Changing Lives Through Better Communication

October 11, 2023
Seven retreat participants in winter clothing standing in front of a tree.
L-R: Rachel Schneider, Daniel MacPhee, Leslie Forstadt, Anu Rangarajan, Steffan Schneider (in back), Jennifer Hashley, Deb Habib.

After a particularly stressful first year of farming on his own, organic vegetable farmer Marc Cavatorta was seeking support from other farmers. He found it when he attended a reflective retreat held not far from his farm in Palermo, Maine. “The retreat offered a chance to be with other farmers who were willing to talk about their feelings and share their experiences.”

The retreat was sponsored by the Be Well Farming Project, a collaboration between University of Maine Cooperative Extension, Cornell University’s Small Farm Program and Tufts University’s New Entry Sustainable Farming Project. Funded by Northeast SARE and coordinated by Daniel MacPhee from Blackbird Rise Farm, the team’s goal was to provide farmers with tools to manage farming challenges related to emotional and social wellbeing.

Guided by farmer input, the team designed and hosted a series of retreats and webinars that offered a “reflective, safe space where farmers could find rest and renewal, a place where they could regain a sense of direction and purpose,” says Violet Stone of Cornell University’s Small Farm Program. 

“Most farm sustainability efforts center on economic or environmental concerns where personal values and goals are interwoven; few agricultural sustainability projects focus solely on social sustainability,” says project leader Leslie Forstadt, University of Maine Cooperative Extension. 

Impacting more than 100 participants, the project’s potential ripple effects in farm communities are significant. “A farm can be a stressful environment,” says Cavatorta. “What I learned at the retreat is always a good reminder to keep on trying to listen.”

This story is part of a series highlighting SARE projects using innovative strategies to help farmers and ranchers manage stress. Visit for more information.

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Topics: Quality of Life, Social Capital, Social Networks, Social Psychological Indicators, Sustainable Communities
Related Locations: North Central, Northeast, South, West