Farmers are the best part of Emily Krekelberg's job.

Krekelberg is an Extension educator in farm safety and health with the University of Minnesota. She's also been the leader of Extension's rural stress task force for a little over a year.

The work going on in the rural stress task force has been interesting, said Krekelberg, because a lot of what they were working on fits the current COVID-19 situation. But she said it's obviously changed the way the task force works, limiting essential personal contact.

"A huge contributor to stress is isolation and a lack of social connectedness with people," she said.

She said figuring out how to still foster strong connections through the task force when person-to-person contact is not allowed has been a challenge, but they are getting the hang of it.

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Krekelberg has a fondness for working with people, which is why she said that working with farmers is easily the best part of her job.

"I love that person-to-person connection, and being able to work with people where they're at on things, and see how they do things and make the decisions they make," she said.

She said it wasn't always clear to her that she was a people person, and initially she went to college to become a ruminant nutritionist. She took one ruminant nutrition class and realized it wasn't what she wanted to do with her life.

While she was in college at the University of Minnesota, Krekelberg got the chance to intern with the Extension department.

"I just remember coming back to campus after that internship and telling people I found my dream job," said Krekelberg. "I know what I want to do now."

Telling her family's story

One thing Krekelberg likes to ask producers when she's working with them is what their "why" is, meaning what is it about their job they are passionate about.

In her virtual Farmfest presentation in which she sat on a safety and health panel, Krekelberg showed a picture of her dad and brother working on a farm, and said that was her "why."

It can't be seen in the photo, but her brother has a prosthetic arm and her dad wears a prosthetic leg.

"Having two immediate family members that have lost limbs in agricultural accidents has really strengthened my passion and my want to help make sure all farms stay safe," Krekelberg said.

Her dad lost his leg when he was 19 years old in an accident with an auger at a feedlot where he was working. Her brother lost his arm to an auger as well, while working in a cheese plant a few years ago, in an "eerily similar accident," she said.

"Being able to actually witness what happened in the time of my brother's accident really helped me recognize that what happens in farm accidents goes beyond just the physical damage to one individual," she said. "This impacted our entire family."

She said the experience is definitely something she references in her work with other farmers.

"I think storytelling is the most powerful form of education," Krekelberg said.

She focuses on a phone call on the day of her brother's accident, to hopefully prevent other families from getting the same kind of call. It's a call she wishes she could forget, but will never be able to.

"I just tell people — I don't want any of you to get that call," she said.

Since she started her work with Extension, Krekelberg said her dad has been a lot more open about the experiences he's been through as a farmer and person who's lost a limb. He also had the unfortunate experience of selling their dairy herd a couple years ago.

"It's really allowed me to open up these new conversations that I think a lot of farm families don't always have," she said. "So it's really been a big blessing to me to be able to have those conversations, and to be able to talk to my dad and my brother about what they've been through."

Extension educator Michael Cruse, who's worked with Krekelberg for around five years, said the value that Krekelberg brings to the extension department and the state of Minnesota through her position is paramount.

"Emily, who is very passionate about the topic of rural mental health and farm safety, is at that position with a lot of experience from her family," Cruse said.

The creation by Extension of Krekelberg's position with the rural stress task force shows true investment in the topic, said Cruse, and exactly the right person was chosen to lead it.

"When you combine the two things, you get why this program and position has already done a lot of good things," he said.