October - December 2002
Chris Mondak , dairy field specialist
Rhonda Rosenboom , family life field specialist
At introductory peer group meetings held in the summer and early fall of 2002, dairywomen identified common problems of a sense of isolation, a lack of friends or family who could understand the demands of simultaneously running a dairy business and a family, and various degrees of unrelieved stress. Most could relate to the issues of self-esteem, stress-overload, and communication challenges portrayed in the “A Farmwoman's Perspective: Dealing with the Challenges of Agriculture” video and discussion set created by the University of Minnesota and utilized at the introductory meetings in Iowa .
Extension staff listened to the needs and issues expressed and assisted with the logistics of coordinating peer group meetings every two months for dairywomen in Osceola, O'Brien, and Sioux Counties in NW Iowa. The dairywomen identified topics of interest, and extension staff worked to provide the guest speakers and materials to address the topics. In some cases where peer group members took initiative on projects, extension lent support. County extension directors provided support and funds from a Mental Health Grant to obtain materials. Extension staff encouraged networking by assisting with the development of name/address/phone/e-mail lists.
In the time span from June 17, 2002 through August 2003, 30 dairywomen from Osceola, O'Brien, and Sioux counties participated in peer group meetings held every two months. Seventeen meetings occurred, with an average attendance of 10 people per meeting. Topics selected by the peer group members included: improving communication skills, understanding and managing stress, strategies for stress relief, strategic planning for family farms, tools to determine cost of production, the “Colors: A Personality I.Q.” program, dealing with loss and change, and building a positive image of the dairy industry. As a result of peer-group discussions, the dairywomen took initiative on two projects: the establishment of a dairy booth at two county fairs to display “The Iowa Dairy Story,” information about dairy products, and participation in a local project to form a non-profit organization dedicated to setting up school milk vending machines and to enhancing in-school nutrition programs.
Evaluation questionnaires were mailed out and returned in August 2003. Peer group members rated the peer groups as valuable in connecting them to others experiencing the same challenges and lifestyles, in giving them a chance to take a short break from work and family pressures, as a chance to exchange information on common problems, as a way to gain confidence to participate in community projects, and as a way to improve their self-image by realizing a sense of belonging to a profession.
On the evaluation questionnaires, all dairywomen voted in favor of continuing peer groups as a way to continue network-building and information sharing. Several expressed an interest in planning more extensive activities, such as tours. All expressed interest in retaining a connection extension to assist with planning meetings and programs.
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July 11, 2006
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