In late February, the Lambton Farm Safety Association co-hosted a seminar on mental health and farming, a topic of growing concern for those in rural Ontario. People, especially youth, are leaving small towns for bigger cities. Rural populations are getting smaller, older, and more spread out. Banks and other industries are closing their doors in farm country.

It’s having an effect on those who remain. Last year, a prominent agriculture advocate in Oxford County died of apparent suicide.  In the U.S. last year, a pair of suicides prompted the Agri-Mark dairy co-operative to include a suicide hotline number in its regular correspondence with members.

Being safe on a farm is a more complex issue than it used to be, the Lambton Farm Safety Association’s Agnes Dickenson.

“(The February seminar) went very well,” Dickenson said. “We had about 70 people there, and the speakers were all great. They went really well together, and there were good questions after. … There was a good discussion after the talks.”

The farm safety group largely supports kids, highlighted by its flagship Farm Safety Day event every summer. This year, the standards will all be there — including tractor safety and lawn-mower safety — along with a crash course on mental health and bullying.

The event is geared toward children, but parents often learn a thing or two as well.

“Kid’ll go home and tell their parents about what they learned at Farm Safety Day,” George Dickenson, Agnes’s husband and a member of the safety group, said. “They educate their parents too.”

Farm Safety Day is July 4 this year.

The Lambton Farm Safety Association has support from other agencies in its mental-health advocacy, including the Lambton Federation of Agriculture. The local branch of the federation helped with the mental-health seminar.

“I think the community has done a great job in trying to remove that stigma and open up the conversation, and I think it’s everybody’s job to continue that,” said Christina Hyatt, secretary of the Lambton Federation of Agriculture, when interviewed in early February.

There will not be a farm safety event this week. With spring break underway and cool, though slightly warmer, weather through the week, the small volunteer-based group decided to promote farm safety quietly.

The core of the group’s message has not changed. It has become more complex.

“We’re just constantly promoting safety, all year long,” Agnes Dickenson said.

From The Sarnia Observer

With files, from [email protected]

Mental health is part of farm safety