Billed as the “Nation’s Largest Outdoor Farm Event,” the 2021 Farm Progress Show was held in Decatur on August 31-September 2. The show includes hundreds of exhibitors sharing the latest products and technologies with farmers and those working in the agricultural industry. The Illinois State University Department of Agriculture exhibits at the Show held every other year in Illinois. Illinois State alumni engage with their alma mater and faculty who teach in the Department at the show. Faculty members also talk with prospective agriculture students, many of whom come to the Farm Progress Show with their high school FFA Chapters.
Through the department’s generosity, faculty, staff, and students of Illinois State’s Central Illinois Area Health Education Center (AHEC) and the Eckelmann-Taylor Speech and Hearing Clinic joined with the Agriculture Department on September 1 to provide outreach and a unique focus for the show overall. The Central Illinois AHEC serves 16 Counties as part of the Illinois AHEC Network comprising nine Centers covering the State to improve the supply, distribution, and quality of healthcare professionals in Illinois, particularly among rural and underserved populations. With the prevalence of mental illness in adults and children, provider-reported increases of anxiety and depressions during the COVID Pandemic, and September being Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, the AHEC distributed the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number (1-800-273-TALK), warning signs of suicide, and a list of Illinois helplines for those needing support.
The Hearing Clinic members promoted audiology as a future career and hearing protection for residents working in farm environments and with equipment that can be very noisy. At the clinic, licensed audiologists work with doctoral students to diagnose and treat hearing loss and related problems, providing customized treatment plans for each patient. The services include but are not limited to comprehensive audiological evaluations, amplification services, and specialties such as tinnitus and auditory processing disorder. These services are available to both adults and children.
Director of Clinical Education-Audiolog Dr. Candice Osenga, invited her students to assist with the show.
“Farming equipment can be very noisy, and it is very important to protect your hearing while using the equipment,” Osenga said.
Graduate students in the four-year audiology doctoral program, Aaliyah Gladney and Kelly Sarhage, shared a few things they learned by participating in the event including “the misconception that you do not need to protect your hearing if you have hearing loss.” They also shared that “while individuals may not always protect their hearing when working with farming machinery, they do protect their hearing when mowing their lawns or using firearms recreationally.”
The Central Illinois AHEC and Hearing Clinic representatives spoke with several hundred high school students, their FFA Chapter sponsors and chaperones, and Illinois (and other states’) residents. Although many of these students are interested in future agricultural careers and the trades such as welding and being an electrician, several students are thinking about healthcare fields including nursing, psychology, chiropractic, and medicine (physician). Sharon Mills, director of the AHEC, views the Farm Progress Show as “a great way to promote the University, the Speech and Hearing Clinic and AHEC, and healthcare careers to a wide audience in Illinois. Hearing protection and the need for mental health awareness and resources are important for agricultural workers and in rural areas that may have more limited resources to address health care concerns.”