Quality of Life Tea

Larry K. McMullen, swine field specialist

Every farm family desires to have financial, family, and personal affairs that interact to create a high plane of quality of life. But low commodity prices, demanding work schedules, and the need to make “ends meet” puts a tremendous social pressure on our rural farm families. This was especially evident with the 1998 “low hog price” era. Because of this tremendous stress, family issues, and relationships began to emerge and the lack of an acceptable quality of life standard was emerging.

Upon recognizing the lack of acceptable quality of life standards in farm families, a group of multi-discipline extension professionals in the former east central extension area formed a quality of life committee in 1999. Various ideas and suggestion came forth from this committee to help stressed families. But it was not until 2001 that any funding could be obtained to work directly with farm families. In 2002, a federal grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) was received by Iowa State University Extension to Families for Rural Outreach. From this grant, funding was obtained to develop a Quality of Life Team (QL Team) to work one on one with farm families in the East Central Iowa Extension Area (11 counties). This funding continued for 2003 and 2004 and the QL Team expanded into 23 counties due to Extension re-alignment of regional areas. The QL Team consisted of ISU Extension Staff who were available to family farm operations that needed assistance in reorganizing their farming operation to generate more profit and/or create a higher quality of life standard for the family members. Generally three to five Extension staff would be assigned to a farm family based on the commodity enterprises and social needs of the family. The process would involve an initial meeting with the QL Team to determined needs and potential scenarios for quality of life improvement and then a second meeting with a farm financial associate to generate a Fin-Pack for determining an economic base line for the farm and to evaluate the new suggested alternatives. The team would then meet a third and/or fourth time to implement the new direction of change for the farm family. Considerable one on one specific enterprise technical exchange of information was made with each client. With this funding the Southeast Iowa Quality of Life Team was able to function for farm families from 2002 to 2004 with Larry McMullen, ISU Swine Field Specialist as the Quality of Life Team coordinator.

Over the course of the three years, the Southeast Iowa Quality of Team served 34 farm families. To service these families, the ISU Extension staff involved represented Ag Field Specialist representing Farm Management, Crops, Swine, Beef, and Horticulture, Family Life Field Specialist, Family Resource Management Field Specialist, County Extension Education Directors, and Farm Financial Planning Associates. Approximately 3.5 team visits were made with each client, which represented 30 to 50 hours of total extension staff time advising the client. In 2002, 11 clients were served with 15 staff members. In 2003, 14 clients were served with 27 staff members and in 2004, nine clients were served with 19 staff members. At the end of the QL Team process, clients were asked to return an evaluation of the QL Team process. With a 70 percent return rate, the overall evaluation rating for the QL Team was 60 percent “A”, 33 percent “B” , and 6 percent “C” ratings. Of those clients reporting, an estimated value that the QL Team brought to the farming operation was an average of $8,300. This ranged from $500 to $29,000 per client.

Numerous comments were received about the QL Team, the following are typical examples: “They helped us tremendously, showed us alternatives, didn’t condemn us for our mistakes, showed us ways as to not repeat our mistakes and how to get them corrected.” – “A great gathering of people with superior knowledge of their area of expertise.” - “They were all great listeners and I felt very comfortable talking to them” – “The program came at a time (death of spouse) when we were very unsure as to what to do next. We didn’t know what steps to take to keep the farm or even if it could be done. We are very grateful for the Quality of Life Team and the help they’ve given. They took the information that we had and broke it down so that we could devise a plan to proceed. Thank You !”

Unless a new grant is found, this will be the last year for the Quality of Life Team in the Southeast Iowa Extension Area.

Page last updated: July 8, 2006
Page maintained by Linda Schultz, lschultz@iastate.edu