UK nurse creates Farm Dinner Theater as a way to remind farmers of safe practices; has some unexpected benefits

University of Kentucky nursing professor has come up with a novel way to remind farmers about farm safety: dinner theater.

At Farm Dinner Theater, farmers watch each other perform funny skits with a serious message. At a recent show at the Lincoln County Extension Office in Stanford, Thelma Blair asked her husband Jack if he remembered to wear ear plugs before working on his loud farm machinery. The audience laughed as Jack yelled, “WHAT?” in response. “While they delight in Jack’s feigned deafness, it serves as a reminder to use ear protection when working with machines,” Hilary Brown reports for UK Now. The Blairs are respected farmers in their community, and were excited to participate in the program when their extension agent asked.

The skits may fill a need because health and safety standards don’t apply to small family farms. Lectures aren’t effective, and pamphlets are easy to ignore, so Reed, who grew up on a nearby farm, wanted to find another way to help farmers recognize farming hazards and practice safety measures, Brown reports.

“Based on our research, we found that farmers learned best from watching each other and stories based on real situations,” Reed told Brown. “They like humor. From observing farmers and how they choose their work behavior we know they learn from an apprentice model where role modeling is so important.” And a free dinner doesn’t hurt.

Reed says the program has helped in ways she didn’t expect, such as “how the farmers would come together and work out issues among themselves,” Brown reports. “At one event, a farmer mentioned how his father, who was grappling with Alzheimer’s, kept trying to get the keys to the family tractor. Their solution was to move the tractor out sight. Once they did that, he stopped trying to drive it.”

Another unexpected benefit: Attendees say the program has helped relieve their stress. Farmers are under a lot of stress these days because of bad weather, the trade war, low crop prices and more, and depression and suicide among farmers has increased greatly in recent years. Farm Dinner Theater “gives farmers the opportunity to come together, discuss their situations, and to support each other,” Reed told Brown. “Non-farm people in the community come to these events and have a better understanding of the stressors that farmers face and can support them better.”

Brown reports, “The results of these events have been remarkable. Fifty percent of the farmers who attended reported to have incorporated changes in their habits and on their farms within two weeks. Sixty percent made changes within two months. The program was so successful, Reed, who has won numerous awards for the program and was named by Oprah Magazine as “One of Five Nurses Who Might Just Save the World”, was appointed UK’s first agricultural nurse, the first at a land-grant university. Her position is funded by UK’s College of Agriculture, Food and Environment, and marks the beginning of a unique partnership” with the College of Nursing.

The project is funded with a grant from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

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