I am Bonita Cremer and along with my husband, Matt and son, Justin operate Sweet Grass Land & Cattle a black Angus cow/calf and haying operation in Melville, located in northern Sweet Grass County. Our daughter, Chelcie Cargill, is well known to the Montana Farm Bureau family. For the past four years, I have been President of the county Farm Bureau and prior to that was our county Women’s Leadership Chair. This is my third year chairing the Health & Safety Committee and I also serve on the MFBF Budget Committee and PAC Board. I am currently at the halfway point in REAL Montana Class III, a natural resources education and leadership training program and am our class President.
I became interested in being on the Health & Safety Committee when I helped with my first ATV Safety and ABCs of Farm Safety presentations at our local Farm Fair. I have also been an EMT and volunteered for 16 years with the Sweet Grass County Ambulance Service, so health and safety have long been a focus of mine.
For many years, the committee has emphasized ATV safety. I felt that much of what we were talking about was already being covered by the existing work of the Women’s Leadership Committee. There really is no need to duplicate that effort. Instead, I asked our committee to take a look at the bigger picture and broaden our scope to encompass total farmer/rancher health and safety.
The Montana Farm Bureau Board of Directors approved our request for budget dollars and have committed $4150 to support our efforts in increasing awareness and educating our members in the following four areas we identified during our committee meeting:
- Impaired Driving
- Engaged Parenting
- Limiting Screen Time
- Wear Your Helmet
We are planning to utilize a Facebook page and other types of media to communicate awareness and helpful information in these four areas as well as general health and safety topics and more specific awareness of suicide prevention and the rural opioid addiction crisis.
Without a doubt, the biggest health issue facing rural Montana right now is opioid drug abuse and skyrocketing suicide rates among farmers and ranchers. I invited Bobbi Perkins from the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services to speak with us about these challenges. The committee heard that 90% of the people in our state with a substance use disorder (addiction) are not receiving treatment; nearly half of all foster child placements are due to methamphetamine use and sadly, Montana leads the nation in suicide rates. Given these facts, I don’t think it is inaccurate to say a majority of MFBF member families have been impacted by addiction, suicide or both.
In February of this year, American Farm Bureau along with National Farmers Union rolled out Farm Town Strong an awareness and information effort bringing attention to rural opioid abuse. More details can be found here.
So, what do we need to know about Montana?
While prevention and treatment efforts are taking place statewide, both state and federal budget cuts have taken their toll on many communities’ ability to provide local services to those seeking treatment or mental health assistance. Much of the immediate intervention efforts are now falling on the shoulders of our local law enforcement officers and emergency service providers leaving those seeking help with little or no access to resources. While we know money isn’t always the answer, right now it seems there is no clear path to solving the many problems these challenges present to us individually, on our farms and ranches and in our communities.
My goal in bringing this to the Health and Safety Committee is not that we, or MFBF, would somehow solve this crisis, but that we could be the ones to begin these difficult conversations at home and in our towns. We know the strength in the Ag business comes from its people. Let’s make sure we are taking care of ourselves and our communities so that we are not looking at a future of Ag where we are left trying to pour from an empty cup.
More information can be found at the following links:
Want more news on this topic? Montana Farm Bureau members may subscribe for a free email news service, featuring the farm and rural topics that interest them most!