2023 Y Prize winners Rita and Jerry Lahmers

The Ohio Farm Bureau Foundation recognized Dr. Jerry and Rita Lahmers of Newcomerstown with the 2023 Yvonne Lesicko Perseverance Prize, known as the Y Prize, for their innovative work on farmer mental health initiatives.

The Lahmers, who have been leaders in their community for decades, spearheaded the creation of the Check Your Engine – Mental Health Project, which serves to better connect rural communities when addressing mental health concerns. The program was developed by Carroll, Harrison, Jefferson and Tuscarawas County Farm Bureaus, in collaboration with local organizations that focus specifically on mental wellness.

“If a check engine light comes on the dash of a tractor or farm vehicle, it’s time to get it to the shop to diagnose the issue, whether it be a common solution that will take minutes to fix, or the machine could be on the brink of a total engine failure,” Jerry said. “Either way, the check engine light lets us know something is wrong and it needs to be addressed.” 

The Check Your Engine – Mental Health Project highlights some of the signs that a farmer needs the same kind of tune-up, how severe the issues might be and how to properly address an individual who needs additional support.

The Y Prize is an award created by the Yvonne Lesicko Memorial Fund. The fund was created in 2020 to honor Yvonne Lesicko, former vice president of public policy for Ohio Farm Bureau. The fund, within the Ohio Farm Bureau Foundation, was established to support the causes and initiatives that were important to Lesicko. 

“This wouldn’t be possible without the help of the professionals that work in the mental health space everyday,” Jerry said. “They stepped forward and were more than willing to work with us. We need to realize they are in every community in Ohio, and we need to get involved with them. There is a lot we in agriculture don’t know and we need to lean on them to learn the best ways to talk about mental health with our neighbors.”

Lahmers spent his career serving farmers as a large animal veterinarian in Tuscarawas and surrounding counties and has been involved in Ohio Farm Bureau at all levels, including as a state trustee for the organization until 2022. Rita Lahmers is a retired teacher, who saw the impacts of stress through her students and was instrumental in getting various businesses and members of the community involved in the Check Engine – Mental Health Project.

“The overall goal is to get farmers comfortable in reaching out for help,” Rita said. “One way that will happen is to get more counselors to have a better understanding of the community. Our problems are more complex and with fewer people involved in agriculture, it can be difficult to find someone who can relate to what you are dealing with as a farmer.”

As the 2023 Y Prize award winners, the Lahmers will be given a platform to share their work and the efforts of their county Farm Bureaus and the entire community to raise awareness and create resources for farm stress and mental health.

To contribute to the Yvonne Lesicko Memorial Fund, visit the Ohio Farm Bureau Foundation at ohiofarmbureau.org/donate

The Ohio Farm Bureau Foundation, a 501(c) (3) charitable, nonprofit organization, understands the need to inspire innovation and cultivate investment in Ohio’s farm and food community. Learn more by visiting ohiofarmbureau.org/foundation.

This is a news release for use by journalists. Questions should be directed to Ty Higgins,614-246-8231 or [email protected].

Editors: A photo of the Lahmers accepting the award is available for download.

Caption: Lesicko’s siblings presented the Y Prize to the Lahmers. Pictured from left: Janene Kehl, Lawrence Houck, Dr. Jerry and Rita Lahmers and Annette Houck.

Labor has always been an issue, mainly because we are a seasonal operation. So that's a challenge finding somebody who only wants to work three months out of a year, sometimes up to six months.
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