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ONTARIO: Thank a farmer. Maybe save a life

Ontario farmer Tim May has launched a new grassroots campaign prompted by farmer suicides

The top is blowing off the lid in parts of the agricultural community, and Tim May is trying to do his part to reel it in.

Guelph-area dairy farmer May, who as @FarmerTim has one of Ontario agriculture’s biggest social media followings, says too many farmers are taking their own lives.

Some deaths are being blamed on mental health problems, such as anxiety and depression. These have long been a huge problem in agriculture. But they’ve only been documented and addressed in the past couple of years by farmers stepping forward, with support from institutions such as the University of Guelph and lately, organizations like Do More Ag.

May says many farmers sense hostility towards them. The feel consumers don’t appreciate the many challenges farmers face growing crops and raising livestock, such as the unpredictability of nature and markets, as well as emerging political threats like posturing from US President Donald Trump.

So May is taking action.

He’s leading a campaign to try to advance a better appreciation of agriculture, while promoting compassion for farmers’ struggles. It’s called I Live Because You Farm.

“Enough is enough!” he says on his Facebook homepage. “Five times in the last week I’ve received messages about farmers taking their lives… I can’t handle reading another tragic story. I need your help.”

He goes on to remember a farmer he describes as “an amazing soldier” who died last week, sending shock waves through much of the agricultural community.

“I do not want to needlessly lose another friend, farmer, neighbour or 'agvocate',” he says. “We need to do something.”

That’s where I Live Because You Farm comes in. It’s different than other agricultural awareness campaigns, because it’s meant to be carried out by the public in a very specific manner.

May wants people to write a short note thanking a local farmer, and anonymously slip it into their mailbox. He thinks it’s a reasonable request – less than two per cent of our population farms, so he’s not asking for a massive letter-writing effort, he says, just a few notes of thanks.  

If you’re uncomfortable doing that, May suggests writing a letter to a local paper that farmers will read.

However you proceed, the key is this: farmers’ backs are up against the wall, and their self-esteem is far, far down.

It’s all made worse when the very people for whom they produce food – the ones who, in May’s words, live because they farm – have a skewered view of their efforts. It’s a challenge being accused of mistreating animals and producing unsafe crops, when Canada has one of the safest agri-food systems in the world.

And that system all begins with our farmers, who keep getting hit right between the eyes.

The May-led campaign wasn’t planned in coordination with Food Day Canada, the annual grassroots day of appreciation this Saturday that highlights the efforts of those who produce our food, by asking people to prepare and cook Canadian-grown food.
But aide by side, the two efforts have a common and important message: show your appreciation for those who keep us fed.

True, there’s more to consumer education that campaigns that say thank a farmer. But right now, this kind of consumer appreciation could go a long way.

“So many people suffer silently, and I know we can’t help all of them,” he says, “but sometimes even a small gesture can have a huge impact on someone’s life.”