June 23rd, 2024

Farmer mental health a growing concern in past year

By Dale Woodard - Lethbridge Herald on January 4, 2022.

Reeve Tory Campbell

In the past year, Tory Campbell settled in for his second term with the County of Lethbridge, this time as reeve, and advocated for mental health supports for farmers.
Exciting prospects, for sure, but looking back on 2021, Campbell said it has nonetheless been a challenge for everyone with another year of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Nonetheless, with more challenges lying ahead in 2022, Campbell and his councillors roll up their sleeves and delve into the New Year.
With two new councillors and the Division 5 spot filled after the by-election in early December, there is a full complement before the Christmas break.
“So that’s encouraging,” said Campbell. “I think we have a nice blend. The two new individuals on council have a lot of board experience and diverse backgrounds and a little diversity in the county, too. I think, primarily, we have seen a lot of farmers and agricultural producers on council. So this is a good change, in my opinion, to have a couple of small business owners from some different backgrounds.”
Campbell has been on Lethbridge County Council since 2017 and as he began his second term in November, he was joined by council members Lorne Hickey (Division 1), Mark Sayers (Division 3), John Kuerbis (Division 4) and Morris Zeinstra (Division 7).
Klaas VanderVeen was elected as Deputy Reeve.
“I think at this time of year every year following that organizational meeting leading into Christmas is a busy time of year,” said Campbell. “I think similarly in January and February we have various obligations with our training and orientation. We spent almost a week up in Edmonton with our rural municipalities of Alberta convention. We actually just worked through our budget process, so it was multiple days of budget deliberations here at the county office. I would say it is definitely one of the busier times of year now for us as council. There is no shortage of work at this point.”
As the world continues to deal with the pandemic, Campbell noted the challenge of having face-to-face discussions and networking in person.
“I know from our perspective as councillors it has been challenging just because we haven’t had that ability to network and be in person and have those face-to-face discussions,” said Campbell. “As I sit here in my office, I look across the street at City Hall and it’s just those opportunities where you’re in a meeting together or you’re in a boardroom for a committee or a board you sit on, those conversations you have behind the scenes and offline, I think we all miss that. We all miss that ability to network and have that face-to-face. That’s been tough, but fortunately we have found ways to persevere. Obviously with Zoom and Web X, business has carried on as usual and I think there has been that continuity on the operations and administrative side of things and they’ve been able to persevere. So our level of service hasn’t been disrupted because of COVID. I think it’s more on the personal side of things that it has been a little more challenging.”
In August, Campbell was part of an advocacy calling on the provincial government to do more to support the mental health of farmers by funding a 24/7 mental health crisis line geared specifically toward those in the agriculture industry.
Campbell said the Rural Municipalities Association had passed a resolution calling for the formation of such a line in 2019.
“Speaking to the larger issues, I think the elephant in most rooms that we go into is just what a challenging year it was for so many of the producers, not only in our municipality, but throughout Alberta and probably western Canada, just given the drought and the impact of the heat on top of that,” said Campbell. “Obviously, it was very challenging and we’re fortunate here in Lethbridge county that we do have a number of irrigated acres, that in the bigger picture it does insulate the larger production. But there are a lot of producers who I think have really had a tough go between that and trying to source feed and then coupled with that is looking for some of these supply chain issues as well as inflation when it comes to inputs.”
That has meant of a lot of struggling producers, which ties into the mental health talk, said Campbell.
“I hope people are becoming more willing to speak up and reach out and ask for help when they need it. I think we’re lucky. We live in such a great place with so many great people who are ready to help whenever and however they can. So I think it’s just trying to bridge that gap and letting people they can reach out and ask for help.”
A family farm worker alongside his wife, the subject hits close to home for Campbell.
“I’m a grain farmer and at this time of year things slow down and you have that opportunity to maybe have some of those conversations and talk to some people you maybe haven’t talked to since before the harvest and just reflect and realize that everyone has their unique challenges and everyone is going through something, whatever that challenge is, whether it’s financial or otherwise,” he said. “I think it’s huge to have those conversations and acknowledge we’re all going through it and we all have our different ways of going through it. But we can connect and we can talk about those things and I think there is a lot of strength in that.”
Campbell noted striving to find ways to try and be sustainable and try to live within one’s means, but at the same time acknowledging what needs to be done to grow. 
“We need to be ambitious and we need to build as well,” he said. “So it’s just trying to find that balance in a time when, unfortunately, we’ve seen some very significant downloading from the provincial government and the challenges that has presented, whether it’s in cutting our Municipal Sustainability Initiative funding or the downloading of policing costs or the erosion of some of those supports we used to rely on and just acknowledging that going forward those aren’t going to be there anymore. So how do we become creative and try and meet our needs without downloading that to the rate payer?”
Campbell said Lethbridge county is in a favourable geographic location.
“As other municipalities have seen those linear tax dollars decline with the ebb and flow of oil and gas, we are somewhat insulated from that here in the county. We haven’t been heavily reliant on those dollars in the past,” he said. “On the one hand, we haven’t benefited from that boom, but at the same time we haven’t been as detrimentally affected in the bust cycle. I think it’s just acknowledging that we have been fortunate, but at the same time, trying to build relationships is something I think is front-of-mind with me. How can we work together and how can we pool our resources together and start delivering for the region and not so much just for our individual rate payers. Because at the end of the day we all stand to gain when we work together. So it’s just trying to strengthen that.”
As the calendar turns to 2022, Campbell looks forward to continuing in that direction.
“We’re obviously excited to keep moving forward and to go to work and try and get as much as we can get done in a finite amount of time,” he said. “It’s actually quite amazing that once you’re in one of these seats time seems to just fly. So it’s trying to be reasonable at what you can accomplish, but at the same time also try to get as much done while we’re here.”

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