CHICAGO — The leader of the American Farm Bureau Federation highlighted the organization’s farm and agricultural mental health initiative by sharing his own personal struggles with an audience at the Illinois Farm Bureau’s annual meeting.
“After losing my wife, I went through that difficult time,” said Zippy Duvall, the president of the AFBF, who hails from Georgia.
His wife, Bonnie, died on Jan. 18, 2018, after a battle with cancer.
Duvall said it was a question from a reporter that made him realize that he had kept much of the emotion and grief from his loss inside. It also made him realize the importance of having someone to talk to about what he was feeling.
“Because he was willing to sit there and listen to me, I started healing that day. It was just amazing. I discovered it’s OK to say, ‘I’m not OK.’ I discovered to just look for people who were willing to help me,” said Duvall, who related that neighbors helping neighbors can also extend to mental health.
To assist farmers and farm families in recognizing mental health issues and in finding local and regional mental healthcare resources, the AFBF launched Farm State of Mind, a directory that includes information for recognizing signs of mental health issues and resources that can help.
Duvall also emphasized the importance of removing the stigma from mental health.
“We have to get rid of the stigma that goes along with mental stress because they’re our family and we have got to take care of them,” he said.
The AFBF president, who welcomed former President Donald Trump onto the stage of AFBF annual meetings in 2018, 2019 and 2020, discussed the changed political atmosphere in Washington, D.C.
“We have found a way to work with whoever the voters send to Washington, D.C. Whether you like the politics or not, we’re bipartisan. Whoever the president, whatever the party they come from, we try to find a way to work with them. I will tell you, though, Washington is different. Because all of my life, we could always find bipartisanship in the ag committees and we can’t even find that today. So, it’s a different world we work in, more challenging to build those relationships,” Duvall said.
Duvall urged the members of the Illinois Farm Bureau to consider the seeds they plant, in the ground and in their communities and among the public.
“I want you to ask yourself what kind of seeds you planted spiritually. When you go to the store to get a biscuit in the morning or you go to the elevator office and you meet people, what kind of seeds are you planting? Are you planting seeds of happiness or sadness on people? Are you planting the seeds of success or failure? Are you planting seeds of opportunity or challenges? I don’t know about you, but I choose to plant the seed of hope,” said Duvall, who shared a positive bit of personal news.
“Life is hard sometimes. It throws you curves. It threw me a curve. It took the love of my life. And I never thought I’d love again,” said Duvall, his voice breaking slightly. “Let me tell you, I’m standing here to witness to you. God is good. I miss Bonnie every day, but God chose another woman to put in my life, and in two weeks, we will be married.”