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Group to host retreat for farm couples

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ANN MARIE AMES
March 11, 2009

A weekend getaway might seem like an impossible luxury for many working farm couples.


But with milk prices in the tank and input costs on the rise, couples might need a break more than ever.


The Sowing the Seeds of Hope coalition wants to make it happen. The coalition is sponsoring two no-cost retreats for Wisconsin farm couples:


-- March 28 and 29 at Chula Vista Resort, Wisconsin Dells.


-- April 4 and 5 at the Ramada Plaza Hotel, Fond du Lac.


Money could be available for some couples to help with the cost of caring for their children or farms while they are at the retreat.


The weekend retreats are intended to give couples tools to cope with the stress of running a farm heaped upon the stress of a poor economy, said Mary Bub with the Wisconsin Rural Women's Initiative.


Some couples might just need a little alone time. Others might appreciate talking with other couples, Bub said.


The retreats usually include couples in all "ages and stages" of farm life, she said.


"The resources and support they can give each other is amazing," Bub said.


Often, one spouse works off the farm to support the family business or get health insurance, Bub said. If that person gets laid off, it could threaten the farm on top of the rest of the family's expenses, she said.


Employees at the Wisconsin Farm Center in Madison see evidence of that stress every day.


A year ago, when milk prices were at record highs, the help line was quiet. Farm center workers had time to do outreach and other programming, said Roger James, a mediation coordinator with the Wisconsin Farm Center. The center is part of the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.


The dairy economy is in tough shape, especially after last year's highs, James said. The added stress is reflected in the tripling of calls to the center compared to a year ago, he said.


In the past, when things got bad, farmers could sell out and get jobs off the farm or at least work to supplement the farm income.


Right now, those job options aren't there, he said.


"Sometimes, it was better to get out," James said. "But now, what are you going to do? There aren't jobs out there to go to."



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