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Friendship on the Farm

Taking time to develop and nurture friendships can reduce feelings of isolation and contribute to improved mental health.

Make new friends, but keep the old; one is silver and the other gold. This nursery rhyme has stood the test of time because it’s true. New friends bring excitement into our lives, but there’s nothing like the comfort of an old friend you’ve known forever.

Nina Chen, a former human development specialist with the University of Missouri Extension, says, in many cases, friends are as important as families. “Many people turn to their friends first when they encounter crisis because of the distance of their family,” she says.

While being with friends is fun, there’s more to it than that. According to a report from the Mayo Clinic, friends play a significant role in promoting overall health. Adults with strong friendships have a reduced risk of depression, high blood pressure, and unhealthy body mass index. The report also says friends can increase your sense of belonging, boost happiness, reduce stress, improve self-confidence, discourage unhealthy habits, and help in coping with traumas.

Older Adults Need Friends

One in three American women over the age of 65 lives alone, as does one in seven men. Chen says about two thirds of older men report they don’t have a close friend; 16% of widows say they have no friends. “Older adults living alone need to reach out to friends for companionship, support, and human contact,” Chen says.

That can be easier said than done in rural areas. Neighbors are the low-hanging fruit. Invite them over for dinner or coffee and get to know them, or host a potluck for the whole neighborhood. Offer to lend tools, be a sounding board for ideas, or help with projects. Deliver freezer meals if a neighbor is ill. A good neighbor is priceless, and you can be that to your neighbors.

Quality Matters

The Mayo Clinic report says the quality of the friendship is more important than the quantity of friends. Having a small number of close friends who will really be there for you is just as good as – if not better than – a large group of acquaintances.

Chen agrees. “Casual friendships can help, but one very close friend can do so much to help relieve stress and depression,” she says. “Close friendship provides emotional support as friends comfort, help, share, and inform each other.”

When it comes to online friends, experts agree these relationships can be valuable, but it’s more beneficial to use social media and the internet to nurture real-life friendships when face-to-face communication isn’t possible.

Put Yourself out There

Some people seem to make friends wherever they go. Others find it difficult to strike up a conversation with a stranger. “If you don’t have a friend, take the initiative to be a friend to someone else,” Chen advises. Reaching out may feel awkward, but if it results in a new friendship, it’s worth it. Here are a few ways to break the ice.

  • Community events. Go to the fire department’s pancake breakfast, cheer on the local kids at a high school basketball game, or participate in bingo night at the community center. Strike up a conversation with the person sitting next to you.
  • Volunteer opportunities. Offer to help at the local food pantry, deliver meals to shut-ins, or lend your expertise to 4-H or FFA kids in your area.
  • Ag organizations. Getting involved with farm groups is a great way to meet friends who share your agricultural background. Go to the county cattle producers’ meeting and offer to help with an upcoming event, or book a weekend at a women in agriculture conference. (See the link below for a list of events from the December issue of Successful Farming magazine.)
  • Groups and classes. If you love to read, join or start a book club at the library. Enroll in a fitness class, join a group of genealogy enthusiasts, or sign up for an art class. You’ll automatically have something in common with other attendees.
  • Church. If your church offers coffee after the service, stay and chat instead of leaving right away. Take part in group activities like Bible studies or adult Sunday school.
  • Invitations. If someone invites you to lunch or coffee, say yes. If you’re having a nice conversation with someone, invite them to get together. 

Be Interesting and Interested

When you attend an event, Chen says, “Have something to say. Be informed by watching the news and reading magazines and books. Find opportunities to speak to others without waiting for them to initiate.”

Of course, it takes more than talking to a new person to make a friend. “It’s very important to listen to what the person says,” Chen says. “If you want to have a friend, you must be a friend.”

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