Dale Dobson says the first annual appreciation and awards day for farmers has been a long time coming. On Sept. 20, he hopes farmers from across the state fill the area between the Capitol and Annex buildings in Frankfort, where there will be lots waiting for them from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Anyone involved in agriculture knows Dobson – he’s led the Kentucky Department of Agriculture’s farm and home safety program for more than two decades. And he’s met tons of farmers – not only statewide but from across the country – and he’s heard their problems.
Back in 2019, Dobson and Rep. Brandon Reed had a meeting that resulted in the Wednesday of Farm Safety Week to be designated as Farmer Suicide Prevention Day. Out of that initiative, Dobson says, Raising Hope got started, “and now we have all these agencies working together, for the farmer.”
Dobson then began a challenge-coin initiative as a part of suicide prevention. He had specialty coins made, which include the phrase “you’re appreciated” on them, to be handed out. Youth safety teams and FFA groups joined in on this, giving coins out with the stipulation that if the farmer ever felt overwhelmed or needed to talk, they would reach out to someone, and that promise is sealed with a handshake.
He believes over the years, with all the handshaking he and others have done, there are about 7,000 coins floating around Kentucky.
“What we’ve learned from all this is that farmers, and everybody, likes being appreciated,” he says.
Now that the Covid pandemic has settled down, Dobson and Reed began talking about how to ramp up the message again. “The Suicide Prevention Day is a downer …” he says, so they began coming up with other ideas.
They decided to focus on appreciating farmers.
Dobson and others came up with the criteria for the award winners, but those winning names are not being released yet. “And they don’t know they’re winning either, so I’ve been busy making arrangements to make sure they’re all there.”
There will be three farmer-of-the-year awards given out. Dobson says that from here on out, the nomination process will be open.
“To be eligible, someone has to nominate you and put a story to it. What type of history do you have, what have you done to help promote farm safety, health and mental health, to be a positive image of ag in your community.”
Dobson says Raising Hope doesn’t care “whether you farm one acre or 1,000, it’s about what have you done to help people and help yourself.”
Ag Commissioner Ryan Quarles will also make a presentation.
“We met with his office about what we wanted to do – I didn’t know how it would go, but the commissioner had been talking a lot about Raising Hope; he sees the benefits and rewards,” Dobson says.
He says the speech will be Quarles’ last hurrah as ag commissioner, who is on his last final term in office.
“It’s going to be a great one,” he says.
The Kentucky Cattlemen’s Association will serve up hamburgers, and there will be hot dogs, chips, drinks and ice cream, with about 600 meals available for attendees.
Dr. Cheryl Witt and her medical team will be performing medical screenings during the event, which are free and require no appointment. They include blood pressure tests, glucose and carotid artery scans, and other health education information will be available.
“Since we started doing the handshakes, there’s at least eight people still alive in Kentucky because of them,” Dobson says.
And since they’ve incorporated Witt’s health team to do screenings at different events, “we’ve found people at the machinery shows who are majorly blocked, strokes waiting to happen. They reach out to us later, and tell us that after what her team found, they went to the doctor and it saved their lives.”
FFA students and rescue instructors will also provide safety demonstrations and education stations. These include multiple safety demos, like rollover tractors, grain rescues and large animal, ATV and fertilizer safety, for instance.
Winning speeches will also be shared by FFA students involved in Dobson’s challenge-coin program, about “the power of the handshake,” farmer suicide prevention and more.
Alex Miller will also appear, the country singer from Garrard County who made his way to American Idol at the young age of 17, now signed by a Nashville label. He will sing the National Anthem, and Rep. Reed and Commissioner Quarles will also speak about the importance of farmers. Miss Kentucky Mallory Hudson will also be at the event.
Dobson says the new EC138 helicopter will be on site, along with fire trucks and other large machinery.
“Now this is the first annual one for Raising Hope,” he says. “And I guess you could say we’re going through some growing pains. But we’re figuring it out, and getting the message out every single day.”
Things are still coming together for the big event, Dobson says. “We’ll have the commissioner and tractors there. Now we want the farmers to be there. We just need them to show up so we can show them how much we care about them.”
By Bobbie Curd
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