On what would have been Leon Statz’s 59th birthday, two dozen plaid-shirted farmers sat in the basement of St. Peter’s Lutheran Church to talk about how they were coping with the forces conspiring against them — the forces that had pushed their neighbor, a third-generation dairyman, to kill himself.
The gathering was therapy of the most urgent kind. Statz’s 2018 suicide was the first some of the farmers had ever experienced, and in the small community of Loganville, it was a tragic jolt. “He was stressed out,” remembers Dale Meyer, a close friend. “We tried to help, but we found that we didn’t know what we should have done.”
In the aftermath, though, Meyer and others came up with an answer. They created a unique self-preservation effort. The Farmer Angel Network, they named it.
And in a sign of how big the crisis is, the effort is growing. Though farmers throughout the country have faced stark times in recent years, the Dairy State’s plight has been the most severe by some measures. In 2019, its 48 farm bankruptcies led the nation. Many were in the Western District of Wisconsin, home to the Statz farm. The little guys keep taking it hardest: family-owned dairy operations, the kind traditionally passed from one generation to the next.