Resilience — Rooted in the Land

Farming is more than a job—it’s an identity that adds meaning to life. It is often a calling.

Farming is a frequently a multigenerational enterprise on land passed down through the generations. Farming adds a weight of responsibility and pressure to meet expectations of previous generations and not fail the next — to not lose the family’s cultural heritage. This drive to survive and thrive can be both a source of stress and a source of resilience.

Farming ranks in the top 10 most stressful occupations in the U.S. Farm and farm family stress, more accurately, distress, is brought on by pressures within individuals and families, farming systems and the farm as a business.

If you are in the business of farming, or working with someone who is, you know that along with the ordinary stress of life, farming has added sources of stress. Extreme weather, changing markets and commodity prices, episodes of animal and plant diseases and other events all bring added pressures and threats.

So how is it that you and your family can face multiple stressors and keep on farming? Research says it’s by being resilient.

I farm because it’s in my blood. You get done planting a field and you turn around and the sun’s setting over the pattern of the crops that you’ve just planted, and it’s a pretty rewarding experience to see all the hard work pan out and know that you’re helping to feed families throughout the Mid-Atlantic.

Mike Harrison of Woodbine, Md.

Resilience

Resilience is an asset that enables you adapt to meet challenges and changes of the times. According to the American Psychological Association, resilience is “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems, or workplace and financial stressors. Resilience means ‘bouncing back’ from difficult experiences.”

Most farmers and farm families are optimistic. They draw on their values to get them through challenges. When life’s events are really hard, deeply held values become the motivation to draw on resilience to bounce back or bounce forward after recovering from the initial set back.

So ask yourself:

  • Do you draw on resilience resources like managerial skills, self-control, self-compassion, optimism and hardiness to prevent and deal with stress?
  • Have you drawn on the value of hardiness to get through?
  • Do you recall other challenges and how you, your family and past generations were able to get by?
  • Are you motivated to succeed for the next generation?

How critical is the value of resilience, of adapting to conditions to survive and thrive? It’s imperative and for farmers, driven by generational heritage. Multi-generational farms exist because farmers adapted to change. In the past three years, Maryland farmers, and other farmers, have experienced multiple challenges.

Those who are best able to adapt quickly are those most likely to withstand tests of their ability to survive and thrive. They are those who are resilient are most likely to succeed because they get great satisfaction from what they do. Farming is in their blood. They draw on resilience from being are rooted to the land.

Find resilience-building resources:

Farm Stress Management – University of Maryland Extension

Managing Farm and Farm Family Challenges Resiliently: A Worksheet to Explore Resilient Thinking and DoingUniversity of Maryland Extension and University of Delaware Cooperative Extension

The Road to Resilience American Psychological Association


This blog was written by special guest blogger Bonnie Braun, Professor Emerita, Extension Family Health Policy specialist and professor in the Department of Family Science in the School of Public Health at the University of Maryland.

It Takes a Village: Building Up Maryland’s Agricultural Community

The expression “it takes a village…” usually refers to raising children. It highlights how an engaged community is critical to support a growing child. What many of us often do not realize is that the phrase also applies to supporting adults. Adults, too, need a village of caring, competent others to celebrate the good times and support them in the bad times. Fortunately, building a more caring and competent “village” is possible through education and practice. 

University of Maryland Extension has developed a comprehensive set of programs to address stress and mental health in the farming community. Our approach is unique in that we not only teach farmers themselves techniques for stress management, but we also work with agricultural service providers and other members of the community around farmers. Members of the community learn the skills to observe signs of stress, engage skillfully, and share relevant resources with their peers in agriculture. As the community grows more supportive of the health of farmers, farm businesses remain productive and sustainable. 

Although 2021 was a generally good financial year in the agricultural community, many are still feeling the ongoing effects of stressful years past. In addition, new challenges such as the avian influenza outbreak continue to pose significant threats to Maryland’s farmers. 

Each successive challenge takes a toll on our physical and mental health. In a phenomenon called “cumulative stress,” each stressful experience increases both the likelihood and impact of future stressful events. In other words, things pile up. 

We have already reached over 1,000 individuals across Maryland’s agricultural community through a combination of education and outreach efforts. These individuals include training medical and mental health providers in rural areas about the unique culture of farming so that they are better equipped to serve the community that surrounds them. 
If you are interested in joining the village of support, check out our upcoming events site and learn how you can contribute to the health and vitality of our Maryland farms.

This blog written by Breathing Room special guest Alexander Chan, family and consumer sciences agent with UME.

Dealing with Debt

If you have been keeping up with my blog articles, I wrote two blogs about inflation. That is because I am concerned – between the economic stimulus money, the advanced child tax credit, and increased prices, people are over-spending. Additionally, there are individuals that count on their tax refund check and may not be getting it, so I want to provide you with 3 tips for dealing with debt. 

Step 1: Know what debt you have

A good starting point is gathering information on the debts that you have. This may come from loan agreements in your files or statements you received in the mail. Another source of gathering this information is your credit report, which can be obtained from AnnualCreditReport.com. The Your Money Your Goals toolkit contains a Debt Log tool to make it easy to assemble the information in one place or you could gather all the information on a piece of paper. Information needed includes the name of the debt, payment due, total amount left to pay, and interest rate. 

Step 2: Develop a plan

You have all the information, now what is your plan? There are two strategies to tackle debt, the snowball method or the highest interest method. There are pros and cons to both. The debt snowball focuses on getting rid of the smallest debt. Once it is paid off, you can apply the money going towards that debt to the next lowest debt. The other strategy is to focus your efforts on paying the debt that will cost you the most money (the highest interest). You can determine what will work best for you and your situation. What’s more important to me is that you have a plan and develop a SMART goal. Here is a good tool to develop SMART goals.

My Extension colleagues from Utah State University developed a program that can assist in developing an approach to tackle paying off your debt. It is called PowerPay.org. You can enter information about your debts and explore scenarios to customize your strategy.

Step 3: Assess along the way

It would be nice if life was perfect, but it is not. You may run into bumps along the way such as an unexpected car repair, broken appliance, perhaps you had to change jobs – don’t worry, life happens. As you try to figure it out, return to the basics. Are my purchases addressing my wants or needs? You know the answer to that question. Small decisions add up quickly, such as eating out less and choosing lower cost options. As your situation stabilizes, go back to step 2 and revise your plan. 

Now I could add a step 4, but will use this one as my closing. Believe in yourself. No one knows you better than you do. Sometimes it can be difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Remember, you can do it! Stick to your plan and you will get there.

Making Any Weekday Meal a Fun and Formal Occasion for Your Household

This blog post written by Samantha Benner, Family Science Major and Human Development Minor, Graduating May 2022

I can remember when I was younger, during the major holidays, family would come over and I was always told to set the table, except I had no idea how to do it correctly. Knowing how to properly set the table used to be important during family meals to show etiquette and learn table manners, but with modern life, the family dinner and well-set table have taken a back seat to convenience meals and eating on the go. During major holidays and special events like weddings however, it is still standard to craft a nice dinner with the table set and looking pretty. 

Table setting has been around for as long as people have been sharing meals, beginning with the ancient Greeks. In American culture, there are several different ways to set the table but for this blog, only the basic and formal ways will be discussed. 

The most basic way to set the table starts with a placemat, napkin, fork, spoon, knife, and a glass for water. Now let’s start setting it up!

Basic Steps:

  1. Place the placemat down. 
  2. Put the dinner plate in the center of the placemat.
  3. Take the napkin and fold it diagonally in half so the corners meet and then lay the napkin on the left side of the dinner plate.
  4. Next, place the fork on the napkin.
  5. Place the knife on the right of the dinner plate with the sharp side on the inside.
  6. Lay the dinner spoon to the right of the knife.
  7. Lastly, place a water glass slightly above the plate to the right.

The formal way to set the table is commonly used for elegant dinner parties or when you’re really trying to impress someone.

What You’ll Need:

  • napkin  
  • tablecloth 
  • dinner fork 
  • salad fork 
  • soup spoon 
  • dinner knife 
  • dinner plate 
  • soup bowl 
  • bread plate 
  • butter knife 
  • dessert spoon 
  • water glass 
  • red wine glass 
  • white wine glass 
  • salt shaker 
  • pepper shaker 

Formal Steps:

  • Place the tablecloth over the table and a placemat at each seat.
  • Set a dinner plate down the table in front of each seat.
  • Place a soup bowl on top of the dinner plate.
  • Place a nicely folded napkin to the left of the dinner plate.
  • Lay the dinner fork on the napkin and the salad fork to the left of the dinner fork.
  • Place the dinner knife to the right of the dinner plate with the sharp side facing the plate.
  • Next, place the soup spoon to the right of the dinner knife.
  • Then, place the dessert spoon right above the dinner plate and soup bowl.
  • Lay the bread plate slightly above the napkin and rest a butter knife horizontally over the plate with the sharp side on the bottom.
  •  Place the water glass slightly above the dinner knife, the red wine glass to the right of the water glass, and the white wine glass below the red wine glass.
  • Lastly, set the salt and pepper shakers above the dessert spoon. 

Get creative and try themed settings for seasonal or holiday dinners, or let your kids create a centerpiece. Knowing how to set the table is not only impressive, but it can make any meal feel special.

Dyeing Easter Eggs Naturally

One of my fondest childhood memories is dyeing eater eggs with my sisters. I carried on that tradition with my own daughter, and even though she is an adult, we still spend time together to color and decorate eggs for Easter. This tradition of decorating eggs dates back to the 13th century. Eggs were formerly a forbidden food during the Lenten season, the 40 days before Easter, so people would paint and decorate them to mark the end of the period of fasting, and eat them on Easter as a celebration.

The first step to dyeing eggs is to hard-boil the eggs. Lay raw eggs gently in a large saucepan, cover them with water, and put on a tight-fitting lid. Place the saucepan over high heat and wait for the water to boil. When water comes to a boil, remove from heat keeping the lid on the saucepan, and let it sit for 12 minutes. Then drain out the hot water, and fill the pot with cold water to stop the cooking process. Some eggs may crack so you can set those aside to use for eating. Let eggs cool before coloring.

There are kits sold in stores for coloring eggs but if you want to avoid those synthetic dyes – try making your own dye with natural ingredients. It may take longer but it will be more fun and a great time to enjoy as a family. Select what colors you want to dye the eggs and buy the appropriate food. The shell color of your eggs will also determine the color of your dyed eggs. 

For white eggs, purple cabbage will create a blue shade; beets create a pink shade; turmeric creates a yellow and gold color; onion skins can give reddish browns (red onions) or orange shade (yellow onions). Hibiscus tea provides a dark charcoal-purple color, Red Zinger tea creates a lavender color, and coffee provides a nice brown shade. The fun thing with using foods is the colors may vary depending on the length of time immersed in the dye as well as the color of the food itself. 

Here are the steps to dye eggs naturally:

1. Bring 1 cup of water to boil in a pot for each color dye that you have selected. Add 1 cup of chopped or shredded purple cabbage, beets, or onion skins to the boiling water. For the yellow color, add 2 Tablespoons turmeric to the cup of boiling water. 

2. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes. Brew or steep the coffee and tea in a jar while the vegetables simmer. The dye is ready when it is a few shades darker than you want for your egg. Check the color to be sure it is the shade that you want by dripping a little on a white paper towel or dish. 

3. Remove from heat and let the dye cool to room temperature. Once cool, pour the liquid through a fine-mesh strainer into a jar and remove the tea bag from water. 

4. Stir 1 Tablespoon of white distilled vinegar into each color. The vinegar creates a chemical reaction with the shell’s calcium and helps the color absorb better. 

5. Carefully put the boiled eggs into the jars of dye and secure with a lid.

6. Place the jars in the refrigerator for six to 12 hours or overnight, depending on the color you want. Longer times will produce deeper shades.  

7. Remove the eggs from the jar and place them on a towel-lined cookie sheet to dry.

8. Allow them to dry completely. You can polish them with a little bit of vegetable oil to give them a shine.

Add a little creativity to your egg design by wrapping rubber bands or lace ribbon around the egg before coloring.  After it has completely dried, remove bands or ribbon to see your design. For a personalized touch, draw or write something on the egg with a white crayon or candle and then submerge in the dye mixture.  The wax will prevent the dye from sticking to the egg so you can see your design. 

Remember to keep eggs refrigerated and use within one week.

Being Prepared with an Emergency Food Supply Kit

During the winter, it is important to be prepared with an emergency food supply kit. Whether the snow prevents you from getting to the store or ice has knocked out the power, having a fully-stocked kitchen is one less worry for you and your family. Many of these foods may be the usual foods that you buy. Choose foods that store well from each of the food groups to provide the variety of nutrients you and your family need and like. Consider anyone who has special dietary recommendations and include these foods in the emergency supply.

The recommendation is a 3-day food supply for each member of your family (including pets) so pick up a few items each time you go to the store and store it separately from your normal groceries. Be sure to check expiration dates every 6 months so you can use foods before they expire and replace them as needed. Keep a running list of your supply items so it is easier to shop. Plan ahead to stock shelf-stable foods and then all you need to purchase at the last minute are perishables.

One of the most important things to stock is bottled water. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recommends 1 gallon of water a day for each person and pet in the household to use for drinking, cooking and washing up.   

Shelf-stable foods include a variety of healthy, high-energy foods to meet everyone’s tastes. Include high-protein foods like peanut butter, canned meats and beans. Canned tuna, salmon and chicken will last longer than vacuum-sealed pouches. Canned soups, chili and stews make quick and easy lunches. For healthier choices, choose no salt added canned foods and low-sodium soups. Other shelf-stable foods that need no cooking are cereal, canned vegetables and fruit, 

Snack foods that may be handy to stock in your emergency food kit include chips, pretzels, popcorn, cookies, crackers, granola bars, nuts, jerky, dried fruit, trail mixes and shelf-stable juice. Buying individually wrapped snack foods will keep them fresh longer. Dried pasta and jarred sauce are good choices to keep available for a quick, hot meal. Coffee, tea, and hot cocoa mixes make good beverage choices. An easy way to keep milk on hand in emergencies is stocking powdered milk or milk that undergoes ultra-high temperature processing (UHT) that doesn’t need to be refrigerated and can sit on the shelf for up to six months.

If you anticipate a storm in the next few days, make a trip to the grocery store to pick up some perishable food items that will stay fresh for at least a week. These include apples, oranges, bananas, tomatoes, potatoes, salad foods, squash, yogurt, eggs, milk, butter and avocados. Buying fruits and veggies that are not quite ripe will help them last longer. 

Any emergency food supply kit needs some other essentials like a non-electric can opener, flashlight, extra batteries, candles, matches and cleaning wipes. Being prepared is key to staying healthy when there is an emergency.

Using Health Insurance in the New Year

Now that we have settled into the New Year, I want you to think about health insurance. If you purchased your insurance from the MarketPlace, your plan year likely began on January 1, 2022. If you have private insurance through the workplace, check with your plan as it may start January 1.

This is important because it resets the clock for your annual deductible and out-of-pocket maximum. The deductible is the amount you owe for services your health insurance plan covers before your health insurance plan begins to pay. The out-of-pocket maximum is the amount you pay during a policy period before your health insurance plan pays 100% for covered services. Deductibles vary by plan and can be a few hundred dollars to thousands of dollars. The out-of-pocket maximum will also vary by plan.

Now that you have health insurance and are paying the premium, you should get the maximum benefit of your plan. Another way to look at it is that you paid for it, you should use it. Just by having health insurance you qualify for free preventive services. A list of preventive health services is available on the Healthcare.gov website.

Once you start using your health insurance you will have co-payments (a fixed amount often found on your insurance card). This is like the $20 (may vary depending on your plan) charge when you visit the health care provider. You may also be responsible for coinsurance (your share of costs calculated as a percentage) depending on the type of service rendered. For example, your plan may indicate you pay 20% and the insurance company pays 80%. Remember that your costs stop at the out-of-pocket maximum.

So let’s go back to the main point, now that you have insurance start using it.

Take full advantage of the health insurance plan and in doing so, it may save you money. Health insurance costs are often something we overlook in our financial planning. The Health Insurance Literacy Team developed a worksheet to help you understand and estimate health care expenses. On our website, you can find information on how to choose a doctor, flexible spending accounts, our workbook, and much more.

Mindful Relationships: How mindfulness practice and techniques can help you connect more deeply with your partner

Relationships are never static; they are ever-changing and have ups and downs. With the evolving dynamics in our relationships, how can we achieve a fulfilling and happy relationship? It is a question that often crosses our minds when faced with challenges and conflicts in any relationship, especially with our partners. Though it is challenging to come up with a definitive answer, some successful practices and habits can lead to a more fulfilling and satisfying relationship.

Couples therapy and individual counseling can be powerful tools to strengthen and improve relationships. One of the other practical and effective tools you can use to improve your relationship is mindfulness practices. Mindfulness helps us cultivate present moment awareness with our thoughts, emotions, and sensations. In relationships, mindfulness can help us enhance our awareness of how the relationship has been evolving and tap into what is working and what is not.

Mindfulness enhances awareness of self and others. It helps us recognize how we interact with our partners and allows us to become aware of specific patterns of behavior that might be causing damage to our relationship. Such awareness also helps open up our limiting beliefs to a different perspective that our partner holds. For example, we tend to assume how the counterpart would say or behave based on our observed behavior from the partner. This creates prejudice and a specific construct that could limit us from accepting an evolving side of our partner.

Dr. John Gottman, a well-known specialist in relationships, says that the ability to turn toward one another and continually deepen the bond by making an effort every day to reach out to your partner is a vital indicator of a good and sound relationship. In addition, practicing mindfulness helps us understand our own needs and the needs of our partners.

The experts say that the vast majority of disagreements in romantic relationships occur due to turning away from each other, especially during times of conflict. Here are some of the challenges and struggles that we encounter in different scenarios of relationships with our partners.

Long-distance relationships

Long-distance relationships can be challenging due to miscommunication, time conflicts, lack of intimacy, and accountability issues.

Closed off relationships

A partner experiences disconnection, isolation, and aloofness in a closed-off relationship. It can lead to feelings of rejection. A partner may not comprehend why you refuse to talk, which becomes a cycle of silence and resentment.

Pandemic relationship struggles

Pandemic has caused anxiety, uncertainty, anger, and social isolation. These aspects have made relationships with partners more challenging than ever. Not having space, spilling of work and personal life, and pandemic worries have created a hostile environment for couples. Reports by Stanford Medicine mentioned that there had been an increase in people’s hostility of anger, and frustration during the pandemic. Such hostility could be taken out to your partners and loved ones. In order to restrain from outbursts, mindfulness can be helpful in the regulation of stress and emotions effectively.

Using mindfulness approach to improve relationships:

Expressing gratitude

Mindfulness helps us to cultivate appreciation and gratitude in all things and connections. Practicing gratitude can help you guide your mind to focus on the positive rather than the negative – to look for opportunities rather than signs of failure. In addition, research shows that expressing gratitude in an intimate relationship enhances the level of connection and happiness in both the giver and the receiver the following day. So, expressing your gratitude and appreciation to your partner is mutually rewarding.

Here are some of the techniques suggested to express your gratitude:

  • A letter of appreciation expressing all that you admire in your partner in writing.
  • Daily Gratitude, like thanking your partner for making efforts and being thoughtful on a daily basis, like making a delicious meal or doing dishes.

Cultivating curiosity

Mindfulness practice can help cultivate a beginner’s mind attitude and curiosity towards your partner. It helps you to notice the minor attributes of your partner. Ask questions to your partner and be open to the aspects of this person you still do not know about yet. Even if you interact with each other every few hours or stay together in the same house, keep in mind that all humans are ever-changing in their way. If you ask more questions, it shows that you are interested and are curious about what is happening in your partner’s life. Next time try asking a few pertinent questions regarding their experiences.

Mindful listening

Have you ever engaged in a conversation and noticed that your partner was not listening to you? Or are you listening to understand what your partner is saying, or are you already preparing your response?

Listening indeed takes time, and we often jump to judgments before hearing out the whole story, especially with those whom we have known for a longer period of time. Therefore, to be good listeners, we need to hone our listening skills, as it is one of the essential skills in maintaining healthy and strong relationships.

Experiment with mindful listening practice to cultivate non-judgmental listening skills that can provide your partner an opportunity to share their feelings with complete acceptance and patience. Mindful listening is about recognizing that you have wandered away during the conversation and getting back to listening to your partner with your undivided attention.

Simply listen to your partner and observe their expressions and posture to try this practice. Try to refrain from providing suggestions or solving their issue. Once your partner stops sharing, confirm what he/she/they were trying to express to get a better grasp on the issue.

Prevent stress from affecting your relationship

Mindfulness has been shown to help us manage stress. Under constant stress, we tend to be more reactive and sensitive to even the smallest amount of tension in a relationship. When you are able to successfully manage stress, it is easier for you and your partner to have the most productive, meaningful, and intimate interaction.

Research has shown that simple mindfulness techniques such as the belly breathing method can improve stress coping skills, provide relaxation, boost mood, and improve focus. See below to learn how to apply this method:

  1. Slowly inhale and exhale through your nose for one to two minutes
  2. Place one hand on the belly or your chest.
  3. Notice how your belly or chest expands and relaxes with in-breath and exhale.
  4. Repeat this 3 to 5 times.

Here are some effective and practical tips on improving relationships:

  • Scheduling time together with your partner (For example: Time to talk, movie nights, evening walks)
  • Communicating clearly during the time of conflict on what you need (For example: If you find the situation overwhelming and need time to think, clearly indicate to your partner and suggest how you will follow up regarding the conflict).
  • Communicate and plan based on realistic expectations
  • Adopt a no-tech time while interacting with your partner
  • Prioritize yourself and engage in things that fulfill you, create a productive space to energize yourself, and encourage your partner to do the same.
  • During the time of conflict, start by explaining how you feel due to certain actions by your partner rather than being accusatory. (For instance: Rather than saying, “You never do dishes,” tell your partner, “When you do not do dishes, I feel less appreciative and cared for”).

This blog written by Thoinu Karam, Family and Consumer Sciences intern.