we simply open a jar and heat up a meal. It’s farmer fast-food! And because I always go big or go home, I have plenty to share with my neighbors and friends. My love most often comes in the form of food and usually it’s in a jar!

Talk about it

Talking about what’s bugging me isn’t easy. Especially so when there is any kind of stigma attached to the subject matter. I’ve always been a high functioning depressive, until I wasn’t. When things finally fell apart for me and I started to get the care I needed I was told to talk about it. I’m not a talker so I chose to write instead. This was not just great advice, it was cathartic. 

I wrote about my trauma and then I wrote about it again, and again. I did begin to talk about it. Each time I tell my story, it has a little less hold on me. It’s always scary to talk about the things that most folks don’t lay out on the table. Things like rape and domestic trauma, mental illness and child abuse. But I have discovered that when I tell my story, publicly, it frees others up to begin talking about theirs.

Find your tribe 

We are meant to live in community. For an introvert like me that’s not easy. Generally I try to figure it out on my own. Alone is dangerous though. Out here it’s important to have good neighbors. Sometimes your life depends upon it. We are lucky that our closest neighbors are also family. I couldn’t imagine doing what we do out here without their support! I also couldn’t get by without the support of my Soil Sisters. 

Don’t wait until you are in your fifties to find your tribe! Take the risk, reach out and connect and don’t look back. In closing, I want to encourage you to do a check-in on your loved ones; not just the ones you worry about, but those you think are doing fine. Miss USA 2019 Chesley Kryst’s loved ones thought she was doing fine and now she’s gone.

If you are struggling right now, know this: You are loved. I love you. I see you. I am fighting for you!

For more mental health support resources, see Farm Well Wisconsin DATCP also provides free support for Wisconsin Farmers, including always think it’s good to provide the resources available through DATCP as they are free to Wisconsin farmers ( and a 24/7 Farmer Wellness Helpline (1-888-901-2558) 

— Betty Anderson and her husband Dane are the current stewards at The Old Smith Place outside Brodhead. Betty is a Navy veteran and a trauma survivor. She is passionate about growing and preserving her harvest both to market and to nourish her family. She is also her tiny town’s treasurer and holds down an off farm job in the housing industry whose focus is providing education in financial literacy & promoting home-ownership as a vehicle to stabilizing some of Beloit’s tougher neighborhoods. Soil Sisters, a program of Renewing the Countryside, connects and champions women in the Green County area committed to sustainable and organic agriculture, land stewardship, local food, family farms and healthy and economically vibrant rural communities.