BEMIDJI, Minn. — A free webinar series is being offered by the Northwest Minnesota Foundation to address the mental health challenges that farmers and ranchers currently face.

In a statement announcing the series, the organization said because the agricultural industry in not just northwestern Minnesota but all over the U.S. has been significantly impacted by COVID-19, the challenges for farmers have increased and intensified

"Whether you are a farmer or rancher yourself, work at an ag lending institution, a school, church or you are a friend or neighbor, these sessions will provide information on how to best mitigate the challenges that farmers and ranchers are experiencing," the statement says. "The programs can be watched or listened to at home or in the car or tractor - anywhere there is an internet connection."

Northwest Minnesota Foundation worked with regional mental health specialists on the three webinars, which were funded by a grant from The Funder’s Network.

The series is called “Seeds of Promise: Growing Resiliency in Times of Stress”, and includes topics like coping with stress, self-care and helping farm couples get through rough times. The webinars can be accessed on the homepage of the website for Northwest Minnesota Foundation.

The presenters include:

Monica Kramer McConkey, one of two Rural Mental Health Specialists in Minnesota providing support to farmers and their families through a contract with the MN Ag Centers of Excellence and Farm Business Management. McConkey, who was raised on a farm in northwestern Minnesota, also travels throughout the country speaking on the impact of emotional stress on the farm

Brenda Mack, behavioral health and wellness consultant and assistant professor at Bemidji State University. Mack worked for two decades as an outpatient and in-home therapist and mobile behavioral health crisis responder, and is now a licensed social worker.

Shauna Reitmeier, CEO at Northwestern Mental Health Center and licensed graduate social worker who sees clients at the Crookston clinic location.

Dawn Ganje is involved with the philanthropic disaster preparedness team of Northwest Minnesota Foundation and facilitated the presenters and developed the programming for the series. She said it all came together last year after a difficult harvest and year of bad prices from tariffs. Little did they know a pandemic would be added to that list.

"These people are just such important parts of our communities in northwestern Minnesota that we really wanted to see if there was a way to provide them support," said Ganje. "We thought this type of on-demand programming would be a good opportunity for people to tap into a resource if and when they wanted it."

Ganje said the site with the webinar links had a spike in traffic after they were released. There hasn't been much feedback, but she said that's expected for private communities like in agriculture.

She said the webinars can be watched individually or as a group, but people should "definitely have conversation about them" after watching. They aren't geared just for farmers.

"We designed them for others who interact with farmers, to use them as support when they're talking to friends and neighbors," she said. "They are great for anybody to watch, and provide some additional support for those people in their lives involved in the ag community."