United Church of Christ Zumbrota and Normandale Center for Healing and Wholeness are partnering for a year-long study of healthy aging on the farm.

JD Haas is the pastor of the United Church of Christ in Zumbrota. He became involved in the project when Jennifer Monroe, the executive director of the Normandale Center, reached out to him.

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“I thought that it would be a great program for our church and for Zumbrota, and actually for Goodhue County in terms of trying to reach out and learn from farmers as to what would be best for them,” Haas told the Republican Eagle. “What are the barriers for them aging in place, if any?”

In a news release Monroe explained the inspiration for this project:

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“According to the Upper Midwest Agricultural Safety and Health Center, agriculture workers are comprised of more ‘older workers’ than any other profession or industry. Today, the average age of farmers in Minnesota is approaching 60. Statewide population trends reflect that the number of adults in their 60s in Minnesota will double by 2030 and those over 85 will grow by 61%.

"While Minnesota is aging rapidly, rural areas are aging at an even faster rate, and in general have less access to supportive services and long-term care, than urban areas. Concerns about access to medical care, the future of the farm, the finances needed to support healthy living and aging, and access to caregiver support when looking towards the future are widespread.”

Haas and Monroe have four expected outcomes from the program:

  1. Identify barriers to healthy aging through a series of interviews and focus groups.

  2. Identify best practices to communicate opportunities and information with aging farmers, their caregivers and farming communities.

  3. Test virtual delivery of caregiver supportive service.

  4. Share findings on improving the quality of life and health outcomes of aging farmers and their caregivers.

The first step of this program is the collection of data. Haas and Monroe will create surveys for local farmers about aging on the farm, challenges that they face in staying home and other needs that they may have. After the survey portion is completed, focus groups will be formed.

Because of COVID-19 the first portion of the study will be conducted primarily by phone. Haas will focus on farmers that he knows from his congregation. He and Monroe are also partnering with the United Redeemer Lutheran Church in Zumbrota to include more farmers in the project.

While the project’s focus is currently on Zumbrota farmers, Haas said he hopes that the project will help farmers and individuals throughout Goodhue County. He explained, “What we want to accomplish is build a foundational partnership among the various rural faith communities.”

Haas and Monroe were awarded a grant of $10,000 for the project from the Upper Midwest Agricultural Safety and Health Center. The grant money will be used for information collection and a demonstration that will be put together when the data collection portion of this project is completed.