OPINION Growing old is an inevitable part of life. When it comes to aging we can’t help but wonder where we’ll live when we retire, the quality of life we’ll have and how we’ll stay healthy. Most of us want to remain in our homes for as long as possible but aging in place is almost a must for farmers in rural Wisconsin.
This past week I participated in a webinar about aging on the farm in rural Wisconsin. We learned about the unique challenges farmers face when it comes to aging compared to older adults in other areas of the state.
Farmers need to be more than just agricultural experts. They must be efficient in welding, woodworking, plumbing, machine repair and more. Farming is so multi-faceted it’s difficult for a farmer to imagine why he or she needs a hobby. Between planting and harvesting there’s always plenty of repair work while advising and supervising the next generation of farmers. That explains why farmers never really retire.
Farming families take pride in how many generations have grown up and continued the legacy of farming. I recently saw a report on television about a dairy farmer named Mr. Anderson who was ending his business after five generations. When asked what he’d do next, Anderson said he’d need to figure it out.
When there isn’t that next generation ready to take over, there comes a time when a farmer is forced to make the difficult choice to sell his or her equipment, land and other assets. Often even after selling assets, a farm couple will stay in their home and lease out the land. That way they can age in place on their own terms. But even under those circumstances challenges exist.
In urban areas medical care is within reach and grocery stores are usually nearby. But aging in place in rural Wisconsin is more difficult. A hospital might be an hour or more away; groceries may be just as far. Neighbors don’t just happen to walk by to check on a person when that person lives on a farm.
When the time comes and it’s clear that more support is needed, farmers may search for long-term care. It was common for small cities and villages to have assisted living facilities. I recall when my wife’s grandfather, who farmed in the town of Chimney Rock, moved into a facility in Strum. Gramps knew many of the staff. He appreciated that his own sister worked there and could look after him.
That isn’t the case anymore. It’s difficult to find any village with a facility because they’ve mostly closed. It’s more difficult to age in place and it’s difficult to make the move into a facility nearby. Because many aging adults don’t have the option to choose their own facilities, many find themselves far away from their loved ones. That takes a toll on physical and mental health.
A semi-retired seasoned farmer faces many challenges while on the farm. We must find ways to support those who choose to age in place in rural Wisconsin. Wisconsin must expand Medicaid to ensure residents have accessible and affordable health care. Those federal funds would allow us to pay home-health-care workers a livable wage, empowering more of us to stay in our homes and communities as we age.
It’s equally important that Wisconsin expands its broadband infrastructure to ensure residents in rural Wisconsin have access to telehealth services, social media to stay in touch with loved ones, and the opportunity to order groceries and medicine.
Even the professor leading the discussion on our call listed broadband expansion as an important solution. I didn’t expect the forum to become another opportunity for broadband expansion. But I shouldn’t be surprised it’s part of every conversation these days and the solution to so many issues we face.
Generations of farmers have supported our communities and the state as a whole. Their contributions are what makes rural Wisconsin such a great place to live. We owe a lot of gratitude to our farmers. We must continue finding ways to support Wisconsin farmers in all stages of life.