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Saturday, December 2, 2023
NOTL farmers welcome programs to support mental health
NOTL farmer Phil Tregunno said government regulations can be a source of stress to farmers.
Grape grower and NOTL councillor Erwin Wiens said farmers face "a large amount of emotional pressure."

For many farmers, the most relaxing part of the day is when they’re out in the fields tending to their crops.

“It’s going up and down the field on your tractor, actually doing the farming,” said Phil Tregunno, owner of Tregunno Farms in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

New funding announced by the provincial and federal governments to help promote mental health initiatives for people in the agricultural sector is an important move, he said.

It’s a recognition that more help is needed but Tregunno noted governments themselves often can be a source of stress for those who work the land.

“A lot of farmers are small businessmen. They get overburdened with things,” he said.

“It’s always been that way in agriculture,” he said, alluding to the work that needs to be done behind the scenes.

“The oversight, all of the regulations, there’s a lot of things we have to do. There’s so much paperwork.”

Tregunno was reacting to the announcement of $8 million in joint funding from the provincial and federal governments to help farmers.

The money, coming via the Sustainable Canadian Agricultural Partnership and the provincial Roadmap to Wellness initiative, will fund an awareness campaign for a trio of programs: the Farmers’ Wellness Initiative, the Guardian Network and In the Know.

The programs are administered through the Canadian Mental Health Association’s Ontario branch and are “designed to meet the unique mental health needs of farmers and their families,” the province said in a news release. 

The funding will be used for a new campaign called the Sowing the Seeds of Wellness Initiative, which will make promotional materials available to eligible farm and commodity organizations.

Agriculture Minister Lisa Thompson said the funding will “ensure the right resources are in place” to support the agricultural community.

“A life in agriculture is incredibly rewarding and fulfilling, but it also comes with unique stressors and challenges,” she said in the release.

Meanwhile, farmer and NOTL town councillor Erwin Wiens said the new money is welcome.

“It’s a great start and a great help,” he said. “It shows the government understands.”

Farmers and other stakeholders in the agricultural community face unending stress, from incurring and servicing massive debt loads to paying high costs to get their product into the hands of consumers, Wiens said.

“There’s a large amount of emotional pressure,” he said.

Furthermore, bad weather can wipe out crops and if that happens, any money put out by that point has gone for nothing.

While help such as crop insurance is available, it doesn’t take care of everything, Wiens said.

“But the safety nets in place are just to keep you going.”

Debbie Zimmerman, CEO of the Grape Growers of Ontario, said the renewed push to raise awareness that mental health help is available to the agricultural sector comes at a good time for the industry.

“It has been a very challenging year, anyway. We’ve had too much rain and not enough sun,” she said.

It’s all part of a vicious cycle over which they have no control and means crops will be affected, which puts more pressure on growers.

“Imagine how stressful that is on a family,” Zimmerman said.

Funding will also be available over the next two years so organizations can produce customized materials, engage speakers or develop other activities that will provide farmers and their families with mental health-related information.

The Guardian Network is made up of trained volunteers who are likely to be in contact with farmers through their work or volunteer activities. 

Volunteers are trained by the Canadian Mental Health Association’s Ontario division, equipping them with strategies and tools needed to identify when someone is struggling with their mental health and direct them toward appropriate resources.

In the Know is a mental health literacy program consisting of a three-hour workshop that is designed for farmers, their families, and those who are involved in and/or support the agricultural sector. 

The workshop covers a variety of topics including stress, depression, anxiety and substance abuse. Participants in the program learn how to start a conversation about mental well-being.

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